Hunt master and friend caught digging up a badger sett as they tried to free a lost terrier are fined £300
A joint hunt master and a terrierman pleaded guilty to interfering with a badger sett today after they caused the ‘most severe’ damage an RSPCA officer had seen in 25 years.
Stuart Radborne, 28, was caught ‘waist-deep’ in the sett as he and Ben Pethers, 29, frantically excavated the animals’ home to try and find a lost terrier called Jimmy.
Members of the public suspected them of illegal hunting and alerted the police and the RSPCA.
‘Damage’: Stuart Radborne, 28, left, and Ben Pethers, 29, both seen outside court in Wiltshire, were caught ‘waist deep’ in a badger sett
They were charged with the badger set attack and jointly charged with breaching the Hunting Act along with Jonathon Seed, 54, the former master of the Avon Vale Hunt, and two other hunt staff, Paul Tylee-Hinder, 58, and Josh Charlesworth, 18.
But today, at North Wiltshire Magistrates Court in Wiltshire, the RSPCA dropped the hunt charges after Radborne and Pethers pleaded guilty to interfering with a badger sett.
Outside court an outraged Mr Seed condemned the RSPCA prosecution as a ‘complete outrage’ and a ‘disgrace’.
Mr Seed, a Conservative councillor for Wiltshire, said: ‘It has been a complete outrage and I would hope that every single member of the public think as to whether they give their hard earned money to the society in order to waste it.
‘The RSPCA has spent £50,000 pursuing this and they have been given £500 in costs. It is an absolute disgrace.
‘The two members of our group who pleaded guilty to interfering with a badger sett is an unfortunate event but they were going after their dog and the sentence reflected the judges view.’
District Judge Simon Cooper heard that on March 6 2012 the five men, who were out hunting, were alerted that their dogs had marked a fox in a nearby field.
Radbourne and Pethers, who were riding on a quad bike, reached the area first and began to assess the situation.
They let the inexperienced terrier, Jimmy, loose and it ran off and disappeared.
The huntsmen located the dog in the sett after they heard barking from below the ground.
They tried to use a location collar to pull him out but when that failed they began digging at the ground to free him, the court was told.
Jeremy Cave, prosecuting, said: ‘An onlooker saw the men digging in the sett and describes the digging as furious with soiling flying.
Former hunt master: Jonathan Seed branded the court case a ‘complete outrage’, and claimed the RSPCA had spent £50,000 pursuing it
‘The police and the RSPCA turned up and the men were questioned.
‘There had been considerable interference with the set, digging and filling in the entrances. In total there were 15 entrances to the sett, 11 of which had been blocked.
‘RSPCA Inspector Ian Burns, who turned up at the site, described it as “the worst find he has ever witnessed in his 25 years of being an inspector”.’
He added that Radbourne had been seen by another onlooker waist deep in the sett digging.
The traumatised terrier eventually resurfaced two hours after it had first become stuck, suffering deep cuts and puncture wounds to his neck and face.
The RSPCA had originally brought charges against all five huntsman of breaking the Hunting Act ban, but decided to drop the cases after accepting the guilty pleas from Radbourne, of Chippenham, and Pethers, of Southwick.
Mr Seed, of Bromham, Mr Tylee-Hinder, of Calne, and Mr Charlesworth, of East Tytherton, all denied any wrong-doing.
Clive Rees, defending Radbourne, told the court: ‘It was certainly a badger sett and it was accepted that he had been the one who was up to his waist in it and he took full responsibility for that.
‘But it was out of concern for the terrier.
‘Mr Radbourne accepted his responsibility from the beginning. Seeing it was an active badger set made him even more concerned about Jimmy.’
Janet Gedrych, for Mr Pethers, said her client had accepted that it was ‘reckless’ to let Jimmy free.
‘It was clear that Jimmy had escaped and it was reckless to allow the dog out of the cage before fully investigating,’ he said.
‘He accepts that he was digging in an effort to find his dog, he didn’t intentionally set out to damage the sett but he acted recklessly to find his lost dog.’
District Judge Cooper handed the pair a £300 fine and ordered them to pay £250 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
He told them: ‘In my mind the main aspect of this case was a failure to control Jimmy.
‘Reliable or not, he should have been kept in his box. He got out and disappeared down the sett.
‘Why he did it is speculation, but that he should have been allowed to do it was wrong. You are both responsible and you both could have prevented it.’
Tim Bonner, director of campaigns at the Countryside Alliance, accused the RSPCA of wasting money on a ‘politically motivated’ prosecution.
He said: ‘It is absolutely disgraceful that the RSPCA has spent 14 months and £50,000 of its members’ money on a prosecution which was completely groundless and clearly politically motivated.
‘It is even worse that the taxpayer has had to pick up the bill for the court and the defendants’ costs.
‘The RSPCA investigation set out to find evidence to justify a prosecution, not to seek out the truth. Even so it has now had to accept that there was absolutely no basis for the prosecution.’
The RSPCA inspector who complied the case against the five men said he would have been ‘heavily criticised’ if he had walked away from prosecution.
Inspector Ian Burns said: ‘There was severe damage to that badger sett and with all the money it has cost I would have been heavily criticised if I had walked away and left it.
‘I have had 25 years’ experience as a wildlife officer and I have dealt with numerous badger cases and that is the biggest, deepest, hole that I have seen dug.’
A spokesman for the RSPCA added: ‘The RSPCA received a call that a group of men had been seen on and around a badger sett in Stockley Hollow at the time that the Avon Vale was riding in the vicinity.
‘On examining the area, RSPCA inspector Ian Burns found that a large hole had been dug directly down into the active badger sett, breaking a tunnel and entrances had been blocked up.
‘A small Patterdale terrier emerged from the sett, muddy, dazed and bleeding badly from his jaw. He was fitted with an underground location collar.
‘The dog, which belonged to Pethers, was taken to a vet who found his injuries were consistent with having been attacked by the claws and teeth of an animal whilst underground.
‘The defendants gave conflicting accounts at the scene including chasing foxes, rabbits and searching for a lost dog.’
The badger sett where the men were spotted was in Stockley Hollow, near Calne, Wiltshire.
The RSPCA was today unable to confirm the exact amount spent on the prosecution.