Huntsman David Thomas sentenced to 22 weeks and accomplice to 20 in case RSPCA says shows animal cruelty is rife
An experienced huntsman has been jailed after being caught badger-baiting on remote farmland in north Wales. RSPCA inspectors and police also found two foxes in a cage next to a pack of dogs on the farm, a meeting place for the Dwyryd Hunt, and believe they were going to be released for dogs to attack.
The RSPCA said the case showed that badger-baiting, which has been banned since 1835, and other forms of animal cruelty were still rife.
Some animal campaigners claim it also suggests the government’s badger cull has caused the mammals to become “demonised” and led to an increase in cruelty towards them.
Speaking after the sentencing, Ch Insp Ian Briggs, from the RSPCA’s special operations unit, said: “This was a major and landmark investigation in which the RSPCA caught individuals red-handed in the act of using their dogs to barbarically fight with a badger.
“Badger-baiting has been illegal for over 180 years and it is sickening to find people still seeking to spend their time inflicting pain, suffering and misery on animals in this way. This was coordinated and carefully planned cruelty.”
He added: “Badger persecution is rife across the country. There are numerous gangs out to target badgers. The badger is seen as the most worthy opponent, the biggest test for their dogs. But the people involved in this sort of activity just like killing things.
“It’s extremely difficult to detect. These people are going out into secluded woodlands, sometimes on to farmland with permission of the owner, which makes it extremely difficult to investigate.”
David Thomas, 51, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, was jailed for 22 weeks, told to pay costs of £5,000 and disqualified from keeping dogs for eight years for offences including causing a badger to suffer, keeping premises for an animal fight, and causing the suffering of two confined foxes. The court was told he had been involved in local hunts for 32 years.
A second man, Jordan Houlston, 24, was jailed for 20 weeks, and a third man was given a suspended sentence. A youth was handed a referral order.
Llandudno magistrates court was shown footage captured during undercover surveillance of dogs attacking a badger. Images produced in court also included fake setts – used to hold a badger for baiting – and animal skulls, which could have been those of foxes or badgers.
RSPCA inspectors attended the farm in February last year with police and seized 23 dogs. At the same time, a search was conducted at Houlston’s address in Llandudno, where a further eight dogs were seized. At this address a veterinary kit was found, including syringes, and a selection of books, one of them titled Badger Digging with Terriers.
Modern-day badger baiters often create fake setts in which they place a badger that has been dug out of its home sett. The first part of the event involves “drawing out” the badger by the dogs.
Once this has been done, the fight begins. Usually the badger will be stunned or in some other way disabled to ensure the dogs will triumph, but most of the animals usually end up severely injured. Once the badger can no longer fight, it is killed.
A spokesperson for North Wales Hunt Saboteurs said: “We are glad to see prison sentences handed out. We believe it’s the only way you can stop them. Given Thomas has been banned from keeping dogs for eight years, we believe the only solution is for this hunt to be disbanded.”
Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “We have no doubt that the demonisation of the badger in relation to the cull policy is resulting in increased persecution and sett interference.”
According to figures collated by the Badger Trust, there was an increase in incidents of badger persecution after the start of the cull in 2013, which is intended to curb TB In cattle. In 2013, there were just under 700 incidents, the charity said. The number dipped to 404 in 2014 but rose to 465 in 2015 and 625 in 2016.
North West Hunt Saboteurs Association
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