It could have been any street in any town in Lincolnshire – but hidden behind a door in a row of semi-detached houses lurked evidence of almost unimaginable cruelty.
Dogs were running free in the hall and began barking as 10 police and RSPCA officers surrounded the property to seize animals belonging to a dog fighting ring.
More dogs were discovered outside in kennels – chained up with only a fence between them and young children playing in their garden.
Evidence of the sickening reality of what was happening at the property in Sleaford was hidden away in a garage, “A Pitbull terrier was being kept in darkness in a crate,” recalled PC Martin Green, who has devoted his career to ending such cruelty as one of Lincolnshire Police’s rural crime officers.
“The dog had obviously been pumped with steroids and was very aggressive.
“You could see on the cage where it had been chewing the wire. It was sickening.”
Every week we receive new intelligence about cases of cruelty taking place across the county
PC Martin Green, Lincolnshire Police rural crime officer
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a key member of this dog fighting ring,
John Herbert Knibbs, 55, of Polyanthus Drive, Sleaford, failed to attend Lincoln Magistrates Court for sentencing on what also happened to be National Dog Fighting Awareness Day.
His co-defendant, Kimberleigh Joanne Steele, 30, also of Polyanthus Drive, had also been convicted in her absence at an earlier hearing of two offences under the Animal Welfare Act and Dangerous Dogs Act, but this time returned from Ireland to hear she would not be jailed.
Ms Steele was disqualified from keeping dogs for five years, given a 16-week prison sentence suspended for one year, ordered to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £115.
The magistrates commented on the ‘overwhelming evidence’ of her involvement in the case, and the serious nature of the offences, and that if she was not responsible for a young child, she would have been sent to prison.
Steele was found guilty of being jointly concerned with John Herbert Knibbs, also known as John Donaghy, for the possession of a Pitbull terrier type dog at her home address, banned under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
She was also found guilty of assisting, or allowing, Knibbs on and before November 2, 2017m in Sleaford and elsewhere to keep a number of dogs that were in breach of a 10-year disqualification order banning him from keeping dogs under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 issued by Grantham magistrates on May 18, 2009 after a dead dog was found at his home.
“But there were the tools of the trade all over the house where he lived with Steele – a pitbull bible, sleeves used for defending yourself in an attack, muzzles, bite sticks for prizing open a dog’s mouth, electric collars and evidence of a treadmill.”
The convictions followed months intelligence gathering.
Lincolnshire Police with RSPCA officers executed warrants at three properties – the one in Sleaford, one in Bloxholm, and another in Anglesey, Wales – in September and December 2017. In all 20 dogs were removed and arrests made.
Images of horrific injuries to dogs during the fights were found on mobile phones belonging to the accused – trophies of the bloody sport.
Adam Scott, of Aber Eilian Bach, LLaneilian, Amlwch, Anglesey, was convicted for having in his possession or custody two Pitbull terrier type dogs, He was sentenced and ordered to pay £3,000 in costs, £80 victim surcharge, and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid community work.
A warrant is still out for the arrest of Stephen John Gardner of Willows End, Bloxholm, along with one for Knibbs, who is believed to be living in Ireland.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the juristdiction to just go and get him, but we will never give up,” said PC Green.
“Every week we receive new intelligence about cases of cruelty taking place across the county – we rely on peeple to tell us when they see anything suspicious.”
Almost 8,000 reports of dog fighting incidents have been reported in England and Wales in the past four years. In spite of the bloody sport being banned for 200 years, there have been 250 dogs seized in Lincolnshire over the past 18 months.
RSPCA Insp Mike Butcher said: “The dog fighting world is a dark and frightening place. But it could be happening in a warehouse next door to your office or on a rural farm in your quiet village.
“We’d urge the public to be our eyes and ears and report anything suspicious to us to investigate.”
Surprisingly, even after the horrific ordeal these dogs experience, there is hope.
“Many can go on to be rehomed,” said PC Green. Glancing at an image of one of the dogs enjoying a chew, his ears cut off to prevent other dogs hanging on to them during a fight, he said: “This is one of the lucky ones – sadly he won’t ever get dirty ears – but will survive.”
If you’re concerned about the welfare of an animal or suspect dog fighting may be taking place, please call the RSPCA 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.