11th August 2019
TWO men cleared of baiting badgers on land in Holt said all they were doing was planning a rabbiting expedition, a court heard.
Lee Barker and Braden Sutton faced charges that they attempted to kill a badger and interfere with badger setts on land off Frog Lane/Chester Lane in the village.
They travelled to North Wales after Sutton was given permission by a farmer to take his lurcher dog onto the land to “control the rabbit population”. Barker was accompanied with a terrier dog, called Bobby, who he insisted was being taken only for exercise.
But the RSPCA claimed the dogs were being used to dig out badgers from their sett after residents called the police when they heard animal screams and the sound of shovelling.
Both men were covered in dust and mud and the terrier had suffered a facial wound. It was found in the boot of the men’s car and bore old scars vets said looked like they were inflicted from previous fighting with badgers.
Badger DNA was later found on Barker’s t-shirt.
But Wrexham Magistrates’ Court heard that no badgers were hurt and defence counsel for both men claimed the RSPCA evidence was only “circumstantial”.
Magistrates cleared both Barker and Sutton of the two badger baiting charges. Barker was also found not guilty of two animal cruelty charges relating to the terrier, but he was convicted of one animal cruelty charge relating to transporting the terrier in the confined space of the car boot in hot weather.
Sutton, a block paver and farm worker, said the trip had been a reconnaissance mission only and they planned to return to ferret for rabbit.
But he said when the terrier slipped his lead and ran off chasing cows, his friend may have rolled around on top of the sett rugby tackling his pet to prevent him attacking the livestock.
Barker, a civil engineer, said he bought the terrier to cheer him up after a family tragedy and while he was classed as underweight he said he was gradually feeding him up after researching advice online. He said the terrier was travelling in the car boot as Sutton’s lurcher was coming into season.
He said: “I never thought there was a badger sett there.”
Barker, 29, of Bradley Lane, Standish near Wigan denied attempting to kill a badger and interfering with badger setts on May 24 last year. He also pleaded not guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a terrier dog by failing to address its underweight condition between April and May last year, while he also denied causing the dog to work while in an unfit state and denied transporting the animal in an unsuitable environment.
Sutton, 26, of Fox Street, Horwich denied attempting to kill a badger and interfering with badger setts.
Euros Jones, for Sutton, said no-one could be sure when the interference to the sett took place. “There was no dead or injured badger found in the field and there was no injury to the dog consistent with a fight with a badger,” he said.
Tom Sherrington, for Barker, doubted the veracity of the animal DNA test and claimed the laboratory used was not accredited. He said the DNA could have transferred to Barker’s garment without him interfering with the sett. “The RSPCA case is based on circumstantial evidence,” he said. “They weren’t there to badger bait, they were there to recon. There is no evidence of badger baiting.”
Magistrates chairman Catherine Wantling agreed and said the bench found Sutton not guilty on both charges, while Barker was cleared of four of the five charges against him. He was fined £500 for the animal cruelty charge and ordered to pay a £1,500 contribution to prosecution costs. Magistrates agreed he should be deprived of ownership of the terrier but rejected an order be made that he was banned from keeping animals.