THREE men who filmed themselves committing a string of sickening acts of animal cruelty have been jailed.
One RSPCA officer, who investigated the case, yesterday said it was the most disturbing case he has handled in 23 years.
Mark Wesley Smith, 53, Liam Patrick Ardito, 33, and Gary Cannon, 27, all from Grimsby, admitted setting their dogs on a trapped fox on the town’s golf course after posing as pest controllers.
Grimsby Magistrates’ Court heard the trio also filmed themselves and took photos, laughing and joking while their dogs tore wild animals, including foxes and badgers, to pieces.
All three were given 16-week jail sentences after they admitted a total of 30 charges – which also included keeping premises for use for dog fighting – between them. Smith and Ardito were banned from keeping dogs and birds for life, while Cannon was given a lifetime ban on keeping dogs.
The court was told that warrants were carried out at the homes of the three men last August.
There, officers found what they described as one of the biggest hauls of images of graphic animal cruelty the charity had ever come across.
A collection of more than 600 folders on computers contained thousands of photos, including Ardito stealing wild sparrowhawk chicks from their nest and the men digging into fox dens and setting their terriers onto foxes. Others show Smith posing with a dead rook and curlew, as well as a dead fox.
A search of Ardito’s home also revealed a pit that could be created out of wooden boards and carpets which could be used to stage animal fights.
Speaking after the case, RSPCA inspector Cliff Harrison, from the charity’s special operations unit, said: “This is the most disturbing case I have investigated in my 23 years with the RSPCA.
“I have spent the last 14 years with our special operations unit and can say that we have never before discovered such a comprehensive collection of images showing the very worst acts of cruelty imposed on wild mammals and to the dogs continually used to fight them.
“This case is nothing to do with legitimate pest control or lawful ‘country pursuits’. It is about three men who went out to deliberately inflict terror and suffering on wild mammals on a regular basis.
“They revelled in the cruelty they inflicted and kept thousands of images for repeat gratification.
“They had no regard for the welfare of the dogs they used as their tools of cruelty.
“There can be no excuse or mitigation for such depraved behaviour.”
Sentencing all three, District Judge Daniel Curtis expressed his shock at the “organised, methodical cruelty against defenceless disadvantaged animals”.
He added: “The offenders displayed sickening pleasure in the torture and death of wild animals.
“All participants engaged in infliction on wild and their own animals cruelty to an extent and level beyond that envisaged by the sentencing guidelines.”
Smith, of Broadway, admitted 13 charges, including causing animal fights between his dogs and foxes and a badger and causing unnecessary suffering to the animals. He also admitted possession of dead wild birds and a trap that could be used to catch wild birds.
Ardito, who is currently in custody for unrelated matters, admitted 12 charges including causing animal fights between dogs, foxes and badgers and causing unnecessary suffering to foxes and dogs.
He also admitted taking sparrowhawks from the wild and keeping premises for use for an animal fight.
Cannon, who is also currently in prison for unrelated matters, pleaded guilty to five charges. These included causing an animal fight between a dog and a fox, causing a fight between a dog and a badger and causing unnecessary suffering to foxes.
The RSPCA launched their investigation with the assistance of the League Against Cruel Sports and Humberside Police.