A JUDGE in North Yorkshire today condemned badger baiting as “barbaric” and “abhorrent” as she jailed four men who laughed as dogs tore the animals to pieces.
District Judge Kristina Harrison said she was sending out a clear signal to anybody involved in such activities that they would be sent to prison.
Scarborough Magistrates’ Court heard how a group of six men and a teenage boy dug out and killed two badgers from a sett on farmland at Howsham, near York, in January last year.
Sobia Ahmed, prosecuting, said dogs played tug-of-war with one of the badgers before it was shot in the head and slung into undergrowth, while a pregnant badger was torn to pieces and bled to death.
Alan Alexander, 32, from York, Richard Simpson, 37, from York, Paul Tindall, 31, from York and William Anderson, 26, from Pickering, were jailed for 16 weeks after being found guilty of wilfully killing a badger, hunting a mammal with dogs, digging for badgers and interfering with a badger sett.
Alexander and Simpson were also convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal.
Another two men, Christopher Holmes, 28, and Malcolm Warner, 28, both from York, were handed 12-week custodial sentences suspended for 12 months after they pleaded guilty to wilfully killing a badger, digging for badgers and interfering with a badger sett.
A 17-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given a youth rehabilitation order after he was also found guilty of wilfully killing a badger, hunting a mammal with dogs, digging for badgers and interfering with a badger sett.
Sentencing the men and the teenager, Ms Harrison said: “Badger baiting is regarded as a barbaric sport and the public feeling is one of revulsion.”
She continued: “The people of Yorkshire will not tolerate badger baiting in their midst. It’s barbaric, it’s abhorrent and anyone convicted of this kind of offence will receive a custodial sentence.
“This is a clear signal to anybody who seeks to commit this kind of behaviour.”
Ms Ahmed told the court that two witnesses heard the sound of dogs barking excitedly and a badger squealing in distress and went to investigate.
When they reached the scene, they saw two large dogs attacking a badger.
Ms Ahmed said: “They had hold of it in their mouths and were shaking it violently.
“They said the dogs were playing tug of war with the badger.”
The witnesses said Alexander was encouraging and goading the dogs while the other men watched.
“It appeared they were all having a laugh and a joke and enjoying what was going on,” Ms Ahmed said.
After some time, the badger was shot dead by Anderson and the men, who had become aware of the witnesses and tried to cover their tracks by throwing the dead badger into the undergrowth.
They then buried a second dead badger - a pregnant animal which had been torn to pieces by the dogs - back into the hole from which it had been dug.
Ms Ahmed said the witnesses called the police and the men and teenager were arrested a short time later.
Police and RSPCA inspectors who visited the scene found animal intestines and badger foetuses scattered around and areas of congealed blood, believed to be from where the badger had been shot.
When they recovered the two badgers, one was found to have been shot at close range and had a fractured skull and jaw.
The other had part of its abdomen missing and injuries consistent with being attacked by a dog.
Ms Ahmed said the pregnant badger suffered “a sustained attack by a number of dogs that had caused the badger to be torn to pieces and eventually it bled to death” while the other had a “gunshot wound to the head immediately after a severe and sustained attack by a number of dogs”.
Ms Ahmed described the operation as a “sophisticated enterprise” in which the men used equipment to track down the badgers.
Alexander, Anderson, Simpson and Tindall were told they would serve eight weeks of their sentences before being released on licence.
They were each ordered to pay £750 costs and £100 compensation.
Each of the four defendants was handcuffed and led out of the crowded courtroom by security guards while members of their families sobbed.
Holmes and Warner were told to pay £250 costs and £100 compensation and the 17-year-old was told he would be placed under supervision for 12 months and would have to undertake a number of programmes, including one run by the RSPCA, as part of his youth rehabilitation order.
Speaking after the sentencing, RSPCA Inspector Geoff Edmond said: “I was there on the day and was responsible for removing a pregnant badger which had been buried in a hole, which had been ripped to bits by dogs.
“That’s horrific, barbaric, and these badgers had been tortured by these dogs on that day.”
He added: “This is the highest level of animal cruelty. It’s people who have organised to go into the North Yorkshire countryside, dig out and cruelly bait badgers.
“It’s the worst case I’ve ever dealt with of badger baiting in almost 20 years as an inspector.
“It cannot be tolerated. These people will be brought before the courts and treated accordingly.”
Sergeant Paul Stephenson, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “The judge has given her verdict here, which represents what the public think in relation to the horrific and barbaric acts that took place.
“This was something that no-one can condone.”
Mr Edmond and Sgt Stephenson urged anyone who witnesses anything suspicious to contact police.