Cockfighter jailed after police find 'sickening' videos, bloodstains and injured birds on North Yorkshire farm

Police officers were too upset to watch graphic mobile phone videos of birds being mauled during illegal cockfights.

The fighting cockerels were found in cages on a farm
The fighting cockerels were found in cages on a farm

One man has been jailed and another convicted over their involvement in the distressing organised bouts between fighting cockerels on a farm near Stokesley in North Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire Police officers described footage of the fights as one of the worst examples of animal cruelty they had ever seen - and hailed the 'landmark' custodial sentence.

Four men charged over cockfights in HambletonWilliam Henry Welch, 29, of Darlington, pleaded guilty to charges of causing an animal fight to take place, keeping animals for fighting, and being present at an animal fight on three occasions in December 2017 and January 2018.

William Henry Welch

Jailing Welch, magistrates told him: “You put your own recreational needs before the welfare of your animals, in the most horrific and abhorrent circumstances.”

On 13 January 2018, acting on an anonymous call to the police control room, officers from North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce and the RSPCA attended a farm at Skutterskelf, near Stokesley.

A number of men were present. Officers searched buildings and vehicles, and seized a total of 27 live birds, some of which were bleeding from fresh cuts to the body and head. Inside a stable block, they found bird feathers, and dried and fresh bloodstains on the floor and carpet.

The RSPCA provided expert evidence about the condition of the birds, and arranged for their safe storage and ongoing care.

William Chates

During the enquiry, an examination was carried out on a mobile phone recovered from Welch, which revealed he was present at a number of other cockfights, on 19 December 2017 and 4 January 2018.

Investigators described the extremely graphic video footage on the phone as “sickening”.

At Harrogate Magistrates Court yesterday, Welch was sentenced to 20 weeks in jail, disqualified from keeping all animals for 20 years, and ordered to pay a total of £2,000 costs.

As part of the same case, William Chates, 53, of Darlington, pleaded guilty to being present at an animal fight. He was sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid work and disqualified from keeping all animals for 10 years, and £170 costs. Two further defendants were found not guilty.

Sergeant Kevin Kelly, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “This is one of the worst examples of animal cruelty I have seen in over 15 years of police service, so much so that I took the decision not to have the investigating officers view the video footage recovered from Welch’s mobile phone, due to its extreme graphic nature and scenes of catastrophic suffering to the animals involved.

“I would like to acknowledge the anonymous caller who made the decision contact us, knowing that North Yorkshire Police would take the matter seriously. I hope news of this sentence finds its way back to them, and serves as an example of how seriously we take this type of crime.

“The jail sentence should be seen as a stark warning to animal abusers up and down the country that the police and the RSPCA, given the chance, will come for you.

“A complex and lengthy investigation of this scale doesn’t come without its challenges. It does, however, serve as an example of how these challenges can be overcome with good-quality partnership working.

“This landmark sentence has come about because we have worked together with specialists and experts from the RSPCA and the Crown Prosecution Service. It also highlights the commitment of my team, in particular PC Mark Atkinson, a newly-qualified wildlife crime officer who has shown commendable levels of commitment to bringing this conviction.”

Inspector Geoff Edmond, the RSPCA’s National Wildlife Crime Coordinator, said:

“This was a lengthy and complex investigation, jointly working in partnership with North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce.

“This was serious and horrific animal cruelty at the highest level. Not only was this an organised and planned cockfight, it was watched and recorded on video. To have to view these sickening videos is very distressing, and our thanks go to North Yorkshire Police for their significant effort and determination to place this matter before the court.

“The significant sentences handed down send a clear message that the RSPCA will continue to work with the police to bring criminals involved in animal cruelty before the courts.”