Pateley Bridge sweet shop owner turns detective to solve mystery of poisoned dog's death

A Pateley Bridge businessman has offered £5,000 for anyone who has information that can help bring the person who left out poison that killed a family's dog to justice.

Sweet shop owner Keith Tordoff MBE says Nidderdale has had enough of being tainted by wildlife crime
Sweet shop owner Keith Tordoff MBE says Nidderdale has had enough of being tainted by wildlife crime

The Ambler family's springer spaniel Molly died after eating meat baited with chemicals while out on a walk at Two Stoops in April, and their other dog, cocker spaniel Poppy, became seriously ill.

The dogs were poisoned by a combination of pesticides that police have nicknamed the 'Nidderdale cocktail' which is placed in the countryside to kill birds of prey living near grouse shoots.

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The dogs ate the poisoned bait while on a walk up Two Stoops

Raptor persecution has entered mainstream public consciousness following several high-profile incidents in North Yorkshire this year in the lead-up to the grouse season, which begins on August 12. Molly's death has raised awareness of the scale of the problem.

Now, businessman Keith Tordoff MBE, who owns The Oldest Sweet Shop in England in Pateley Bridge, has called the crime 'a stain on Nidderdale' and offered a £5,000 reward to help bring the culprits to justice.

Mr Tordoff, a retired police detective, says the town's reputation has suffered since Molly was killed and that the incident is affecting tourism in Nidderdale as people are worried to walk with dogs and children in the moors.

He has used his policing experience to investigate the circumstances of the poisoning, and has had several names given to him by members of the public, which he has passed on to North Yorkshire Police.

He says the death of the family pet has become a common topic of conversation among his shop's customers, many of whom are visiting Nidderdale and have begun to associate the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with animal cruelty.

Mr Tordoff first became interested in raptor persecution following the death of a red kite around 18 months ago, and later invited Channel Four news crews to Pateley Bridge when a local woman found the body of a buzzard that had died in suspicious circumstances in her garden. At the time, the Amblers were still awaiting test results from samples taken from Molly and Poppy, which have since confirmed that the spaniels ingested the 'potent' mixtures of poisons.

He is at pains to point out that the community is 'grossly offended' by the links to wildlife crime and that people are finally beginning to speak out against the perpetrators.

"The response has been very good. I have taken calls from people who have given me the same names, and we now have some significant leads which I have forwarded to the police. I'm an ex-detective and I hope my skills can help - I know the sort of questions to ask and it's helpful to have someone from the local area doing this.

"The reward has got people talking, and all the bits of information are being added together to identify the person responsible. It's about bringing them to justice and also educating them about what they are doing.

"It's not acceptable and we are making a stand. Money opens mouths - whether that is an ex-employee who had been encouraged to do this sort of thing, or someone who has seen it going on.

"These beautiful birds should be flying free. Killing them is against the law of the land, and it is just so cruel - and now a family pet has ended up dead, which has brought this issue to prominence."

Mr Tordoff says raptors are only 'very rarely' seen in the skies above Nidderdale, despite species such as red kite thriving in areas like north Leeds and Harrogate.

"It makes you think how many others have there been that we don't know about? There will be others that aren't accounted for. Walkers comment on how the skies are clear. Landowners, grouse shoots - everyone needs to be responsible for what happens on their land, and to answer questions about where these birds are found, because once they've eaten the bait, they don't get far."

The businessman has been the target of reprisals for his activity, and has received anonymous threatening letters, while his shop has been subject to false reviews online.

"There are clearly still people who feel the opposite. Some people are scared of the backlash, but in a small community we need people to stand up. At last it's starting to work - we are building the picture, the same names are cropping up again and again."

Molly's owner has described the experience of losing the three-year-old dog as 'horrendous'. She and Poppy were being walked by her 21-year-old daughter on a route they had been using almost daily when the incident happened.

"For at least three years the dogs have done the same walk twice a day with no issues. When they got back, Molly came through the gate and she was twitching. When I walked towards her, she just collapsed, and then Poppy started being sick. If she hadn't, the vet said we'd probably have lost her as well.

"My daughter said they only disappeared for a minute and she didn't see anything suspicious."

As the incident happened at the height of lockdown, the family's local veterinary surgery was closed, so the dogs were rushed to Ripon instead.

Molly was given anti-seizure medication and put on a drip, but she died within an hour of arrival. Poppy spent three days at the surgery before she returned home. Coronavirus restrictions meant the Amblers were only allowed to visit her once during this time.

"It still doesn't seem real. I don't want anyone to ever go through what we have. We had heard of birds of prey being killed, but we didn't really make the connection - and there shouldn't be a connection.

"Molly was a big, hefty dog, and it happened so fast - the poison was potent enough to kill a child.

"The whole thing is slightly more high profile now - it's not just a bird, it's a family pet, and it could have been a child falling over in the woods, landing on the bait and licking their hand.

"We don't go anywhere near Two Stoops now and we are really careful. You just would never expect it to happen."

The Amblers are now taking comfort in Poppy's recovery and the presence of their other two dogs, her brother Alfie and a Pomeranian called Elmo.

"People have got behind us. We are not pointing the finger, but we don't want this to happen again. We live in a small village and my daughters, who are 24 and 21 and still live with us, wanted to make a stand."