'Landmark' sentence for man guilty of 'horrific' cockfighting offences in North Yorkshire

A man has been jailed for causing "horrific and abhorrent" suffering by making cockerels fight each other.

One of the photographs taken by police at the premises
One of the photographs taken by police at the premises

North Yorkshire Police said scenes of "catastrophic suffering" recorded on a mobile phone of the fights were among the worst examples of animal cruelty they had ever seen.

The force today hailed a "landmark" sentence handed to William Henry Welch, 29, of Darlington, who 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 between December 2017 and January 2018.

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

A wounded cockerel at the premises

Police officers and the RSPCA swooped on premises at Skutterskelfe after an anonymous phone call to police on January 13.

They found a number of men as well as 27 live birds, some bleeding from fresh cuts to the body and head.

In a stable block there were bird feathers, and dried and fresh bloodstains on the floor and carpet.

An examination of Welch's mobile phone revealed he had been at other cockfights including on 19 December 2017 and 4 January 2018.

William Welch

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.

William Chates, 53, of Darlington, also 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 NorthYorkshire 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."

William Chates

Sgt Kelly said the sentence had been achieved by working with specialists and experts from the RSPCA and the Crown Prosecution Service and he also commended the efforts of his team, in particular newly-qualified wildlife crime officer PC Mark Atkinson.

“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: 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.”