A 28-year-old man who kept and trained dogs for fighting has been banned from keeping animals for 15 years, fined £1800 for firearms offences, and handed an eight month prison sentence.
Rhys Davies, a former gamekeeper at Millden Estate near Glenesk, was sentenced at Forfar Sheriff Court on Monday after pleading guilty to keeping five dogs for animal fighting from April 24, 2018 to October 8, 2019.
Davies also pled guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to two dogs by failing to provide veterinary treatment and to breaching the conditions of his firearms licence by having unsecured firearms and ammunition in his home at Turnbrae House.
The court heard that Davies sent 58 pictures featuring severely injured dogs and individuals posing with dead animals to be printed in May 2019.
An employee of a photo print company then contacted the Scottish SPCA with serious concerns about the welfare of several dogs pictured.
Many of the dogs showed progressively more serious facial injuries over the period the images were taken and several males posing and digging into what looked like badger setts or fox dens.
There were also numerous images showing dead foxes.
The animal charity identified them as ‘trophy’ photographs showing a group of males engaging in the organised fighting and killing of wild animals over an extended period, and Davies was easily identifiable in many of them.
Inspectors from the Scottish SPCA and officers from Police Scotland went to Davies’ home in Brechin with a warrant on the morning of October 8, 2019.
Police found a Benelli shotgun propped against a wall near the front door, two rifles were also found, a Tikka .243 rifle on the sofa and a CZ rifle in the hall cupboard next to the open gun cabinet.
An assortment of ammunition, including 23 bullets in a pot on the floor, five in a carrier bag behind the front door and one on top of a bed were seized by police.
Eleven dogs were found within kennels on the property and five patterdale terrier dogs had obvious signs of injury.
A vet who was also in attendance confirmed that two of the terriers, Lola and Tuck, had fresh injuries.
Lola’s were to her mouth and lower jaw and Tuck had part of his lower face missing and fresh injuries which produced an obvious smell when near the dog. There were also healing wounds to his forelegs.
At the address, investigators found evidence to suggest Davies’ had attempted to treat injuries himself which included syringes, staplers and prescription-only medication for animals.
All the dogs were taken to Scottish SPCA facilities for examination and treatment.
Badger DNA was found on a red locator collar following forensic examination.
Photobooks were also recovered from the property like the print order placed by Davies.
Davies was interviewed under caution and admitted that the dogs had not received veterinary treatment in the time that he had owned them.
He denied using the dogs to fight or kill foxes or badgers and claimed they had sustained injury from legal ratting and foxing.
Davies agreed to sign all the terrier dogs over to the Scottish SPCA for rehoming.
The injured dogs were examined by specialist vets and their expert opinion was that the dogs had been kept for the purposes of animal fighting and their injuries were sustained from face-to-face combat with badgers or foxes.
Davies’ phone was seized during the search and images of him engaged in digging activities and the dogs with fresh wounds were found.
There were also numerous conversations with associates referencing digging activities and sharing photographs showing dogs pulling badgers out of setts.
A number of voice messages with associates were also found where they discussed digging with the dogs.
In one message, Davies’ asks an individual about the size of photographs to print to make a digging album.
In the message he stated: “And if I do get the knock for it at least everything’s all in the one place for them to find”.
GPS location data from Davies’ phone also placed him in two rural locations on September 21, 2019 where he was found to have had a conversation with the same associate about meeting to bait and later that night his associate sent an image of Davies standing in a large whole holding one of the terrier dogs.
Speaking after the sentencing, Karon Rollo, head of the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit of COPFS said: “Animal fighting is a cruel illegal activity which causes terrible and unnecessary suffering to animals.
“The evidence clearly shows the scope of the involvement Rhys Davies had with an organised group that took pleasure in killing wild animals in such a wicked and inhumane manner.
“I welcome the sentence and the granting of the order preventing him from keeping animals for 15 years. I would like to thank Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA for their part in investigating and gathering evidence of these offences.
“Hopefully this prosecution and the sentence will serve as a message to others who would cause such suffering that there are consequences and that they will be held to account for their actions and could also lose their liberty.
“COPFS will continue to work to ensure those who participate in these barbaric practices are prosecuted and would encourage anyone who may have information on animal fighting to contact Police Scotland or the Scottish SPCA.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “All of the hallmarks of a person involved in animal fighting can be found in this case. This includes attempting to treat serious injuries without a vet, bragging to others about those injuries and trying to get ‘trophies’ such as photos as keepsakes of those fights.
“Our special investigations unit lead the way when it comes to taking on these organised, brutal groups involved in animal fights. This was an incredibly sophisticated investigation which made it plain as day the accused was guilty and helped to uncover a wider network of individuals involved in heinous animal fights.
“A custodial sentence sends a real message to anyone who wants to use dogs to bait and maim wildlife that they will be punished for it.
“Wildlife persecution is a scourge. No animal deserves to be subjected to any pain or suffering, let alone at the level Mr. Davies subjected his own dogs and wild animals to. Today, Mr. Davies has found that animal abuse is unacceptable and comes with major consequences.”