A former gamekeeper at one of Scotland’s best-known grouse moors has been jailed for eight months and banned for owning dogs for 15 years, after using dogs to fight badgers and foxes.
Rhys Davies, from Gwynedd, north Wales, admitted earlier this year that he had used five Patterdale terriers for illegal badger and fox-fighting at different locations across Scotland while he was a gamekeeper at Millden estate in Angus, near Dundee.
In a case that shocked investigators, his terriers were found to have horrific injuries to their muzzles and torsos, which he had treated at home using unauthorised medicines, antiseptic sprays and staple guns.
In one of the heaviest sentences seen for charges linked to organised badger-baiting, Davies was also fined £1,800 by Sheriff Derek Reekie at Forfar sheriff court on Monday, on charges of causing unnecessary suffering and keeping dogs for animal fighting, in breach of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
“It is deeply disturbing: the horrific, cruel and senseless nature of the crime, as well as the cruelty to your dogs,” Reekie said. “Being qualified as a gamekeeper is an aggravating factor which disputes [defence] claims of naivety.”
Vets who examined the terriers kept at Millden found one had parts of its lower face missing, and other dogs had scars and puncture wounds to their legs, muzzles, chests and throats that had left them permanently disfigured. Some wounds were fresh; most were historic.
The vets concluded some injuries were consistent with the dogs repeatedly being used for face-to-face combat with badgers. Seized by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) in a raid with police in 2019, they have all since been rehomed.
Chief Supt Mike Flynn, of the SSPCA, said: “A custodial sentence sends a clear message to anyone who wants to use dogs to bait and maim wildlife – they will be punished for it. Wildlife crime is a scourge: no animal deserves to be subjected to pain and suffering.”
Davies was an underkeeper at Millden, a grouse moor and pheasant shoot owned by a millionaire financier, Richard Hanson, which has long been regarded as one of the UK’s most prestigious shooting estates.
Feted by some government agencies and ministers as a model grouse moor, Millden has supplied grouse to the celebrity chef Nick Nairn and hosted school visits, but was subjected to a police raid in 2009 after a tagged golden eagle called Alma was found poisoned. Other birds of prey have also been found shot and poisoned there, but no prosecutions followed.
Davies’s tied cottage at Millden was raided by the SSPCA and Police Scotland in October 2019 after he had sent a large set of trophy photographs of his badly injured dogs and of mutilated foxes to a photo laboratory to be printed.
The photographs included groups of men digging into badger setts and fox dens. Horrified by what she saw, a lab technician reported Davies to the SSPCA, which has investigative and prosecution powers, and which alerted the police.
Davies kept the terriers, which were unchipped and not registered with a vet, in filthy kennels in an outhouse next to his estate cottage. He also pleaded guilty to firearms offences after police seized a shotgun, rifle and ammunition lying scattered around the buildings without being properly secured.
The carcasses of three dead birds of prey were also found during the police search, along with equipment potentially linked to bird of prey persecution. The police submitted a file to the Crown Office, which decided not to prosecute Davies.
Davies was suspended by Millden estate and resigned soon after his arrest. Millden said its staff and owners had had no knowledge of or involvement in any form with Davies’s animal fighting, and said all the animal-fighting incidents under investigation had taken place well away from the estate.
The dogs seized by the SSPCA were Davies’s personal property and not used for grouse or pheasant shoots, a spokesperson said.
“The estate does not condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife and we were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light,” he said. “The estate cooperated with the relevant authorities throughout and continually reviews and updates its compliance policies in relation to wildlife management.”
This article by Severin Carrell was first published by The Guardian on 1 August 2022. Lead Image: Rhys Davies (centre) received one of the heaviest sentences linked to organised badger-baiting. Photograph: COPFS.
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