‘Killing for fun’: Inside the sick world of badger baiting as bloodsport surges across Greater Manchester beauty spots

‘Killing for fun’: Inside the sick world of badger baiting as bloodsport surges across Greater Manchester beauty spots

Badger baiting. A cruel sport where badgers are terrorised, hunted and killed. Increasing cases of badger baiting are causing untold damage to our wildlife, with hundreds of badgers being killed every year.

A year ago, on April 28 2021, a volunteer was brutally attacked with spades by a gang of five thugs who were digging out a badger sett in Bolton. He was hospitalised, and left with numerous injuries which required plastic surgery.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, volunteer Daniel said that a year on nothing has changed. “I have been attacked before by them, they left me for dead. The police didn’t have enough information, evidence, witnesses to proceed with the case so they dropped it,” he said.

Daniel said he got in touch with his local badger group, the Lancashire Badger Group, and became a volunteer and then a member. Their activities include going on walks and looking for new badger setts, logging them and recording them so they know where they are.

They also check how many badgers there are, as well as if they have any cubs, and see if there are any buildings being built around them which could affect the setts. The biggest problem he said they deal with, though, is badger baiting. “We just have to keep reporting it to the police,” he said.

A volunteer examining a dug out badger sett (Image: RSPCA)
A volunteer examining a dug out badger sett (Image: RSPCA)

“People can keep an eye out for those baiting badgers, looking for groups of people with torches and dogs and spades going into the woods at night. In south Manchester it’s rife, especially in places like Reddish Vale Park.”

He said that groups are wanting police forces, including Greater Manchester Police to prioritise the offences more. “It’s going on constantly, there is a massive problem with GMP, we call up about it and they don’t even know what it is, and we have to explain what the Protecting the Badger Act is. They often don’t record it as a wildlife crime either, instead recording it as criminal damage or miscellaneous.”

When asked what members of the public could do if they see a badger, Daniel advises people to contact their local badger group who can log it and routinely check on it. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, crimes against badgers have risen: sett interference by 40%, badger baiting/fighting by 52% and poisoning by 77%, according to the latest figures released by Wildlife and Countryside Link, a network of 62 organisations involved in wildlife .

The South Manchester Badger Club, which was created during lockdown, said their experiences have been incredibly challenging. They received extensive training by a wildlife crime officer for the Badger Trust and often attend road traffic accidents where badgers have been injured and require immediate care.

An injured badger (Image: South Manchester Badger Group)
An injured badger (Image: South Manchester Badger Group)

A spokesperson said: “We have only been going 16 months however we have already dealt with 10 crime incidents, none of which police have visited the scene/location, and also none have been escalated to a crime reference number, just a log number, which is frustrating as badgers are protected by law under the (Protection Of Badgers Act 1992).

“We ring 101 and are told it will be passed on, however most officers are simply not trained to deal with wildlife crime, this then goes no further, meanwhile we are emailing, phoning and trying to get it escalated to a crime ref number. These crimes involve badgers being unlawfully shot or killed by dogs entering a sett due to ignorance of dog owners.”

In March this year, Paris Carding and Grant Leigh Snr both appeared before the courts for ‘graphic and perverse cruelty at its worst’. Ex-teaching assistant Carding, 28, her then-boyfriend Grant Leigh Jnr, 30, and his dad, Leigh Snr, 52, filmed as their dogs savagely attacked foxes and badgers.

Grant Leigh Snr,(left) and Paris Carding, (right) who were given suspended sentences for animal cruelty offences at Tameside Magistrates Court on March 9 (Image: Manchester Evening News)
Grant Leigh Snr,(left) and Paris Carding, (right) who were given suspended sentences for animal cruelty offences at Tameside Magistrates Court on March 9 (Image: Manchester Evening News)

They also encouraged their children to get involved. Leigh Snr previously boasted to members of Facebook group ‘The Real Terrier Men and Lurcher Men’ about taking his son out badger baiting as a way of ‘celebrating’ his prison release, Tameside Magistrates’ Court heard.

Their six dogs were found in squalid conditions at Leigh Snr’s house in Hyde and all had injuries consistent with hunting activities. They have since been taken into RSPCA care.

The court was shown disturbing footage taken from their phone which showed three dogs attacking a fox while a child is heard saying: “I want to bash it again.” In another video, taken by Carding according to the prosecution, she can be heard saying ‘they love it, bash! Bash!’.

At a trial Carding was found guilty of five cruelty charges under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. Grant Sr was found guilty of two offences under the Animal Welfare Act, and Grant Jr admitted to seven cruelty offences.

District Judge Bernard Begley sentenced Carding to 22 weeks custody suspended for 12 months with Leigh Snr given 12 weeks suspended for 12 months. Both were ordered to pay £1,000 costs towards the investigation.

For his offences, Leigh Jnr was handed a 26 week sentence, which will be added to the prison sentence he is currently serving for different matters. The Protection Of Badgers Act was introduced in 1992 and, if prosecuted, the maximum prison term is six months.

Chief Inspector Dave Henthorne, GMP’s lead for wildlife crime, said: “Badger baiting is not only extremely cruel, and causes suffering to both the badgers and dogs, but it is also against the law. Greater Manchester Police cover a huge area, with large parts of those including rural locations, which is why we have a network of 25 officers who perform a variety of roles in GMP but also volunteer as wildlife officers.

One of the badger setts that has been dug out (Image: RSPCA)
One of the badger setts that has been dug out (Image: RSPCA)

“As with any other crime, we will pursue and work to prosecute anyone found to be breaking the law. Badgers are protected by Law and it is an offence to take, injure or kill a badger and it is also an offence to interfere with a badger sett. We ask for members of the public to help us in this, by reporting anything suspicious such disturbed badger setts, people digging around setts or putting terriers near to setts.”

The Badger Trust’s Wildlife Crime Officer told the M.E.N that he had encountered domestic abusers for whom badger baiting was a hobby. He said he had offered support and training to 42 police forces across the country and is willing to support GMP too.

Explaining the sadistic method of baiting, the officer said small dogs, like terriers, are sent into badger setts, and due the nature of a badger, there is a standoff and the dogs make their owners aware by barking. The badger will either come out on its own or be dragged out, before larger dogs (encouraged by their owners) embark on a cruel game of tug of war.

A dog who was injured during the baiting (Image: RSPCA)
A dog who was injured during the baiting (Image: RSPCA)

“They call it a tug of pig, with pig meaning a slang word for badger. It is essentially a tug of war, but there is no rope – the badger is the rope. They will pull it until it dies from the stress or exhaustion,” the officer said.

He explained that people who had attempted to stop them in the past had been assaulted. “Some of these people will not think twice about attacking a police officer, let alone a member of the public, so we advise people to stay away. They are happy to see dogs inflict suffering. For them the badger is the trophy – they see it as sport. We all feel frustrated – things need to change.”

The dogs are often injured too, and won’t be taken for veterinary treatment as it could trigger an RSPCA investigation, Ian Scott of the Lancashire Badger Group added.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Badger persecution and hunting with dogs is, sadly, something which we are seeing more of. We’ve dealt with numerous cases where groups of men spend their evenings going out across countryside and farmland with their dogs to track down and kill badgers, foxes, deer and anything else that may get in their way. This is gratuitous killing for fun.

“Badger baiting or digging is where a dog is sent into a badger sett to flush out the badger and attack it for the handler to then dig the badger out of the sett and shoot it. This not only inflicts terrible wounds on the dog involved but also causes severe suffering to the badger and is illegal under the Badgers Act, Wildlife & Countryside Act and Animal Welfare Act. Anyone who suspects badger baiting should report the matter to the police or call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.”

This article by Amy Walker was first published by The Manchester Evening News on 1 May 2022. Lead Image: An injured badger (Image: South Manchester Badger Group).

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