Ashington teenager behind bars for animal cruelty

A TEENAGER has become the second person to be put behind bars for what the RSPCA described as one of the worst cases of animal cruelty ever seen in the North East.

Robert Smith
Robert Smith

A TEENAGER has become the second person to be put behind bars for what the RSPCA described as one of the worst cases of animal cruelty ever seen in the North East.

Robert Smith, 18, was part of a gang of sadists who used lurcher dogs to hunt down, attack and tear apart terrified roe deer and foxes under cover of darkness.

Horrifying footage shot on mobile phone cameras showed the victim animals screaming in agony and fighting for their lives against the dogs, which were being egged on by excited bystanders.

In one clip, a deer had its antlers snapped off while still alive, and people present at the scenes could be heard shouting encouragement at the dogs, and kicking and holding down the foxes and deer with their feet.

Yesterday magistrates in Bedlington, Northumberland said they were appalled after viewing the footage, which they described as “torture of defenceless wild animals”.

Smith, of Blyth Terrace, Ashington, the father of a young child, was sentenced to 18 weeks in a young offenders’ institution after admitting charges of cruelty to deer and foxes, causing animal fights to take place, intentionally injuring deer and hunting wild mammals with dogs.

He was banned from owning any animals for 20 years, and cannot apply for the disqualification to be lifted for 10 years.

Three dogs recovered from his homes have been handed over to the RSPCA and the magistrates also ordered the forfeiture of hunting equipment found at the address.

Smith’s solicitor, Michelle Lamond, said she would appeal against the sentence to the Crown Court, but magistrates refused to release Smith on bail pending the appeal hearing.

The horrific footage was recovered from mobile phones seized by police from Ben Cairns, 19, of Rosalind Street, Ashington, when he was arrested on an unrelated matter in November last year.

Last month Cairns was sent to prison for 18 weeks by Bedlington magistrates after he admitted six charges brought under the Animal Welfare Act, the Hunting Act and the Deer Act.

He was also banned from keeping any animals for 20 years. The offences committed by Smith and Cairns happened between June 2011 and January this year.

RSPCA Inspector Helen Bestwick, who led the investigation, has described it as the most shocking case of deliberate and gratuitous cruelty she had seen in her career. She said: “The number of videos, the length of some of them and the number of animals which have been tortured to death will live with me forever. The screams of the terrified animals being ripped apart is beyond belief.”

A vet who viewed the footage said the intense cruelty and prolonged suffering inflicted on the deer and foxes was horrific.

“They would have endured terror in being chased and savaged by the dogs, and no humanity had been shown by those involved in the attacks.

Yesterday magistrates told Smith that the offences involved extreme cruelty and gratuitous violence and added: “The images are something we will not forget.”

Ms Lamond said the offences were committed while Smith was still a youth and, however distasteful and upsetting the case was, that had to be taken into account in sentencing him.

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