On 1 August, Rhys Davies, a former gamekeeper on one of Scotland’s massive grouse-shooting estates, was been sentenced to prison for eight months, and banned from keeping animals for 15 years. 

28-year-old Davies pleaded guilty in May to a number of offences relating to animal cruelty, after he trained his five dogs to take part in fox and badger fighting (or badger baiting) in various locations. Davies was a gamekeeper at the 20,000-acre Millden Estate in the Angus Glens at the time. The judge at Forfar Sheriff Court also gave Davies a £1,800 fine for firearms offences.

Badger baiting

Badger baiting is a horrific, illegal bloodsport, where dogs are sent into badger setts to hold an animal at bay. Humans then dig the badger out of the sett, and the dogs tear the poor creature apart. It is thought that more than 10,000 badgers are killed by badger baiting every year. Animal Survival International says:

“Badgers are typically shy and peaceful creatures. But during the cold winter months, they become defensive – ferociously protecting their homes when females are pregnant or nursing their young. Badger baiters exploit this defensive behaviour which makes for ‘better sport’.”

The organisation explains how badger baiting is also horrific for the dogs:

“So-called ‘better sport’ also means graver injuries to the hunters’ dogs. A badger has great strength and their powerful digging claws can do serious damage when they’re fighting for their life. The dogs are often left with horrific wounds. Worried that veterinarians may report them, hunters usually stitch the dogs’ wounds themselves, without giving the animal pain relief or antibiotics. If the dogs are severely hurt, they are simply shot or tied up and left to die.”

Taking photos of his own depraved acts

Back in May 2019, the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) was alerted to the man’s crimes after Davies himself sent photos to a printing company to get developed. Davies had clearly wanted to use the photos as trophies for his horrific acts, but instead they incriminated him. Raptor Persecution reported:

“those photographs contained images of horrifically injured, disfigured and dead animals, along with a number of clearly identifiable individuals posing with spades at what looked to be fox dens and badger setts.”

In October 2019, the SSPCA secured a warrant to search Davies’ home on the Millden Estate. They found eleven dogs in kennels, some of whom had nasty, fresh injuries, as well as disfigurement. They also found medication, syringes and staplers, showing that Davies was attempting to treat the dogs’ injuries himself. On top of this, they retrieved a phone with text messages on, where Davies had written about the fights that his dogs had been involved in. 

In court, Sheriff Derek Reekie told Davies: 

“It is deeply disturbing, the horrific, cruel and senseless nature of the crime, as well as the cruelty to your own dogs. Your text messages demonstrate your sickening enjoyment in what you were doing.”

A rare punishment

Davies’ prison sentence isn’t a long one, but it is more than those who torture animals usually get, whether they live in Scotland or England. Davies’ friend, Liam Taylor, walked away from Banff Sheriff Court in Aberdeenshire in November 2021 after his involvement in the same gang. He is banned from keeping dogs for ten years, will be under supervision for 12 months, and has been ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work. 

And Paul O’Shea, who infamously used a terrier to torture a fox, before stabbing the poor creature multiple times with a pitchfork, also walked away from prison on 1 August. O’Shea was given an 18-week suspended sentence at Chelmsford Magistrates Court. He was spared prison because the judge thought there was a “good prospect of rehabilitation.”

It is highly questionable whether men who take joy in ripping apart animals, whether they be badger baiters or fox hunters, even want to be rehabilitated. 

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