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Scots gamekeeper exposed as part of brutal dogfighting ring after SSPCA alerted to haul of sick images

A gamekeeper who was exposed as part of a dogfighting ring by his own “trophy” photographs has been warned he faces prison.

Some of the dogs had been left disfigured after being trained to fight badgers and foxes for the entertainment of a group including Rhys Davies.

Davies was working as a gamekeeper at the 20,000-acre Millden estate in Angus when he was discovered to be part of the wildlife crime gang.

He revealed his sick hobby when he sent horror photographs to be developed and the alarm was raised by the shop worker who was appalled.

The SSPCA was called in and a court heard how the photographs – clearly illustrating cruelty and neglect – appeared to be a “trophy” for Davies.

Sheriff Derek Reekie told Davies: “This is truly disturbing and stressful. It’s just horrendous. It seems to me I’ve got to consider a custodial sentence.

“This was clearly an organized activity. It’s clear from messages a group of these people were engaging in organized fighting and killing of animals.”

Forfar Sheriff Court heard that the catalog of cruelty came to light when Davies sent 58 pictures to be printed and his request was reported to the SSPCA.

When the SSPCA raided his home on the grouse shooting estate near Glenesk, they found severely injured dogs, along with an unsecured shotgun, two rifles and more than 140 bullets.

Davies, now of Llanbedrog in Gwynedd, North Wales, admitted keeping and training five Patterdale Terriers to fight animals, as well as failing to seek veterinary treatment for two which had sustained injuries from fighting.

The court was told that authorities first became aware of animal fighting on 30 May 2019. The woman reported “serious concerns” for the welfare of injured dogs in the images Davies wanted printed.

The dogs had facial injuries and a number of men were identifiable, posing and digging into what looked like fox dens or badger setts.

One image, which showed an injured dog, had a caption below it reading: “Pup bit sore after last night.”

Other images showed dead foxes.

The images were viewed by a vet who explained the injuries were likely to have been caused by the dogs fighting with other animals.

In his opinion, many of the dogs pictured had been used repeatedly for fighting, resulting in serious disfigurement, some from face-to-face combat with badgers and foxes.

The court heard police executed a search warrant at Turnbrae Cottage at 7.15am on 8 October 2019. The property was unsecured so they let themselves in.

Davies, 28, arrived to find police and SSPCA officers in his hall with his unattended Benelli shotgun.

Police found a Tikka 243 rifle and a CZ rifle in the house, one on the sofa and another propped up against a gun cabinet and bullets throughout the house

Officers also found animal medication, including used syringes and skin staplers. Davies told police this was for sheep he looked after.

Eleven dogs were found in kennels outside and in an outbuilding. Some showed signs of severe, fresh wounds, as well as injuries that had been sustained sometime earlier.

Davies claimed the dogs had been injured carrying out legitimate ratting and foxing duties, but the dogs were immediately removed for their own safety.

A collar found in the cottage tested positive for badger DNA. Davies could provide no explanation for the photographs, before telling officers the blood on the dogs was fox blood as he offered carcasses to them as rewards.

Five of the dogs – Lola, Pip, Socks, Tuck and Bess – were used as fighting animals. They were either nursing injuries or showing signs of healing.

Lola was found to have relatively fresh injuries to her face and jaw, later found to have been punctured.

She was disfigured with extensive scarring on her chin and part of her lower lip had been torn off during a fight with badgers.

Police found scars on Pip’s face, muzzle, neck and chest and scarring elsewhere. They also found scars on Socks which were deemed to be older injuries.

Socks also had hair loss on areas where injuries had healed, while Tuck had part of his face missing and scarring on top of his head.

Bess also suffered injuries around her nose and muzzle. Lola and Tuck required immediate veterinary treatment.

Police analyzed Davies’ mobile phone and found more photographs of harrowing animal injuries, as well as GPS locations of where he had been.

Officers also discovered damning conversations with a man named as “T.”

In one conversation, Davies said: “I’ve gone through some dogs but that dog, it’s took a fair fuckin’ bit of punishment off that pig on the weekend.

“I might need to cut bits off under its jaw to reseal it, re-staple it.” Pig was revealed to be a codeword for badger.

T was later revealed to be Liam Taylor, who has already been convicted of animal neglect at Banff Sheriff Court.

Taylor was convicted of ill-treating a lurcher named Brock near Macduff in Aberdeenshire.

Texts showed Taylor said he “hoped this dog makes it as a pig digger” and added that Brock had taken “a fair bit of punishment from that pig at the weekend.”

Taylor’s dog lost teeth, had part of its nose ripped off and sustained cuts around the muzzle area. Taylor received 240 hours of unpaid work and a decade-long banning order.

Davies admitted keeping and training five dogs for fighting from 24 April 2018 to 8 October 2019.

He also pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to terriers Lola and Tuck.

Pleas of not guilty to failing to seek veterinary help for Pip and Socks were accepted by the Crown.

Davies also admitted breaching the conditions of a firearms license by leaving his weapons unsecured.

His solicitor said Davies had trained to be a gamekeeper over three years and spent a year studying at Elmwood College in Cupar, sandwiched between spells in Wales and Thurso.

He had been working as a gamekeeper for four years before the raid and now works as a maintenance worker at a boatyard near his Welsh home.

“How he was detected suggests a lack of guile and thought,” the lawyer said. “It appears that he didn’t think through the implications of what he was doing.”

But Sheriff Reekie replied: “He knows what he’s doing – he’s a trained gamekeeper.”

Sentence was deferred for social work reports and Davies was released on bail.

Prosecutor Karon Rollo explained that she would expect a ban on keeping dogs to be part of the punishment.

An SSPCA special investigations unit undercover inspector later said: “We’re pleased Mr Davies has pleaded guilty after a long and complex investigation. We look forward to his sentencing.”

A spokesman for Millden Estate said: “The estate does not condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife.

“We were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light.

“The employee involved was suspended by the estate with immediate effect and resigned a few days later when the police investigation was still at an early stage. At no stage was the estate itself the focus of the investigation.”

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