Sentencing is due tomorrow of convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies for animal cruelty offences, as well as a number of firearms offences.
Davies, 28, pleaded guilty in May to a number of offences relating to the keeping and training of dogs for animal fighting (badger baiting) and of failing to seek veterinary attention for dogs that had sustained serious injuries from those fights. He also admitted a number of firearms and shotgun offences relating to unsecured guns and ammunition at his cottage on Millden Estate.
[Rhys Owen Davies photographed outside Forfar Sheriff Court in May. Photo by Ross Gardiner from The Courier]
The depraved crimes of this Angus Glens gamekeeper were uncovered by an investigation led by the Scottish SPCA that began back in May 2019. Unbelievably, Davies had submitted some photos to a printing company to be developed; 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. Davies used his address at Millden Estate for the photo order to be returned.
Fortunately, the print developer recognised the serious nature of the images and reported the order to the Scottish SPCA.
In October 2019, the Scottish SPCA led a multi-agency raid on Millden Estate, and at another property in Aberdeenshire, where multiple pieces of evidence were uncovered during searches of gamekeepers’ houses and the wider estate.
Amongst other things, eleven dogs were seized from kennels at Davies’ cottage and from an outbuilding. Some dogs showed evidence of injuries, some fresh and others sustained previously. These injuries included a torn-off lower lip, extensive scarring and the lower face of one dog was missing. A collar tested positive for badger DNA.
Davies’ phone was seized and more images were found of harrowing animal injuries, GPS locations of where he’d been, and conversations with others in the gang discussing the fights, injuries sustained and comments about DIY veterinary attention.
One of these gang members, 32-year-old Liam Taylor of Deyhill, MacDuff, Aberdeenshire, was convicted last year for his role in this savagery (here). He received a ten-year ban for owning dogs, a one-year supervision order, and was ordered to undertake 240 hours of unpaid work.
It’ll be interesting to see what sentence Davies receives tomorrow. His defence lawyer (a QC, no less – I wonder if Millden Estate paid for his services?), tried to plead for mitigation on conviction but the Crown Office Fiscal, Karon Rollo, made clear that Davies was a fully-trained gamekeeper (three-years college training) and had been employed as a gamekeeper for four years so knew exactly what he was doing. Sheriff Derek Reekie agreed and asked for social reports on Davies before sentencing.
Unfortunately, Davies committed his disgusting crimes prior to the Scottish Government’s introduction of tougher penalties for animal cruelty and wildlife crime. That legislation, the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, increased the maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare and wildlife crimes (including badger baiting) to five years imprisonment and unlimited fines. However, it wasn’t enacted until November 2020. Davies’ crimes were committed in 2019, and I doubt the increased penalties can be applied retrospectively.
Even after sentencing tomorrow, this case won’t be over yet. During the raid on Millden Estate in October 2019, a number of dead raptors were found stuffed in sacks at various locations. Police Scotland is dealing with this aspect of the case but so far the investigating officer has been very reluctant to provide updates on case progress. I’ll be returning to this in due course.
UPDATE 28th June 2022: Sentencing deferred for convicted Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies (here)