Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Davies had ‘formed a close bond’ with another animal-fighting sadist

An article in today’s Daily Record reports that Rhys Davies, the Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed earlier this year for his involvement in depraved badger-baiting crimes (see here), had ‘formed a close bond’ with another animal-fighting sadist, Anthony Holloway.

[Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Davies]

According to today’s article, Holloway, 30, who is described as ‘a big player in the pit bull fighting scene‘ and, according to the Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit (here), ‘a significant member of organised dog fighting and badger baiting in Scotland and throughout the UK‘, sent disturbing videos to Rhys Davies, and others, depicting animal mutilation and footage of his dogs pulling badgers from their setts before being killed. The pair were also exchanging information regarding dog breeds and talking about what dogs are best for killing what animals, be it badger or fox. 

Whilst Davies received an eight-month custodial sentence, Holloway and another accomplice escaped jail, as I blogged previously (see here).

Today’s Daily Record article can be read here, but beware, it contains graphic video footage.

The gruesome offences of these men only came to the attention of the authorities after criminal mastermind Davies sent ‘trophy’ photographs of mutilated dogs and wildlife to an online ‘photobook’ shop and the shop assistant alerted the Scottish SPCA. It’s that ‘trophy’ fetish again that I was discussing just a few days ago (here).

The Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit deserves full credit for getting these monsters into court. And although the sentences handed down were pathetic, tougher penalties are now in place in Scotland for animal cruelty and wildlife crime.  New legislation enacted in December 2020 (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. Unfortunately, Holloway & Davies’ crimes were uncovered prior to the new legislation being enacted so it couldn’t be applied retrospectively.

Hopefully we’ll soon be hearing about the Scottish Government’s ‘Independent Taskforce review’ into whether the SSPCA should be given increased powers to tackle other wildlife crimes, including raptor persecution. The Taskforce is due to report by the end of 2022 and the Scottish Government has made clear that the findings will be considered as part of the draft Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill.

I’d argue that if the SSPCA can deal with the prosecution and conviction of organised crime gangs involved with badger-baiting and dog-fighting, then they’re certainly well-equipped to deal with the raptor killers.

Nine raptors found shot & dumped in bags outside gamekeeper’s houses on Millden Estate and at the nearby River Esk in the Angus Glens

News has emerged that a total of nine birds of prey (eight buzzards and a sparrowhawk) have been found shot dead and dumped in bags in the Angus Glens.

We already knew about three of those shot buzzards (see here and here). They were found in bags outside two gamekeeper’s residences during a joint Scottish SPCA/Police Scotland raid on Millden Estate in October 2019 as part of an investigation into the criminal activities of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, who was convicted in May this year for vile animal abuse and received a custodial sentence in August 2022 (here).

Nobody was charged for the killing or possession of those three shot buzzards (although Police Scotland had identified a suspect, the Crown Office chose not to pursue a prosecution – see here) and the news about those three shot buzzards only emerged this year after I’d spent two and a half years asking Police Scotland for details. For unknown reasons, Police Scotland chose not to issue a public appeal for information about those three illegally-killed raptors.

I can now reveal that those three shot buzzards weren’t the only ones found dead in the Angus Glens that Police Scotland was keeping out of the news.

[An illegally shot buzzard. Not one of the ones found on Millden Estate]

Rumours have been circulating for a while that even more dead raptors had been found in connection to the raid on Millden Estate so last month I submitted another FoI to Police Scotland to request confirmation and this is the response I’ve just received:

So that’s a total of nine shot raptors, all found in bags. Note Police Scotland’s careful wording that the third bag containing six shot raptors was found at ‘a second location‘. I understand that this bag wasn’t found on Millden Estate but was discovered nearby on the bank of the River Esk, beyond the estate’s boundary.

This is a shocking story for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the number of dead raptors found shot and dumped in bags in this area of the Angus Glens, but secondly the decision of Police Scotland to keep quiet about them all for almost three years.

Whose interests are served by such silence? Not the public’s interest, that’s for sure, but the interests of the grouse-shooting industry, whose representatives are busily claiming that, “In Scotland, recorded [raptor persecution] crimes have effectively ceased on grouse moors” (Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates writing in the August 2022 edition of The Field – I’ll publish his outrageous opinion piece shortly).

It’s just not good enough from Police Scotland. And this isn’t an isolated case either. More on another case shortly….

3 shot buzzards found on Millden Estate – confirmation from Police Scotland

Police Scotland has finally confirmed that three dead buzzards found in bags on Millden Estate had been shot with a shotgun.

The corpses were discovered during the joint SSPCA/Police Scotland raid on Millden Estate in October 2019 in relation to wildlife crimes committed by depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, who was recently sentenced to jail for his role in a hideous gang of animal abusers (see here).

However, the discovery of the dead buzzards was not made public and I spent two and a half years trying to get an update from Police Scotland about the status of the investigation. At the end of the 2.5 years, I was told that I’d have to speak to the Crown Office, which I did in July 2022, and the Crown Office confirmed there were no prosecutions on the table for these crimes, and it also carefully avoided providing any specific details about the dead raptors (see here).

[An illegally shot buzzard. Not one of the ones found on Millden Estate]

Thanks to a blog reader, an FoI request was submitted to Police Scotland in July 2022 to ask for details of the shot buzzards. Here is Police Scotland’s response:

The fact there won’t be a prosecution for these three shot buzzards won’t be a surprise to anybody who has followed these sort of wildlife crime investigations for any length of time. The police can’t prove who shot the buzzards and dumped them in bags – I wonder whether any forensic work was undertaken?

Nevertheless, I hope that now we have police confirmation that the buzzards had been shot, paperwork will have been passed by the police to NatureScot to allow NatureScot to consider imposing a General Licence restriction on this Angus Glens estate – long overdue in my opinion, especially when you know what else has been uncovered on Millden Estate over many, many years.

Millden Estate’s sporting agent signatory to ‘best practice’ scheme!

Millden Estate, the (now former) employer of depraved gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, sentenced to jail earlier this month for his crimes including animal cruelty and some pretty serious firearms offences (see here), is managed for gamebird shooting by a sporting agency called BH Sporting Ltd, which is owned solely by Nicholas Baikie.

Shooting estates under the management of Mr Baikie are the subject of many discussions amongst raptor workers and his name often comes up: “Oh, it’s a Baikie estate” is heard with almost as much frequency as, “Oh, it’s an Osborne estate”. I might come back to this in a future blog.

Anyway, these two individuals are associated with the management of many, many shooting estates across Scotland and England since their time at the notorious Leadhills Estate in the early 2000s. Between 2003-2006 Osborne was listed as a Director of Leadhills Sporting Ltd, a company who held the sporting rights at Leadhills. Baikie is reported to have been one of his gamekeepers before apparently training as a land agent under Osborne (according to this court document) and then setting up his own consultancy on grouse moor management, including taking on Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, which has been on Baikie’s books now for many years.

For someone in such high demand in the grouse-shooting world, Baikie keeps a relatively low online profile. Although here’s a photo from the Perthshire Picture Agency, taken in the Angus Glens in 2014. Baikie (on the left) is wearing the Millden Estate tweed and is standing next to a Millden Estate gamekeeper, also in estate tweed and the estate’s uniform of lilac shirt and orange tie.

Now, according to the website of British Game Assurance (formerly the British Game Alliance but rebranded in the last year), BH Sporting is one of a number of sporting agents that have:

COMMITTED TO A GOAL OF OFFERING SPORTING DAYS EXCLUSIVELY ON SHOOTS AND ESTATES THAT ARE MEMBERS OF THE BRITISH GAME ASSURANCE FROM THE START OF THE 2023 SEASON. THIS WILL ENSURE THAT THE PROMOTED VENUES ARE ALL PARTICIPATING IN THE INDEPENDENTLY AUDITED ASSURANCE SCHEME, DEMONSTRATING THAT THE SHOOTING SECTOR IS ADHERING TO BEST PRACTICE AT ALL TIMES‘.

Shurely shome mishtake?

How can BH Sporting (or its sole director, Nick Baikie), be certain that any estate on which it offers shooting ‘is adhering to best practice at all times’?

This is the sporting agency that failed to notice the ‘obvious injuries‘ (quote from the Crown Office) to five of gamekeeper Davies’ dogs. Here’s a photo of two of those mutilated dogs, tied to what looks like an estate vehicle. Pretty hard to miss, I’d say:

This is also the sporting agency that failed to notice the very serious and reckless firearms offences committed by Davies at his tied cottage on Millden Estate.

This is also the sporting agency that failed to notice the three bags of dead raptors reportedly found on Millden Estate during a joint SSPCA/Police Scotland raid in October 2019 and apparently containing at least three shot buzzards.

This is also the sporting agency that failed to notice the ‘horrendous catalogue‘ of wildlife crimes uncovered over many years on Millden Estate (for which Millden Estate has repeatedly denied responsibility and for which nobody has ever been prosecuted).

Funny, all these things this sporting agency failed to notice and yet Nick Baikie was reportedly invited to show around Professor Werritty and co during the Govt-commissioned Werritty Review into grouse moor management, where Millden Estate was held as an example of ‘best practice’. Whose idea was that??!

And now we’re supposed to accept that as from the 2023 shooting season, BH Sporting will only offer shooting on estates that have demonstrated ‘best practice’? What due diligence has the British Game Alliance done on this?

Is Millden Estate registered as a British Game Assurance member? We don’t know, because the names of all the BGA-endorsed shoots were removed from the BGA website several years ago, resulting in criticism of the BGA for its lack of transparency and accuracy (here), two fairly important commodities when you’re asking the public to trust your brand, I’d have thought. But maybe that’s just me.

I’m sure it won’t be the last criticism of the BGA. In fact I know it won’t be the last, because there’s another sporting agent listed on the BGA website whose presence undermines the entire credibility of the BGA and what it claims to represent. More soon.

Millden Estate – plausible deniability or wilful blindness to gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies’ crimes?

Further to the conviction and jailing of Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies earlier this month for his crimes involving animal cruelty and firearms offences (see here), there’s been quite a lot of commentary about the role of the estate.

In the media coverage I’ve read on this case, an unidentified spokesman for Millden Estate has commented as follows:

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. These offences did not take place on the estate but happened at locations some distance away and unconnected to the estate“.

I want to examine the plausibility of the estate’s denial.

First of all, of course the estate is going to state that it ‘doesn’t condone or tolerate any illegal activity relating to the welfare of animals or wildlife‘. It’s hardly going to say, ‘Oh yes, officer, we encourage all our employees to break the law and inflict sadistic cruelty on wildlife‘, is it?! And I would imagine, given the potential for a vicarious liability prosecution for raptor persecution these days, an estate of this size and prominence will have all its paperwork in order (e.g. statements in its employees’ contracts, evidence of on-going training etc) that it could produce to defend itself if an employee was caught committing wildlife crime.

This sort of paper trail is now commonplace on Scotland’s large shooting estates and has been encouraged by various shooting organisations who have provided advice (e.g. BASC here, Scottish Land & Estates here) and in some cases training (e.g. GWCT here). Ironically the document produced by SLE on vicarious liability acknowledges the help of someone believed to be linked to the sporting management of Millden Estate!

Whilst arse-covering paper audits might convince the authorities, what actual effect does it have on the activities of an estate’s employees?

Very little, judging by the criminality undertaken by gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies, working on a estate that has a ‘horrendous catalogue‘ of wildlife crimes according to Alan Stewart, a former Police Wildlife Crime Officer who’s patch included the Angus Glens.

But the spokesperson from Millden Estate said: “We were shocked to learn of all the allegations when they came to light”.

How plausible is that? How plausible is it that Rhys Owen Davies’ injured and scarred dogs, kennelled next to his cottage on the estate, weren’t seen by any of the estate’s other employees, including the multiple gamekeepers he worked alongside, for the 18 month period when he was using the dogs to inflict sadistic cruelty on foxes and badgers?

In my opinion, that’s pretty implausible. Have a look at this photograph of two of Davies’ mutilated dogs. It was published in the Daily Record and appears to show the dogs tethered to a vehicle that it would be reasonable to assume is a work vehicle:

In court, Davies’ defence barrister told the Sheriff that the dogs’ injuries were as a result of lawful ratting and foxing, which are part of a gamekeeper’s regular duties. It seems implausible to me that his work colleagues didn’t notice these injuries or that the extent of the injuries didn’t raise any suspicion as to their cause. They’d also know, I’d argue, that Davies wasn’t seeking professional veterinary advice on the treatment of those injuries.

Gamekeeping duties often involve the use of the keepers’ own dogs (e.g. see photo below) and the multiple gamekeepers employed on Millden Estate would have had ample opportunity to see Davies’ dogs at work and to ask him about what the Crown Office described as ‘obvious injuries’. Any concerns could have been raised with the Head Gamekeeper and /or the sporting agent / estate Factor.

The estate’s statement also included the line:

At no stage was the estate itself the focus of the investigation. These offences did not take place on the estate but happened at locations some distance away and unconnected to the estate“.

The estate WAS the focus of the investigation as the search warrant included a provision to search various sites on Millden Estate looking for evidence of badger sett disturbance. And Davies’ tied cottage and associated outbuildings on the estate were also searched, under warrant, where a number of serious firearms offences were uncovered, specifically, an unsecured Benelli shotgun was found propped up against a wall near the front door; two unsecured rifles were also found: a Tikka .243 rifle on the sofa and a CZ rifle in the hall cupboard next to the open gun cabinet;  and an assortment of unsecured ammunition was found including 23 bullets in a pot on the floor, five in a carrier bag behind the front door and one on top of a bed, according to a statement by the Crown Office.

As Davies was employed as an under-keeper, I’d argue that Millden Estate should bear significant responsibility for these serious breaches on the estate of shotgun & firearms legislation. Where was the supervision from Davies’ immediate supervisor, the Head Keeper? Davies’ estate cottage was unlocked and unattended when the SSPCA and Police Scotland arrived to execute the search warrant. Imagine who else could have walked in, found those firearms, shotgun and ammunition. If, as we’re led to believe by the shooting industry’s propaganda machine, that most if not all illegal behaviour on sporting estates is perpetrated by ‘unknown criminals’ totally unconnected to the estate, you’d think that the security of firearms, shotguns and ammunition would be of uppermost importance, wouldn’t you?

You can draw your own conclusions, of course, but it’s my opinion that Millden Estate’s efforts to distance itself from having any knowledge of Davies’ crimes are predictable but implausible. Especially after I’ve recently learned that there was another investigation into alleged badger baiting on this estate about 13 years ago; an investigation that didn’t go anywhere because apparently the procurator fiscal at that time refused to advance the case.

As for the bags of dead raptors found during the search in October 2019 at three different locations on the estate, and reportedly containing at least three shot buzzards, we now know that the Crown Office is not pursuing a prosecution (although the detailed rationale for this decision has not been divulged, see here) which means that Millden Estate will avoid a prosecution for alleged vicarious liability. I wait with interest to see whether NatureScot imposes a General Licence restriction in relation to the discovery of these dead raptors.

Expert witness for the prosecution of gamekeeper Rhys Davies brands Millden Estate a “wildlife sink”

An expert witness whose evidence was used in the successful prosecution of gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies has branded Millden Estate a “wildlife sink“, according to an article in The Daily Record.

Mammal ecologist Andy Riches provided an expert report for the Scottish SPCA based on a number of surveys and visits to Millden Estate.

His report summary reads as follows:

The ecology of this area of land has been driven out of balance by its management. The direct effects of this have been outlined above but there is an indirect effect as well. By reducing the numbers of ‘prey’ species the management greatly increases the risk to the game birds from ‘predatory’ species. In the absence of adequate natural prey game birds are the principal available source of food. Because much of the neighbouring land (including the Cairngorms National Park) is wildlife rich this estate acts as a ‘wildlife sink’. Population pressure and natural inquisitiveness encourages wildlife to try to explore this area. Those that make it in will rarely leave alive. Land mammals are mostly either successfully excluded by fencing or killed by trapping or shooting. Birds are the only group that can regularly successfully cross the fencing. They find an area with extremely limited prey apart from the game birds.
I can best describe this estate as a zoo with three compounds. Each one is excellently managed for the species it was intended to contain but to the total exclusion of everything else‘.

This summary will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the report I co-authored with Andy Wightman for the REVIVE coalition in 2018 about the increased intensity of grouse moor management in Scotland, a report in which Millden Estate featured. This increase in management intensity has occurred in the last decade or so because the so-called ‘success’ of a grouse moor (and its economic value) is measured by the number of red grouse shot each season (known as the ‘bag size’).

This photograph was posted on social media in October 2017 and was labelled ‘Team Millden’. It shows Millden Estate gamekeepers, including someone bearing a strong resemblance to Rhys Owen Davies, posing with a lot of dead red grouse that presumably had been shot on the estate.

But as regular blog readers will know, in order to produce artificially-high densities of red grouse for shooting, other species on the moor are ruthlessly and systematically killed. Much of this killing is lawful.

The intensity of moorland management at Millden Estate was further exposed in another report by REVIVE, this one commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports and published in 2020.

Hanged By the Feet Until Dead‘ was a report analysing the extent of lawful traps and snares that had been recorded during a field survey of a number of Scottish moorland estates between June 2018 and September 2019, including Millden Estate.

The findings on Millden Estate were damning.

This image shows the extent of the legal traps and snares across the estate and the table below documents the data produced from the field surveys:

There’s a good quote at the end of the ‘wildlife sink’ article in the Daily Record, provided by Robbie Marsland, Director of the League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) and a partner in the REVIVE coalition:

The case of [Millden Estate gamekeeper] Rhys Davies is utterly appalling but if any positives can be drawn from it, it’s the scrutiny this estate and others will now be under, making the Scottish Government’s proposed licensing of grouse moors even more timely and necessary.

There’s also a quote from an unnamed spokesman for Millden Estate:

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“.

I’ll be blogging about this statement shortly.

Two others involved in animal fighting ring with Millden gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies escaped jail

Further to the news that Rhys Owen Davies, 28, a gamekeeper employed by Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, has been jailed for sadistic animal cruelty crimes (see here and here), there has been quite a lot of comment about the perceived leniency of his sentence and questions about whether his dog-fighting associates are being prosecuted.

Although an eight-month custodial sentence, plus an £1800 fine for firearms offences and a 15-year ban on keeping or owning dogs does seem quite lenient given the depravity and cruelty of his crimes, Rhys Owen Davies has actually received the most severe punishment, so far, of those involved.

Two of his associates have already been convicted and sentenced:

Antony Holloway, 28, was given a 270-hour community payback order at Dumbarton Sheriff Court in June 2021 and banned from owning dogs for just four years – despite ­prosecutors and the Scottish SPCA seeking a lifetime ban. There’s an article about his conviction here (and no, I don’t know why his identify has been hidden).

Another criminal associate, Liam Taylor, was sentenced in November 2021 for his role in this particular gang with a pathetic 12-month supervision order and 240 hours of unpaid work. He was banned from keeping dogs for ten years.

Prosecutors are apparently considering cases against others identified in the appalling photographs found on Davies’ phone.

It seems that Davies received a custodial sentence principally because he was employed as a gamekeeper and Sheriff Reekie noted this as an “aggravating factor” because Davies would have known that what he was doing was illegal. Crown prosecutor Karon Rollo had made a point of emphasising this when Davies’ barrister tried to suggest that Davies was simply ‘naïve’.

So on balance, a custodial sentence in this case is a significant result, and full credit to the Scottish SPCA and Crown Office for securing it, although for many of us eight months is simply not enough.

The good news is that tougher penalties are now in place in Scotland for animal cruelty and wildlife crime. New legislation enacted in December 2020 (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.

Depraved Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed – SSPCA statement

Further to the news that Rhys Owen Davies, 28, a gamekeeper employed by Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, has been jailed for sadistic animal cruelty crimes (see here and here), the Scottish SPCA who led this investigation has issued the following statement:

Former gamekeeper sentenced for animal fighting

A gamekeeper who indulged in sick animal fights has been sentenced to eight months in prison and a 15-year ban on owning or keeping animals.

Rhys Davies, 28, who now resides in Wales, was convicted at Forfar Sheriff Court today. Under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, Davies was found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to four dogs under his care and keeping or training dogs for the purposes of animal fights.

With support from Police Scotland, the Scottish SPCA executed a warrant at Turnabrae house on Millden Estate in Angus in October 2019, where Davies worked as a gamekeeper at the time.

The Scottish SPCA’s special investigations unit (SIU) had received intel that Davies’ was heavily involved in using his dogs to fight and bait wild animals. Davies sent over 50 pictures featuring severely injured dogs and individuals posing with dead animals to be printed in May 2019. A member of staff at the company flagged these to the Scottish SPCA.

The SIU visited Davies’ address in October 2019, where eleven dogs were being kept in kennels and an outbuilding. A vet in attendance confirmed some of the dogs had fresh and historic injuries and disfigurement likely caused by fighting wild animals such as badgers and foxes. A collar inside the property tested positive for badger DNA.

Patterdale terrier Lola had fresh injuries to her mouth and lower jaw. Pip, another Patterdale, had older scars across her muzzle, face and chest and a fresh wound still healing.

At the address, investigators found evidence to suggest Davies’ had attempted to treat injuries himself. This included syringes, staplers and prescription-only medication for animals. An analysis of Davies’ phone found messages where he discussed both the fights he was involved in and the attempts to treat the injuries his dogs had sustained from these.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: “All of the hallmarks of a person involved in animal fighting can be found in this case. This includes attempting to treat serious injuries without a vet, bragging to others about those injuries and trying to get ‘trophies’ such as photos as keepsakes of those fights.

“Our special investigations unit lead the way when it comes to taking on these organised, brutal groups involved in animal fights. This was an incredibly sophisticated investigation which made it plain as day the accused was guilty and helped to uncover a wider network of individuals involved in heinous animal fights.

“A custodial sentence sends a real message to anyone who wants to use dogs to bait and maim wildlife that they will be punished for it.

“Wildlife persecution is a scourge. No animal deserves to be subjected to any pain or suffering, let alone at the level Mr. Davies subjected his own dogs and wild animals to. Today, Mr. Davies has found that animal abuse is unacceptable and comes with major consequences.”

The Scottish SPCA investigates hundreds of reports of serious animal welfare issues such as animal fighting every year. Anyone with concerns or information on this issue can contact the charity’s free animal helpline in confidence on 03000 999 999.

ENDS

I’ll be blogging more about this case shortly…

Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed for sadistic animal cruelty – media coverage

Further to yesterday’s news that Rhys Owen Davies, 28, a gamekeeper employed by Millden Estate in the Angus Glens has been jailed for a series of sadistic animal cruelty offences (here), here is a statement issued by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS):

Former gamekeeper jailed for animal fighting and gun offences

A 28-year-old man who kept and trained dogs for fighting has been sentenced to 210 days imprisonment, banned from keeping animals for 15 years and fined £1800 for firearms offences.

Rhys Davies, a former gamekeeper at Millden Estate near Glenesk, was sentenced at Forfar Sheriff Court today after pleading guilty to keeping five dogs for animal fighting from 24 April 2018 to 8 October 2019.  

Davies also pled guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to two dogs by failing to provide veterinary treatment and to breaching the conditions of his firearms licence by having unsecured firearms and ammunition in his home at Turnbrae House. 

The court heard that an employee of a photo print company contacted the Scottish SPCA with serious concerns about the welfare of several dogs pictured in an order for 58 images placed by Davies. 

Many of the dogs showed progressively more serious facial injuries over the period the images were taken and several males posing and digging into what looked like badger setts or fox dens. There were numerous images showing dead foxes.  

The Scottish SPCA identified them as ‘trophy’ photographs showing a group of males engaging in the organised fighting and killing of wild animals over an extended period.  

Davies was easily identifiable in many of the images. 

Inspectors from the Scottish SPCA and officers from Police Scotland went to Davies’ home in Brechin with a warrant on the morning of 8 October 2019.  

Police found a Benelli shotgun propped against a wall near the front door, two rifles were also found, a Tikka .243 rifle on the sofa and a CZ rifle in the hall cupboard next to the open gun cabinet. 

An assortment of ammunition, including 23 bullets in a pot on the floor, five in a carrier bag behind the front door and one on top of a bed were seized by police. 

Eleven dogs were found within kennels on the property. Five Patterdale Terrier dogs had obvious signs of injury.   

Two of the terriers, Lola and Tuck, had fresh injuries. Lola’s were to her mouth and lower jaw and Tuck had part of his lower face missing and fresh injuries which produced an obvious smell when near the dog. There were also healing wounds to his forelegs. 

All the dogs were taken to Scottish SPCA facilities for examination and treatment. 

Inspectors found equipment on the property linked to illegal animal fighting including, locator collars, medication, needles and syringes and a staple gun used to staple up injuries.  

Badger DNA was found on a red locator collar following forensic examination. 

Photobooks were recovered from the property like the print order placed by Davies. 

Davies was interviewed under caution and admitted that the dogs had not received veterinary treatment in the time that he had owned them. He denied using the dogs to fight or kill foxes or badgers and claimed they had sustained injury from legal ratting and foxing. 

Davies agreed to sign all the terrier dogs over to the Scottish SPCA for rehoming. 

The injured dogs were examined by specialist vets. Their expert opinion was that the dogs had been kept for the purposes of animal fighting and their injuries were sustained from face-to-face combat with badgers or foxes. 

Davies’ phone was seized during the search and images of him engaged in digging activities and the dogs with fresh wounds were found. There were also numerous conversations with associates referencing digging activities and sharing photographs showing dogs pulling badgers out of setts.  

A number of voice messages with associates were also found where they discussed digging with the dogs. In one message, Davies’ asks an individual about the size of photographs to print to make a digging album. Davies states, “And if I do get the knock for it at least everything’s all in the one place for them to find”. 

GPS location data from Davies’ phone also placed him in two rural locations on 21 September 2019 where he was found to have had a conversation with the same associate about meeting to bait and later that night his associate sent an image of Davies standing in a large whole holding one of the terrier dogs. 

Speaking after the sentencing, Karon Rollo, Head of the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit of COPFS said: 

“Animal fighting is a cruel illegal activity which causes terrible and unnecessary suffering to animals. 

  “The evidence clearly shows the scope of the involvement Rhys Davies had with an organised group that took pleasure in killing wild animals in such a wicked and inhumane manner. 

“I welcome the sentence and the granting of the order preventing him from keeping animals for 15 years. I would like to thank Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA for their part in investigating and gathering evidence of these offences. 

“Hopefully this prosecution and the sentence will serve as a message to others who would cause such suffering that there are consequences and that they will be held to account for their actions and could also lose their liberty. 

“COPFS will continue to work to ensure those who participate in these barbaric practices are prosecuted and would encourage anyone who may have information on animal fighting to contact Police Scotland or the Scottish SPCA.” 

ENDS

Other media coverage:

Scottish SPCA here

STV News here

The Herald here

Daily Record here

The Guardian here

The Courier here

BBC News here

The Times here

I’ll be blogging further about this case over the next few days.

Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed for badger baiting crimes

BREAKING NEWS….

Scottish gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies has been sentenced to eight months in prison for his depraved animal cruelty crimes committed whilst he was working on the Millden Estate in the Angus Glens.

He also received a £1800 fine for firearms offences and has been banned from owning or keeping animals for 15 years.

Davies, 28, was convicted in May this year for a series of animal cruelty offences related to badger and fox baiting between January 2018 and October 2019 (see here).

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. As Davies’ crimes were committed in 2019, the increased penalties cannot be applied retrospectively.

Nevertheless, a custodial sentence for Davies is still significant when so many other badger baiters have escaped with small fines or less, including Davies’ criminal mate Liam Taylor who was sentenced in November 2021 for his role in this particular gang with a pathetic 12-month supervision order and 240 hours of unpaid work. He was also banned from keeping dogs for ten years.

Some comments from Sheriff Derek Reekie today:

It is deeply disturbing, the horrific, cruel and senseless nature of the crime as well as the cruelty to your own dogs“,

and

Your text messages demonstrate your sickening enjoyment in what you were doing“,

and

Being a qualified gamekeeper is an aggravating factor which disputes claims of defence of naivety“,

and

You have not shown any real remorse“,

and

Your dogs were subjected to activities that were deliberate, cruel and horrific in nature“.

More on this tomorrow, including the implications for Millden Estate, but for now, a MASSIVE WELL DONE to the Scottish SPCA team who have more than demonstrated their commitment and ability to bring depraved wildlife crime criminals to court. Increased investigatory powers are a no-brainer.

Previous blogs on this case:

hereherehereherehereherehereherehere, here, here, here, here

UPDATE 2nd August 2022: Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed for sadistic animal cruelty – media coverage (here)

UPDATE 2nd August 2022: Depraved Millden Estate gamekeeper jailed – SSPCA statement (here)

UPDATE 2nd August 2022: Two others involved in animal fighting ring with Millden gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies escaped jail (here)

UPDATE 3rd August 2022: Expert witness for the prosecution of gamekeeper Rhys Davies brands Millden Estate a ‘wildlife sink’ (here)

UPDATE 8th August 2022: Millden Estate: plausible deniability or wilful blindness to gamekeeper Rhys Owen Davies’ crimes? (here)

UPDATE 16th August 2022: Millden Estate’s sporting agent signatory to ‘best practice’ scheme! (here)

UPDATE 1st November 2022: Convicted Millden Estate gamekeeper Rhys Davies had ‘formed a close bond’ with another animal-fighting sadist (here)

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