#TheList for the persecution of wildlife including badgers and deer plus dog cruelty: Graham Coombes, Oliver Blatch, Kenneth Danes, Gethyn Durham, Dean McGrath, Pheon Radford, Ryan Robinson, Joseph O’Connor, Brian Forrest, Philip Cross and Daniel Ravenscroft
Eleven men were sentenced – three receiving jail terms – for their part in a series of “abhorrent” attacks by dogs on deer, badgers and foxes. Graphic and distressing video footage found on the mobile phone of the ringleader Graham Coombes was shown in court, showing dogs savaging badgers and deer as the accused looked on and gave encouragement.
Analysis of one of the men’s phones revealed thousands of text messages, including one in which he claimed to have used his dogs to kill 178 deer, 894 rabbits, 28 foxes and 22 hares in just six months.
Jeremy Cave, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said the ‘primary motivation seems to be gratuitous pleasure’.
Mr Cave said the group would go out ‘lamping’ – using powerful lamps at night to startle and stun deer before setting dogs, usually lurchers, on them.
He said their aim was ‘to kill as much wildlife as possible’.
Mr Cave said Coombes was at the ‘centre of the operation, organising nights out, posting trophy pictures on social media’.
The other men involved were Oliver Blatch, Kenneth Danes, Gethyn Durham, Brian Forrest, Dean McGrath, Joseph O’Connor, Pheon Radford, Ryan Robinson, Philip Cross and Daniel Ravenscroft.
Mr Cave said that of the 27 offences, 22 were related to killing or attacking deer with dogs, four matters were of animal welfare issues relating to the dogs – including neglect – and another was the possession of a dangerous dog.
The court heard how a search of Coombes’ land by Trading Standards found a pile of animal carcasses with at least 20 separate skulls at the top of the heap.
The incinerator operator informed RSPCA investigators they disposed of 604 kilos of animal products, all believed to be from hunts.
Coombes also got another person to shoot his severely injured dog after it had been fighting a badger ‘for four hours’.
Details of offences and sentencing:
Graham Coombes, born c. 1975, a groundworker of 2 Abbey Road, Bovey Tracey, Devon TQ13 9HZ pleaded guilty to three counts of intentionally killing deer at night on different dates in 2014. He pleaded guilty to two counts of willfully killing a badger and one of willfully injuring a badger. He pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a terrier called Marley by failing to treat its injuries. Coombes was sentenced to a total of 20 weeks in prison. He was ordered to pay £3,000 court costs and £60 victim surcharge. He was disqualified for keeping dogs for life.
Oliver Blatch, born c. 1989, Little Acre, Back Lane, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 6SQ pleaded guilty to two counts of killing deer at night. District Judge Baker noted Blatch was of previous good character before sentencing him to a total of eight weeks, suspended for one year, to complete 180 hours’ unpaid leave, pay £800 court costs and £60 victim surcharge.
Kenneth Danes, born c. 1987, of 11 Otterford Gypsy Park, Culmhead near Taunton TA3 7DX pleaded guilty to two counts of killing deer at night. District Judge Baker noted he was a hardworking man of good character and his early guilty plea. She sentenced him to a total of eight weeks suspended for 12 months and ordered him to pay £800 court costs, £60 victim surcharge and to forfeit his dog Cruz.
Joseph O’Connor, born c. 1993, a farmhand of Pontardawe near Swansea, admitted three charges of killing deer in 2014. District Judge Baker told O’Connor the killing of deer was “absolutely abhorrent, it’s barbaric”. However, she recognised his probation report showed genuine remorse and he was of previous good character. She also recognised his advocate’s observation that he was of “limited ability” and his “sense of shame”. She told him he had worked in agriculture his whole life yet despite that he involved himself in the killing of deer. He handed him a nine-week jail sentence, suspended for 12 months. He also had to complete 200 hours’ unpaid work, pay £800 court costs and £80 victim surcharge.
Gethyn Durham, born c. 1989, a landscape gardener of 36 Marl Court, Cwmbran, Gwent, admitted one count of killing a deer. He also pleaded guilty to possession of a pitbull-type dangerous dog and five charges of keeping other dogs in an unsuitable environment. District Judge Baker said she accepted his dog Bonnie was a “beloved family pet” but his probation report “shows [Durham] shows little remorse and has antipathy for the RSPCA and their work”.
Durham was jailed for six weeks followed by 12 months’ supervision. He was ordered to pay £800 court costs and £115 victim surcharge. As his partner broke down in the public gallery, District Judge Baker told Durham the legislation regarding dangerous dogs “ties my hands” and she ordered the dog be destroyed. Durham was also told he was disqualified from owning dogs for five years.
Brian Forrest, born c. 1976, Upper Lodge, Tetton Estate, Kingston St Mary, near Taunton, owner of Brian Forrest Electrical, Taunton, pleaded guilty to a single count of killing deer. District Judge Baker also noted how he was of previous good character and he had shown genuine remorse. She sentenced him to six weeks jail, suspended for a year, to complete 140 hours unpaid work, pay £800 court costs and £60 victim surcharge. She also ordered him to forfeit his dog Eve.
Dean McGrath, born c. 1987, of Cwmbran, pleaded guilty to a single count of killing deer. McGrath was handed a six week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. District Judge Baker ordered him to complete 160 hours’ unpaid work, pay £800 court costs and £60 victim surcharge. He was also ordered to forfeit his dog Blue.
Pheon Radford, born c. 1994, of 19 Cross Street, Pentre, Ystrad in the Rhondda Valley, pleaded guilty to killing a deer and causing unnecessary suffering to a dog. District Judge Baker said Radford left his dog Scar to suffer from an “unpleasant” injury and listed previous scars on its body. She said he had deliberately travelled from Wales to take part in the deer hunts with Cross. She sentenced him to a total of 10 weeks, suspended for 12 months; to complete 150 hours’ unpaid work, pay £800 court costs and £60 victim surcharge. He was also disqualified from keeping dogs for three years and to forfeit his dog Scar.
Ryan Robinson, born c. 1996, of 1 Foundry Court in Chudleigh, admitted taking a deer without the consent of the owner. He was handed a 12 month community order, must take part in a 10 day rehabilitation requirement, complete 200 hours’ unpaid work and pay £800 court costs and a victim surcharge of £85.
Philip Cross, born c. 1980, of 20 Bryn Ivor St,Tonypandy in the Rhondda was found guilty after trial of killing deer at night. He was jailed for eight weeks and disqualified for keeping dogs for five years. He was ordered to pay £4,000 court costs and £80 victim surcharge.
Daniel Ravenscroft, born c. 1979, of Pearroc Vean, Grange Rd, Buckfastleigh TQ11 was found guilty after trial of killing deer at night. District Judge Baker said she took into account his early guilty plea and his 10 years’ service in the British Army. She noted he had given up his dog voluntarily and his probation report spoke of how he recognised how low he had fallen and the devastation it had caused him, leaving him “so embarrassed, so remorseful and so ashamed”.
Ravenscroft was sentenced to six weeks’ custody, suspended for 12 months, to complete 200 hours’ unpaid work, forfeit his dog and pay £4,000 court costs and £60 victim surcharge.
Speaking outside of court, RSPCA Chief Inspector Will Mitchell said Coombes’ phone contained around 30,000 images ‘mostly depicting wildlife crime and the use of dogs to kill wildlife, around 11,000 text messages, and videos’.
The texts contained a series of ‘colloquial descriptions of animals, so for badgers they were described as ‘pigs, ‘black and whites’, ‘humbugs’ and ‘smellies’.
He said: ‘There would be the bravado in terms of the type of dogs used and the successes of the dogs. They wanted them for the fight, for destruction.
‘They might say this was sport or pest control – but it’s blood lust.’
In January 2018 it was reported that Daniel Ravenscroft and Philip Cross had appealed their convictions but the outcome of their appeals isn’t known.