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Badger baiting holidays scandal

Northern Echo - 13th January 2000

By Ian Lamming

BADGER baiting holidays are being organised for the sadistic fans of the illegal "sport", The Northern Echo can reveal.

Hand-reared badgers are also being peddled on the Internet in an underworld conspiracy said to be as organised as paedophile rings.

Last night, the police and the RSPCA appealed for help in infiltrating the secret world of the baiters who inflict terrible pain and suffering on a protected species.

The Northern Echo has already launched the Wild Watch campaign, in conjunction with the region's police and the RSPCA, to bring the culprits to justice.

And yesterday, the investigation revealed that Northerners are travelling to Wales and the Irish Republic on badger baiting holidays, with baiters making return visits to the North-East and North Yorkshire.

Wear and Tees RSPCA inspector Gavin Butterfield said: "Most people go on holiday to lie on a beach, these lads torture animals. It is something we are aware of. These holidays, or whatever you might term them, are in southern Ireland and Wales."

Durham Police wildlife liaison officer Sgt Eddie Bell is investigating the baiting holidays.

"There are a lot of people involved," he said. "It's a very very close knit system with its own publication, its own clubs. I am sure people travel and come up here for organised baiting. It's sick."

Baiters, thought to total 5,000 nationally, have begun to use coded messages on the Internet to communicate.

The Northern Echo discovered one site yesterday which advertises "quality badgers for sale . . .We breed 'em, You bait 'em".

Available for "death by baiting", it boasts of rearing badgers on a healthy diet of milk and "shlop".

Giving a phone number in the Irish Republic, the site says: "Home to the finest badgers. We raise them ready for the road." Contacted by The Northern Echo, a man claimed it was a wrong number.

Badger baiting was outlawed in the 1930s and the animal is protected under the Badgers Act 1992. But it remains a cruel relic of a bygone age, with fans prepared to risk six months in prison and fines of up to 5,000 for even interfering with a sett.

A spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service said it was aware of badger baiting, but had not built up any intelligence on those believed to be involved. "There is no database of baiters," she said.

Sgt Bell said a week never went by without a sett being interfered with somewhere in the region, but the illegal groups had proved impossible to infiltrate.

Evidence of badger baiting had been discovered at Chopwell, near Gateshead, and Richmond and Picton in North Yorkshire.

A spokeswoman for the Dale and Vale Badger Protection Group said: "It's far more widespread than anyone realises. They use some setts as a larder. They'll take one badger then come back later for another. You have families who have been in this for generations, they will take their kids along. I have a video which shows a boy who must be ten-years-old."

She said there was a sophisticated underground network, which included scouts who spotted the setts; diggers, who caught the badgers; and people who held them until it was time for the fight.

There were also people who specialised in breeding the fighting dogs, crossing lurchers with pit bulls.

Then there were those who attended badger baiting for the thrill, others for the betting, and even unscrupulous vets who were prepared to treat injured dogs without notifying the authorities.

Sgt Bell said: "It's just like paedophiles. It's hard to comprehend what motivates them. Baiting is tightly-knit and difficult to infiltrate."

Inspector Butterfield added: "That is why we need to appeal to the public. There will be wives, girlfriends, relatives, who know what is happening. If we could just get them to pick up the phone and give us a little bit of information."

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