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Concern over badger baiting laws

8 November 2007 - BBC News

Only four people have been prosecuted under new badger baiting laws despite one incident being reported every week, BBC Scotland has learned. The law was changed in 2004 in an attempt to make it easier to prosecute people who interfere with badger setts. But investigators said it was still often impossible to gather enough evidence against the organised gangs who trap and kill the animals. They called for more resources to be put towards combating the problem.

Police believe many badger baiting gangs are also involved in other serious crimes.

The gangs send small dogs like Jack Russells wearing sophisticated electronic tracking devices into setts to find the badgers, which are then dug out with shovels. They either use dogs to kill the badgers at the scene, or take them away and use them in organised dog fights where gamblers bet big money on the outcome. The bloody fights often result in the dogs also suffering severe injuries. They are rarely treated by vets, who would be able to identify what caused the wounds.

Doreen Graham of the Scottish SPCA said its investigators received at least one report of badger baiting every week, but it was often difficult to gather enough evidence for a prosecution. She added: "Always we are constrained with the number of bodies we have at any one time. We do the best with what we have and are committed to getting these people to court but we need the courts to back that up as well."

Mrs Graham said the public had a major role to play in stamping out badger baiting, which has been illegal since 1835. She said: "If you hear dogs barking or digging going on don't get involved because a lot of these chaps are involved in other areas of criminality and can be dangerous, but pick up the phone and let either the Scottish SPCA or the police know and we will get there as quickly as we can."

Ian Hutchison, a development officer with Scottish Badgers, has been running a training course to help police officers identify and protect badger setts. He said: "I think the difficulty until now has been the investigation side. It is always very difficult to get the appropriate amount of evidence together to take a case to court, but it is improving. We have this tag wildlife crime when in actual fact it is not wildlife crime, it is crime. It is a criminal matter that we want the police to investigate and they are getting better at it but we would certainly like to see more resources getting put into it."

Known badger baiting blackspots in Scotland include Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, the Borders, Lothian and Fife.

Tom Dysart, a procurator fiscal with responsibility for prosecuting wildlife cases across Scotland, admitted that suspects often had to be caught red-handed for a conviction to be secured. Mr Dysart said: "I am pleased to say the police are moving towards intelligence-led investigation and that's coupled with advances in forensic techniques and that means we have a wider range of opportunities to detect and convict. I think the main deterrent though is detection - if we can catch them and bring them to justice then that is going to be pretty effective."

Anyone caught badger baiting can face up to three years in prison, with a maximum fine of 5,000.

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