Six alleged members of a badger-baiting ring appeared together in court for the first time. The five men and one teenager went before magistrates at Bedlington charged with conspiracy to hunt wild mammals with dogs. It follows a long-running investigation by Northumbria Police and the RSPCA.
Alan Walton, 51, of Avebury Place; Brian James Cole, 30, from Avebury Place; Sean Dilger, 26, from Alderley Way; and Lee Lawton, 37, from Avebury Place, all of Cramlington, are charged with conspiracy to hunt wild mammals with dogs between February 18, 2005, and March 13 last year. Similarly charged are Wayne Lannen, 23, from Coniston Road, Wallsend, and a 17-year-old boy from the Cramlington area who cannot be named for legal reasons.
All six were sent to be dealt with at Newcastle Crown Court next month. Their unconditional bail was renewed. They were charged as a result of Operation Rushford, which was launched in the Cramlington area in October 2005, in conjunction with the RSPCA’s special operations unit. During the long-running operation, three raids were made on houses in Cramlington last year and two men were arrested. On one of those raids police also recovered items thought to have been stolen from churches in Tynedale, including a 6ft eagle-shaped lectern snatched from Holy Trinity Church, Matfen, last July, valued at £5,000.
In the following month police also raided a house in Cramlington as part of the undercover operation. Officers seized a number of items. No arrests were made, although a woman in her 30s was reported for possession of cannabis. An estimated 10,000 badgers are killed annually by baiting and digging. The bloodsport involves setting dogs on to the animals and usually ends in the badger being killed either by the dog, being shot or by being beaten with a spade. The badgers are usually disabled before the dogs are set upon them in specially built rings. Badger-baiting carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a £5,000 fine.