A Darlington man has received a suspended prison sentence in connection with an incident in which a badger was baited.

Matthew Swinbank, 19, of Middleton St George, near Darlington, had earlier admitted being present at an animal fight, contrary to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

When police opened the van belonging to 19-year-old Matthew Swinbank, they feared someone had been stabbed to death because it was awash with blood.

Swinbank was traced by police after an offduty officer found the parked van in May last year.

The teenager was yesterday banned from keeping or being in the control of all animals for five years and given a 12-week custodial sentence suspended for 12 months.

Bishop Auckland magistrates also ordered him to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work. He must also pay costs of £768.

He was traced by police who checked the abandoned van’s registration number, after analysis of DNA from blood found in the vehicle showed it was canine rather than human.

Police then contacted the RSPCA and a warrant was executed at Swinbank’s home in July last year, when items including badger baiting DVDs, as well as footage of cock fighting, were found.

Two lurcher-type dogs that had scars on their bodies were also seized.

The court was told how the teenager initially denied any wrong-doing and said a farmer had shot his dog while out walking.

However, he later admitted during questioning that he had been out and set his dog, Titus, onto a badger in woodland at Sadberge, near Darlington.

He claimed to have sold Titus via the internet. The dog has never been found.

Swinbank previously admitted three charges, including hunting a wild mammal with dogs contrary to the Hunting Act 2004, causing an animal fight to take place and being present at an animal fight, contrary to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

RSPCA inspector Garry Palmer said: “When the police first saw Swinbank’s van, it looked like someone had been stabbed because there was so much blood. It was all over the windows and soaked into a carpet in the back of the vehicle.

It was only after forensic work that it emerged the blood was that of a dog, not a person.

“The sad thing is that we don’t know what happened to the badger that was attacked, and whether it survived or not. The same can be said of his dog, Titus.

“Hopefully, this case will send out a message to those who think they can get away with such horrific crimes that inflict such barbaric cruelty on all the animals involved. If anyone has any information about such offences we would urge them to contact the RSPCA on 0300-123-4999, so we can investigate.”

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