Pet cats were trapped then torn apart by fighting dogs in one of the most shocking cases of animal cruelty seen in Northern Ireland.
A father and two sons from east Belfast yesterday pleaded guilty to charges linked to animal cruelty and animal fighting.
Jeremiah Kirkwood (43) and his sons, Christopher (23) and Wayne (20), who are all from Island Street, appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court.
All three originally faced a total of 15 charges, but after pleading guilty to three charges each, the remaining counts were left on the books.
The men were arrested following a joint raid on an east Belfast house involving police and USPCA officers.
In the backyard of the property were multiple cages and dogs. A number of the animals bore scars.
Video footage on mobile phones which were seized showed what police described as some of the most shocking animal cruelty they have witnessed, including clips of cats being thrown to dogs which then tore them apart.
In one scene, a man can be seen climbing a tree after a terrified cat, before dislodging it, causing it to fall and be slaughtered by waiting dogs.
The cats – believed to be pets – are thought to have been used to blood the canines for illegal dog fights and badger baiting.
Each of the three men admitted to causing unnecessary suffering to four terrier cross puppies on dates between November 1 and November 28, 2011.
They also pleaded guilty to possession of items for use in connection with an animal fight, namely a CD7 battery pack, handheld lamps, a green dog harness and an animal trap.
The father and two sons also admitted a charge of keeping or training animals for an animal fight on dates between July 10 and November 28, 2011.
The final charge relates to four bull lurcher dogs.
A co-accused, 19-year-old Jamie Edward Morrow, from McAllister Court in Belfast, originally faced three charges. Two of these were left on the books after he admitted a charge of keeping or training an animal for a fight, namely a whippet cross Staffordshire bull terrier, on November 27.
After the guilty pleas were entered, Judge Donna McColgan ordered that pre-sentence reports be prepared for all four men. The judge agreed to release them on continued bail but said, "this is no indication of the likely outcome of the case", which will be heard before the same court on February 21.
Also appearing in the dock of the same court was Catherine Kirkwood, from Island Street in Belfast.
Wife of Jeremiah and mother of Wayne and Christopher, the 43-year old originally faced a total of 15 charges linked to animal cruelty and animal fighting.
A jury was sworn in to hear the case, but a prosecutor told the judge and jury that the Crown would be offering no evidence against her.
Judge McColgan directed the jury to find Catherine Kirkwood not guilty of all the charges against her and when they were discharged, Kirkwood was told she was free to go.
After the court hearing, Detective Inspector Peter Mullan said police were taken aback by video footage showing animals being ripped apart.
"Unfortunately, we weren't able to identify who the cats belonged to, but it would appear the cats were being trapped and then used for the dogs, to train them in preparation for animal fighting," he said.
When shown the footage, Alliance leader and east Belfast MP Naomi Long, said she was appalled. "To see people's pets effectively being torn limb from limb while they are still alive is obscene and barbaric," she told the BBC.