Belfast Telegraph

Dog owner avoids jail over 'badger baiting' injuries to animals

By George Jackson

A man whose three dogs were found with mouth injuries consistent with badger baiting has avoided a prison sentence.

Michael Stephen Conwell had his four-month jail term suspended for three years.

The 23-year-old was also ordered to pay kennelling costs of £7,500 and disqualified for life from owning animals.

Conwell, from Slievebuoy Park in Claudy, had the sentences imposed on him by Judge Philip Babington at the Crown Court in Londonderry on Friday.

He was appealing sentences at the Derry Magistrates Court last February when he was convicted of the offences in his absence.

On February 22 he was jailed for three months, ordered to pay kennelling costs of £14,000 and banned for life from keeping or owning animals.

During Friday's appeal hearing, prosecution barrister Jonathan Longman said that on February 22 of last year police conducted searches of properties in the Claudy area as part of an ongoing investigation into wildlife offences.

Conwell's home was one of the properties searched.

Inside police found three dogs with visible injuries to their mouths and lips.

A lurcher had long-standing damage to the right side of its mouth and damage to its lips. A vet who examined the dog believed the injuries had been inflicted three months earlier and described the lurcher's condition as poor.

A patterdale terrier also had damage to its lips and scarring injuries, which the vet also believed were two months old.

The third dog, a Cairn-Patterdale cross, had several of its teeth missing as well as injuries to its lips. The vet believed those injuries were between two weeks and three months old. The prosecutor said although the defendant was neither charged with nor convicted of badger baiting, the vet who examined the three dogs believed that the injuries were consistent with badger baiting.

The three dogs were removed from Conwell's home by the police and kept in kennels.

The PSNI incurred kennelling costs of £14,000 for the three dogs, all of which have recovered from their injuries and are now waiting to be rehomed after the conclusion of the court proceedings.

The prosecutor said Conwell gave a "no comment" interview to the police following his arrest and gave no explanation as to how the injuries had been inflicted on his three dogs.

Defence barrister Eoghan Devlin said he accepted the custody threshold had been passed. He said Conwell claimed the dogs were aggressive, especially when they came into contact with each other, and he believed they inflicted the injuries on each other.

"I accept he simply put his head in the sand. He has been keeping dogs all of his life and he takes no pride in coming before the court and being convicted of neglecting these three dogs.

"He is embarrassed and ashamed and he knows this type of offending is deeply frowned upon, especially by people who live in rural areas, as he does.

"He apologises for his behaviour in relation to this very unhappy and unsavoury incident."

Judge Babington said in appealing the sentences imposed on him last February, Conwell now accepted his guilt and responsibility.

"It is unbelievable that for someone who has kept dogs that you showed them no consideration whatsoever," he said.

Judge Babington then increased the jail sentence from three to four months, but suspended it for three years.

He also reduced the kennelling costs from £14,000 to £7,500. However, he affirmed the lifetime ban on Conwell from owning or keeping any animals.

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