A father and two sons banned from keeping animals following a notorious cruelty case were today acquitted of breaching the order by having dogs at their east Belfast home.
Charges against Jeremiah, Christopher and Wayne Kirkwood were dismissed after the prosecution offered no evidence.
In 2014 the three men admitted causing unnecessary suffering to terrier pups, having equipment linked to animal fighting, and keeping or training bull lurchers in connection with an animal fight.
Video footage recovered as part of that case showed a cat trapped in a cage being torn to pieces.
At the time Jeremiah Kirkwood, 47, and his sons Christopher, 27, and Wayne, 24, were all given six-month suspended prison sentences.
They were also banned from keeping, dealing in or transporting animals for a 10-year period.
Fresh charges were brought after police allegedly discovered two dogs at their Island Street home in September 2016.
All three men faced two counts of breaching the disqualification order imposed under the 2011 Welfare of Animals Act.
The allegations against them were due to be contested at Belfast Magistrates' Court.
But as the defendants waited outside, it emerged that the case against them was instead being dropped.
Issues around the ownership of any animals located by police are understood to have been a factor.
A Crown lawyer confirmed: "The prosecution are in a position to offer no evidence in any of the three cases."
District Judge George Conner responded that it would have been a difficult case to prove evidentially.
He added: "Without knowing all the ins and outs, and no evidence being offered, I dismiss each case."