Cyber-enabled wildlife crime and badger persecution dealt a blow as social media footage is used to prosecute offenders.
Cyber-enabled wildlife crime and badger persecution are both listed as UK Wildlife Crime Priorities by the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Badger Trust is aware that these two crimes are often connected and that badger persecution across England and Wales is being promoted and normalised on social media platforms, typically by a younger demographic. Badger Trust is therefore pleased that social media has been instrumental in successfully prosecuting criminals for badger crime this year.
On the 22nd February 2022, three teenagers, aged 19, 18, and another too young to be identified for legal reasons, were prosecuted at Blackburn Magistrates’ Court under the Animal Welfare Act (2006) and the Protection of Badgers Act (1992). The prosecution resulted from an initial witness report of one of the teenagers – filmed by residents – setting his dog to lethally attack a cat on the local estate where he lived.
The footage was passed on to the RSPCA, which involved its Special Operations Unit (SOU). This action shows the value of recognising, recording, and reporting instances of animal abuse to the relevant charities and local authorities. The seizure of the teenagers’ phones in the subsequent police investigation uncovered 182 social media videos of dog-related violence, including dogs used to attack badgers, which enabled police to place additional charges under the Protection of Badgers Act (1992). As a result, each teenager was banned from keeping animals for ten years, two were fined £500 and £1000 each, and one received an 18-week prison sentence. A second court case, prosecuted on the 9th March 2022, saw a family of three adults convicted of animal cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act (2006) and the Protection of Badgers Act (1992). The family, who shared images to a private social media group, were reported to the RSPCA. They found footage of the family encouraging a two-year-old child in their care to “bash” a live badger over the head with a spade and set a lurcher onto the sett. A subsequent police investigation revealed a further 32 films showing the family performing brutal cruelty towards dogs and wildlife. The adults were found guilty, and two were sentenced to a combined 38 weeks in prison, with another sentenced to 22 weeks in prison, suspended for 12 months. All three were banned from keeping animals for life. Peter Hambly, Executive Director of Badger Trust, said:
“Badger Trust is grateful to the members of the public who recognised, recorded, and reported these abhorrent crimes against badgers, dogs and other animals to the RSPCA, and to the police for taking the footage of badger baiting seriously.
“Unfortunately, the persecution of badgers continues, and sharing images and videos of these crimes online is appalling but can also lead to prosecution.
“With increased sentencing, even more effort could be focused on these violent crimes.” Whilst badgers and their setts are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act (1992), Badger Trust maintains that low sentencing for cases of badger cruelty is evidence that sentencing under the Protection of Badgers Act (1992) needs to be tougher. Bringing it in line with sentencing under the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act (2021) will act as an effective det