This year marks the 35th anniversary of our Special Operations Unit (SOU) - but officers admit they are just as busy fighting organised animal crime today as they were when the team was formed in 1977.
Investigations by the unit’s covert inspectors have resulted in 97 convictions against 43 people in the past five years for fighting dogs and training them to fight – despite it being outlawed almost 180 years ago.
Although cockfighting was also banned in England and Wales at the same time in 1835, it remains a major concern, with a total of 32 convictions against 12 individuals during the same recent time period.
Chief Superintendent Barry Fryer admitted that his team of specially trained inspectors have probably only scratched the surface, despite huge strides forward in the battle against organised animal cruelty.
People don’t realise it is going on. There is a vast amount of it out there. It is sad to say too, but I think it is probably the truth that we are just reaching the tip of the iceberg.
We’ve had cases in court fairly recently where we’ve had magistrates in court openly weeping because of the video evidence that we’ve shown of horrendous animal cruelty that has gone on.
Everyone in the Unit is shocked by it, but they have to distance themselves from it as best they can so they can get on and do the job.
Almost every week something comes in that shocks you and makes you think ‘How can another human being do that to a defenceless animal?
As well as dog fighting and cockfighting, inspectors from our SOU investigate many other forms of organised animal crime. This can range from badger baiting and wild bird trapping to videos depicting animal torture and the trade in illegal animal products.
Chief Inspector Mike Butcher has been a member of our SOU since its early days. He is now recognised as one of the UK’s leading dog fighting experts after leading some of the unit’s biggest investigations.
However, catching some of the country’s most notorious animal criminals has come with its own repercussions for Mike.
I’ve had my nose broken and threatened with death on a number of times. At one time there was supposedly a contract out on my life, but all these are the things that make the job what it is.
Being an SOU inspector can be zero miles per hour, or 150 miles per hour. That’s the excitement for me. You are never sure what you are going to come across next.
There have been times when we’ve had a tip off about a dog fight or a cock fight taking place, and then we’ve turned up and busted it. That is what it is all about for me. It is about catching the people who are responsible for such horrendous levels of premeditated animal cruelty.
To read more about the type of case we deal with visit our animal cruelty stories page
The RSPCA’s special operations unit only exists because of generous donations from the public.
- If you would like to help the RSPCA continue its fight against organised animal crime, you can give £3 now by texting Fight to 88010.
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