By PHIL CORRIGAN
POLICE caught three men with a dead deer in their van during an anti-poaching operation.
Officers arrested the trio on suspicion of hunting with dogs after they were found driving across Cannock Chase late at night.
They had the carcasses of a fallow deer and a rabbit in their vehicle, along with four lurcher dogs.
James Harvey, Kyle Rodgers and James Morgan, all from Stoke-on-Trent, received fines after admitting two counts of illegally hunting with dogs at Stafford Magistrates' Court yesterday.
Prosecutor Roger Price told the court that Staffordshire Police and the RSPCA had mounted a joint operation on the evening of November 23 following several reports of poaching.
At around 12.30am officers in a patrol car came across the van travelling along Broadhurst Green Road.
The two men in the front of the vehicle told the officers that they had 'found it while out rabbiting'.
Mr Price said: "The officer opened the rear of the van where he found a third man sat on the floor. There were also four lurcher-type dogs and, not least, the carcass of a fallow deer.
"It was still steaming with heat and was warm to the touch. Blood around the wounds was fresh and one of the dogs was eating from inside the deer."
The officers found that the deer had been bled through a knife cut to the throat, and partially gutted.
They also found lamps, batteries, hunting knives, and a dead rabbit.
In interview, Rodgers, aged 22, of New House Road, Abbey Hulton, claimed the men had been out rabbiting, and had found the deer already dead in the road.
But a post-mortem examination of the deer revealed the deer had gone into cardiac arrest after suffering bite wounds. No other injuries were found. Each of the dogs, two of which belonged to Morgan, one to Harvey and one to Rogers, were found to be in generally good condition.
They have been with the RSPCA since the arrests.
Kate Shufflebottom, mitigating for Rodgers and 24-year-old Harvey, of Crestbrook Road, Abbey Hulton, said: "They fully accept that they were on Cannock Chase to hunt rabbits. They both say they were not aware this constituted a criminal offence.
"They did not plan to hunt deer that intention formed when the deer was attacked by the dogs."
Joanna Clark, mitigating for 28-year-old Morgan, of Baker Crescent South, Baddeley Green, said he had also been unaware that rabbiting with dogs was illegal.
She said: "There is no suggestion this was a large scale or sophisticated operation. My client has said that he doesn't care what happens to him, as long as he gets his pets back."
The magistrates told each defendant to pay a fine of £368, costs of £2,538 and a victim surcharge of £36.
They also ordered the forfeiture of all the equipment that had been used including all four dogs.
Chairman of the bench Barry Joynes said: "This was an entirely atrocious matter, and in no way should these things be allowed to happen."
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