Opinion Former Article

Father and son banned for life after RSPCA discover cockfighting ‘factory’

Sussex man travelled the world to fuel his obsession

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A father and son from West Sussex have been given a suspended jail sentence and banned for life from keeping birds after the RSPCA uncovered one of the biggest cockfighting operations the animal charity has ever discovered.

Brighton Magistrates’ Court was today (Weds) told that Mark Harry Giles and his son Mark Anthony Giles were obsessed with cockfighting, and would travel around the world to watch graphic bouts between birds.

The pair bred and trained hundreds of cockerels at their homes in the West Sussex countryside for fighting, before their injuries would be treated using amateur veterinary kits.

Mark Harry Giles senior (pictured left), aged 48, was sentenced to 120 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £2,500 costs. He had previously admitted seven charges related to cockfighting, the keeping of birds for use in fighting – including being present at a cockfight – and possession of cockfighting paraphernalia. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of causing unnecessary suffering under the Animal Welfare Act.

His 26-year-old son Mark Anthony Giles (pictured below right), who had also pleaded guilty to seven charges related to cockfighting and keeping birds for fighting, was ordered to carry out 100 hours unpaid work and to pay £1,000 costs. Other counts admitted by Giles junior included two offences of keeping animals in poor conditions and one of causing unnecessary suffering. Both men were also sentenced to 20 weeks custody, suspended for two years.

Chief inspector Mike Butcher, of the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, said: “Cockfighting was banned almost 180 years ago, in 1835. Yet here we are in 2012 to see two men sent to prison for their involvement in a pastime most people thought had been left behind in the dark ages.

“Cockfighting is described by some as a blood sport, but for any right-minded person there is no glory in watching birds die horrific deaths in the name of sick competition.

“Mark Giles senior is a man obsessed by cockfighting. The set-up we found at his home and the number of birds being bred was like a cockfighting factory.

“His travels to parts of the world where cockfighting is still legal, to watch bouts in places as far flung as South America and Asia, only emphasize the scale of his interest.

“It is such a shame that his son appears to have followed in his father’s misguided footsteps. Hopefully today’s sentences will give them food for thought about whether their involvement in such a worthless form of animal cruelty has really been worth it.”

Inspectors from the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit spotted the pair during an intelligence gathering undercover operation at a cockfight in northern France – where the activity is still legal in some regions. Both father and son were filmed at the event and a warrant was then carried out at their home addresses in August 2011 after the French surveillance corroborated with existing information to suggest the pair were involved in breeding and training cockerels for fighting.

RSPCA officers, along with officers from Sussex Police, found 238 birds at Giles senior’s home address at Linfold Road, Strood Green, near Billingshurst in August last year. They also discovered 62 cock fighting spurs, 36 leg muffs, 18 leg bands, beak muzzles as well as veterinary items and drugs used to treat injured birds, rather than take them to a vet.

Giles senior’s obsession with cockfighting was compounded by scores of cockfighting magazines, albums of photographs taken from cockfights around the world (Brazilian cockfighting pit and arena pictured above left), books, paintings and videos, all kept in a demountable cabin at his home address.

Some of the photos were taken at cockfights as far afield as Brazil and the Philippines, while Giles senior was even pictured on the cover of one magazine (pictured right) using his nickname ‘The Traveler.’

A warrant was carried out at the same time at his son’s address on Marringdean Road, Billingshurst, where 246 birds were being kept for use in connection with cockfighting. Other items seized included six cockfighting spurs, 34 leg muffs, 12 pairs of leg bands, four beak muzzles, veterinary items and a cockfighting pit.

Blood from the cockfighting pit and on some of the cockfighting spurs was forensically analysed by Dr Lucy Webster in the Wildlife DNA Forensics Unit at SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture), part of the Scottish Government. The results proved that the blood had come from several different male cockerels. This provided the RSPCA with further evidence that cockfighting had taken place in the pit and using the seized spurs.

Both father and son showed claimed they only sold birds abroad in France where cock fighting is legal.

-ends-

Notes to editors

Case video footage and selection of images – both seized and taken by the RSPCA during the warrants – are available from the RSPCA press office:

Klare Kennett
RSPCA Senior South East Regional Press Officer
Wilberforce Way
Southwater
Horsham
West Sussex
RH139RS
Tel: 0300 123 0298 or 07714138220(mobile).
Fax 0303 123 0298

Follow me on twitter
https://twitter.com/#!/KlareRSPCA

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