A father and son from Billingshurst have been spared an immediate jail term after the RSPCA uncovered one of the biggest cockfighting operations the animal charity has ever discovered.
Brighton Magistrates’ Court heard how 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.
They were banned from keeping birds for life.
The pair bred and trained hundreds of cockerels at their homes in the village for fighting. The birds’ injuries were treated using amateur veterinary kits.
Both were handed a prison sentence of 20 weeks suspended for two years.
Mark Giles senior, 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 Giles, 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.
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.
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.
Chief inspector Mike Butcher, of the RSPCA’s Special Operations Unit, said: “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.”
He added: “It is such a shame that his son appears to have followed in his father’s misguided footsteps. Hopefully the sentences will give them food for thought about whether their involvement in such a worthless form of animal cruelty has really been worth it.”