Wigan dog owner gets suspended prison sentence for animal poaching

A Wigan man who let his dogs brutally kill wild animals has narrowly avoided jail.

Daniel Ratchford was given a suspended prison sentence and a Criminal Behaviour Order for committing poaching offences on private farmland, including allowing his Lurcher-cross dogs to kill wild rabbits and hares.

The 36-year-old, of Wellfield Road in Beech Hill, was handed a five year order which excludes him from entering vast areas around West Lancashire and Sefton.

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This includes all rural areas between Ormskirk and the Sefton coast, between Ormskirk and Crosby, Maghull, Kirkby and between Wigan and Lancashire around the Douglas Valley.

Daniel Ratchford

It also prevents him from being part of a group of two or more people who are in control of any dog anywhere in England and Wales, as well as prohibiting him from trespassing on any land and from acting in a manner that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

Ratchford was given the order after previously being found guilty of four poaching offences, hunting wild animals with dogs and five breaches of a Dog Disqualification Order.

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In addition to the CBO, his 32 week custodial sentence was suspended for two years, and he was handed a 16-week 7pm – 6am tagged curfew, 50 day Rehabilitation Order, lifetime prohibition from keeping dogs and all of his dogs were forfeited to police for rehoming.

Lancashire’s South Rural Task Force, along with Merseyside Police’s Wildlife Crime Unit and RSPCA Special Operations Unit, executed a warrant at Ratchford’s property in the early hours of the Thursday, March 11.

Five dogs were found inside, in breach of his lifetime disqualification which he was given in 2014, after being convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to a dog. For this offence, he was sentenced to twelve weeks imprisonment.

PC Paddy Stewart, Rural, Wildlife & Heritage Crime Officer in Lancashire’s South Rural Task Force, described Ratchford’s sentence as a “landmark conviction” in the fight against animal poaching.

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He told the Post: “I’m very pleased with the sentence. I think it was proportionate, given the nature of the crimes. Although it is suspended, it is still a custodial sentence, and quite a hefty one. That, along with his tag and more importantly the CBO, if Ratchford enters into any behaviour similar to what he has done before, he will go to prison, there’s no doubt about it.

“It’s been described by some as a landmark conviction, because of the serious nature of the disposals of the CBO, the tagging and the curfew. We hope it serves to show people that people who would come to rural communities to commit crimes, how seriously we are taking it.”

He added: “[Poaching] is vastly misunderstood. Its impact is far reaching, to the point where farmers feel genuinely intimidated by these people who come onto their land. It’s like someone coming into your garden.

“These crimes affect our precious wildlife and the general biodiversity of the country. These aren’t minor crimes, these are serious and often committed by hardened criminals. It’s not just ‘bunny bothering’, it’s affecting people’s lives and livelihoods. That’s not something we are going to tolerate.”

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Explaining the motives behind Ratchford’s crimes, and the crimes of others involved in wildlife poaching across the region, PC Stewart said: “For some people, it’s habitual. It’s something they’ve done their entire lives, it’s something their dads would have done, and their grandads.

“There is a whole other side to this rural crime, which is a gambling element. There are certain sections of the community who will gamble money on the dogs. A number of offenders will go to a field, box it off, and flush hares into the field. They’ll have dogs and run them on the hares. It’s the first dog to kill the hare, or catch it. They’ll bet money on that. These bets can be upwards of £20,000 - there’s real big money for the people doing it.”

For more information on types of rural crime, along with some crime prevention advice, please visit lancashire.police.uk, then click on ‘Help & Advice’ and next ‘Protecting Rural Communities’.