The culprits have been sentenced in court this week, with one sent to prison for 18 weeks.
Lancashire Police’s Rural Task Force's east division launched an investigation after two boys were seen on March 17th last year on an estate in Burnley encouraging a dog to attack a cat. The cat, later identified as a pet called Gatsby, was rushed by his owners to the vet but died from his injuries on route.
The incident was filmed by a witness and passed to police. Officers alerted the RSPCA and the charity’s Special Operations Unit (SOU) became involved.
Police executed two warrants under the Animal Welfare Act on 10 April 2021 at addresses in Burnley.
Mobile phones were seized which revealed images and videos of dogs being used to attack animals and hunt badgers, deer, rabbits and birds, prompting two further warrants in the same area.
At one address Ryan Hancock’s two lurcher-type dogs, called Ace and Cassie, were seized and taken into RSPCA care. A further crossbreed, called Storm, was seized from Marcus Leverett’s home. They were all later signed over so they could be rehomed.
The investigation - named Operation Ratchet - saw a number of mobile phones examined revealing 182 videos that showed graphic cruelty to animals, some of which had been set to music and edited for use on video sharing social site, TikTok.
Appearing at court this week, Marcus Leverett (19) of Harold Avenue, pleaded guilty to two offences under the Animal Welfare Act while Ryan Hancock (18)) of Prestwich Street, pleaded guilty to 11 offences under the Animal Welfare Act and Protection of Badgers Act.
The pair were sentenced at Blackburn Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday. Leverett was sentenced to 12 weeks custody, suspended for 18 months, concurrent on all charges. He was ordered to pay £1,000 in costs and was disqualified from keeping all animals for 10 years.
Hancock received 18 weeks in prison on 10 of the 11 offences - to run concurrently - as well as being disqualified from keeping all animals for 10 years.
A third teenager, who cannot be named due to his age, was sentenced in youth court after pleading guilty to two offences under the Animal Welfare Act and two under the Protection of Badgers Act.
He was sentenced at Blackburn Youth Court on Monday to a 12-month referral order. He was disqualified from keeping animals for 10 years and his family was ordered to pay £500 costs plus a £22 victim surcharge.
The prosecutor told the court that the level of offending was ‘off the scale.'