Environment: Badger killers convicted by DNA

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Four men were yesterday jailed for five months after being found guilty of killing a protected animal in the RSPCA's first badger case using DNA evidence.

Garry Shaw, Garry Pettipierre, Michael Holland and David Wragg were found guilty at Bakewell Magistrates court, Derbyshire, of offences under the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act, which included digging out a badger and killing it. The men, all from Derbyshire, were bailed pending an appeal at crown court.

Gathering enough evidence to prosecute a person for ill-treating badgers had previously been virtually impossible. Unless a culprit was caught red-handed, it was very difficult to produce enough evidence to bring them to court.

Although nobody saw the four men committing the crime, a passer-by spotted them near the sett where the animal's body lay, and called the RSPCA and police.

DNA testing showed blood stains on the men's clothing and a knife had come from the animal. The court also heard Wragg and Holland were active members of field-sports societies and ordered that dogs belonging to all the men be forfeited.

An RSPCA spokeswoman, Jo Crozier, said: "If it hadn't been for DNA testing, we would never have been able to prove that it was these men who killed the animal, even though they were found only 600 yards from the body. All we would have had was circumstantial evidence and that wouldn't have been strong enough to convict them." Since 1986 there have been 271 convictions of badger offences by the RSPCA but animal-welfare groups now hope increasing use of DNA testing will help make many more.