There were angry scenes in Belfast Crown Court yesterday when four east Belfast men who admitted animal cruelty charges were remanded in custody.
Relatives shouted “keep your chins up boys’’ as Jeremiah Kirkwood, 43, and sons Christopher, 23, and Wayne, 20, of Island Street, were led from the dock in handcuffs to await sentencing next Thursday.
Also led away was Jamie Morrow, 19, of McAllister Court, in the east of the city.
Family relatives of the four defendants cried in the public gallery and Jeremiah Kirkwood’s terminally ill mother shouted out: “I will be praying hard for you on my knees tonight.”
Under the Animal Welfare (NI) Act 2011, the maximum penalty for causing acts of animal cruelty is two years in prison.
The judge will also consider a prosecution application that all four receive lifetime bans from keeping animals.
The three Kirkwoods pleaded guilty in January to causing unnecessary suffering to puppies, owning equipment used to train dogs for attacks on cats lifted from the streets of east Belfast, and keeping and training animals for an animal fight, namely four bull lurcher dogs.
Morrow admitted keeping or training an animal for a fight, namely a whippet cross Staffordshire bull terrier.
A prosecuting lawyer told the court police searched the home of Jamie Morrow on November 27, 2011, and recovered his mobile phone.
“There were three videos on the phone, dating from August 28 that year, which showed a male person, who can’t be identified, with four dogs which attacked and killed a cat.’’
During a follow-up search at the Kirkwoods’ home, police found equipment in connection with an animal fight, which included a battery pack, handheld lamps, a green dog harness and an animal trap along with a number of dogs.
Judge McColgan QC was told that the USPCA took the dogs found in the back yard away to the Dublin SPCA for their protection.
The Crown lawyer said the dogs were examined by a vet who said the cuts and injuries around their noses were consistent with dog fighting.
He said that following treatment in Dublin, the animals were moved to a “secret location in Co Down”.
The lawyer added that the Crown was making an application for all four to receive lifetime bans from “owning, keeping and transporting” animals. However, defence lawyers argued that such a lifetime ban would be difficult to impose given that they still had four pet dogs at home.