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Three men have avoided jail after being convicted of offences linked to organised dog fighting.

RSPCA and police executed warrants at a house on Heywood Road in Accrington and Ramsclough Farm Cottages on Haslingden Old Road in Oswaldtwistle in May last year.

Officers found five banned pit bull type dogs, large collections of books and magazines relating to dog fighting and treating dog injuries, veterinary equipment for treating animals involved in fights, treadmills, ceiling hooks and weighing scales.

Darren Wheatcroft, 48, of Haywood Road, Accrington, pleaded guilty to arranging a dogfight to take place, keeping or training dogs for use in an animal fight and possessing three banned pit bull type dogs.

His son Callan Wheatcroft, 22, of the same address, pleaded guilty to keeping or training dogs for use in an animal fight and possessing three banned pit bull type dogs.

Father-of-two Simon Whitworth, 44, of Haslingden Old Road, Oswaldtwistle, pleaded guilty to not ensuring the welfare of a animal, keeping or training dogs for use in an animal fight and possessing two banned pit bull terrier type dogs.

At Ramsclough Farm, officers found two banned dogs, Dingo and Sheeba, in kennels at the back of farmhouses and found injuries on the left front leg of Sheeba.

The RSPCA also found evidence from phone texts and WhatsApp messages belonging to Darren Wheatcroft relating to attempting to organise and animal fight.

One message on Darren Wheatcroft’s phone from his son Callan said ‘so does he still have that killer 37/38 dog? Would you go for a grand with Dingo?’ to which he replied ‘Zulu hooked up’.

Simon Farnsworth, defending all three men, told Burnley Magistrates Court that despite large amounts of evidence against them, there was nothing to prove they had carried out any dog fights.

Callan Wheatcroft and Whitworth were given suspended 16 week jail sentences and Darren Wheathcroft was given a 20 week suspended sentence.

All three were ordered to carry out 150 hours unpaid work.

Darren Wheatcroft and Whitworth were ordered to pay RSPCA costs of £15,000 each and Callan Wheatcroft ordered to pay £10,000.

All three men have been banned from owning or keeping dogs for life.

District Judge James Clarke told Burnley Magistrates Court that he was ‘quite satisfied’ all the banned dogs and equipment were ‘being used for illegal dog fighting’.

Sentencing, he said: “The centre of this case is that each of you, to varying degrees, together and separately, were involved in the ownership, training and care of prohibited animals.

“These dogs are illegal for a reason because they are dangerous, not only labelled dangerous by parliament but by their physical characteristics, their training, their selective breed and ability to cause significant physical injuries.

“You have willingly and knowingly involved yourself in an industry and endeavour that perpetuates cruelty to animals, the vindication of fighting to the death of animals and also the mistreatment of dogs.

“It’s something which you have invested significant amount of your own finances and no doubt considered the potential to make money out of the enterprise.

“This was deliberate offending over a period of time with little or no regard to the animals other than as sources of entertainment or for financial gain.”