'Dr Death' among gang convicted over 'brutal' international dog fighting ring

Four people have been convicted of helping to run a "brutal" international dog fighting ring - which resulted in the death of one of the animals.

Warning: This article contains a graphic image of dogs fighting

Officers found four dogs at a home in Chigwell, Essex, owned by Phillip Harris Ali, known as "Dr Death" in the dog fighting world.

One of the animals had scars and scratches on her face, and officers also seized Ali's phone which contained a "goldmine" of evidence including graphic videos and images of dog fights and match reports.

The 67-year-old had recorded hours of WhatsApp voice notes describing planning for fights on the device, which also contained information relating to travel plans for dog fights, and messages about training regimes and injuries.

Dog fighting paraphernalia including a slat mill, two treadmills, four break sticks and two flirt poles were also recovered, as well as skin staplers, an IV kit, bandages, needles, steroids, antibiotics and painkillers.

The raid on the property on 14 March 2022 followed an investigation by the RSPCA's special operations unit, a taskforce which investigates serious and organised animal crime, after concerns were raised about the welfare of a dog at the address.

Two dogs were seized by the Metropolitan Police and placed into RSPCA care.

Ian Muttitt, a member of the charity's special operations unit, said Ali mentioned prize pots of £3,000 and £5,000 in one voice note.

He said a fight in Ireland in February 2022 resulted in the death of a dog named Olivia from her injuries.

One of the gruesome match reports showed a dog named Bonnie, who was never found, lose a fight within 25 minutes and suffer two possible broken legs in the brawl, he said.

The investigation led to warrants being executed at other properties, including that of Billy and Amy Leadley, aged 38 and 39, of Takeley in Essex, and Stephen Brown, 56, of Chigwell, and at a third address in Merseyside.

Sixteen dogs were seized from the Leadleys' address, including bull breeds thought to have been used for fighting, many being kept in poor conditions in a garage. One dog was seized from the property in Merseyside.

A slat mill, vet kit and books about dog fighting were all recovered from Brown's address, while a flirt pole, two slat mills, weighted collars and other weight training equipment, plus four break sticks, were seized from the Leadleys' property, which also had a dog fighting pit.

The three men and one woman were all convicted by a jury on Wednesday of a string of offences following a four-week trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

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Speaking outside court following the verdicts, Mr Muttitt said Ali's mobile phone was a "goldmine" of information and evidence including "graphic videos and images of brutal dog fights".

He added: "The information on the phone linked most of the defendants together and we could see that they'd been involved in at least four dog fights; one held in Essex, at the Leadleys'; one in Ireland; and one in France, for which they flew into Bordeaux. The other fight was held at an unknown location in England."

Ali, the Leadleys and Brown will be sentenced on 3 June.