Two lovers, both 20, admit neglecting and starving up to 121 animals

Two lovers, both 20, admit neglecting and starving up to 121 animals in lockdown money-making ruse after RSPCA found piles of dead creatures in plastic bags waiting to be burned

  • Rio-Anne Katie Jane Dickinson, 20, and Hannah Olivia Wilkinson, 20, rented land
  • The former couple pleaded guilty to five counts of unnecessary suffering at trial
  • Teesside Magistrates’ Court heard they kept hens, chickens, quails and ducks
  • The operator of the farm carried out three spot checks over a two-week period

Former lovers have admitted neglecting more than 120 animals while leasing farm land in an effort to make money.  

Rio-Anne Katie Jane Dickinson, 20, and Hannah Olivia Wilkinson, 20, rented land at Bog Hall Farm, in Mordon, during the Covid-19 lockdown last year.

Teesside Magistrates’ Court heard how they kept hens, chickens, quails, ducks and guinea fowl on the farm near Sedgefield, County Durham.

The pair, who were in a relationship at the time, were also responsible for two sheep, two hamsters, four guinea pigs, two budgerigars as well as a goat and a rabbit.

The court in Middlesbrough heard how they sold animals on to others and operated without a licence or vet support.

Alex Bousfield, prosecuting, said concerns were raised by others who had bought animals from the farm and found they were covered in lice.

Rio-Anne Katie Jane Dickinson (left), 20, and Hannah Olivia Wilkinson (right), 20, rented land at Bog Hall Farm, in Mordon, during the Covid-19 lockdown last year

He said the operator of the farm, who leased it to the defendants, carried out three spot checks over a two-week period and contacted the RSPCA on July 29 last year.

Mr Bousfield told the court the operator found the animals with no food and only some of them had water.

He said there were lots of dead animals in plastic bags to be burnt, despite it being illegal to dispose of them this way.

Mr Bousfield said concerns were raised about the number of dead birds. He revealed dogs were found with blood on their fronts, sparking fears the birds were fed to the dogs.  

He said: ‘Having seen what was going on the operator realised enough was enough and called in the RSPCA and on attendance five birds were found to be walking around over the bodies of dead birds.’

Mr Bousfield told the court that when the RSPCA attended there were only two guinea pigs with food and water.

Teesside Magistrates’ Court heard how they kept hens, chickens, quails, ducks and guinea fowl on the farm (pictured) near Sedgefield, County Durham

He said: ‘We have got 121 animals in this case. Only two were properly provided with food and water.

‘Other than the guinea pigs none of them had food or water.

‘There was no registration for the animals involved, particularly the sheep and goat -they should have been reported to Defra.’

Mr Bousfield said the defendants were selling quails in pairs but had been left with too many males.

He said: ‘They were in pens and they were also starving. They were aggressive to each other.’

Mr Bousfield said one of the quails bit an eye out of a hamster and the small pet died after Dickinson and Wilkinson failed to get it treatment.

He said two hamsters were found to have skin conditions which hadn’t been treated and a guinea pig had to be euthanized after it developed teeth which were too long.

A chicken also had to be put to sleep after it was found with a plastic ring inside its leg and a duck was subjected to feather plucking of its wings by other birds.

Mr Bousfield said: ‘The vast majority were in a poor state, some were in a reasonable state, so were the guinea pigs, but the majority of them were not.

‘Many of the animals were emaciated. Some of the animals needed to be euthanized as well.’

Police attended the farm and the suffering animals were signed over to the RSPCA.

Mr Bousfield said it was difficult to know how many animals they had at the farm, but Dickinson said in interview that in one week she had sold 500 birds.

Dickinson, from Ferryhill, County Durham, and Wilkinson, from Ferryhill, County Durham, previously denied all of the offences. Pictured, Teesside Magistrates’ Court

He said: ‘It was clear that the leasing arrangement was set up and the lease was for the premises and not the care of the animals. That would remain with these two defendants throughout.

‘The defendants quickly started bringing additional animals. They said they planned to put in aviaries. It became apparent they wanted to take on more land.’

The court heard how the RSPCA had already previously spoken to Dickenson, while Wilkinson was in attendance, about their chickens as they were found to be managing more than they were capable of.

Dickinson, from Ferryhill, County Durham, and Wilkinson, from Ferryhill, County Durham, previously denied all of the offences they were charged with.

However on Tuesday morning – the day of their trial – both defendants pleaded guilty to five counts of unnecessary suffering.

The charges relate to 52 red ex battery hens, 19 various type chickens, 10 quail, one guinea fowl, a red ex battery hen, a pale brown and white juvenile duck and a white Bantam hen.

They also admitted a sixth charge of not taking steps that were reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which they were responsible.

These included one rabbit, four guinea pigs, two hamsters, two sheep, one goat, 15 ducks, two budgerigars and one guinea foul.

All of the offences took place in July last year.

The court heard how Dickinson has a previous conviction from October last year for selling counterfeit items on social media and was handed a £768 fine.

Kayleigh Giddons, defending Dickinson, told the court there was only a small number of the animals, nine out of 120, which were deceased.

The court heard how Dickinson (left) has a previous conviction from October last year for selling counterfeit items on social media and was handed a £768 fine

She said her client suffered from mental health issues and was in hospital at the time when the farm was left unattended for 48 hours.

Ms Giddons said she understood a disqualification for keeping animals would be ‘inevitable’ but said she would ask that it is in relation to the species Dickinson has been convicted of.

She said this will allow her to keep her pet rescue dogs, which she is very attached to.

Ashleigh Leach, defending Wilkinson, told the court her client first met Dickinson when she responded to a job advert to be a courier, which lasted two weeks prior to lockdown.

She said they began a relationship, remained together during the lockdown and agreed to let a barn as business partners.

Ms Leach said: ‘In reality, this was in name only. Ms Dickinson was in control during this time. She believes she had been manipulated and had control of this time.

‘She wasn’t allowed to see friends or family without it causing significant issue. She does accept she knew what was going on around the farm, she fed the hens daily.’

Ms Leach said Wilkinson became involved due to being Ms Dickinson’s partner and helping out.

She added: ‘This is a 20-year-old woman who was young and naïve in the circumstances. She wasn’t a leading role in the circumstances and she didn’t benefit commercially from this business endeavour.’

Ms Giddons told the court Wilkinson’s claims were ‘disputed’ and they were both involved.

Deputy District Judge Mark Daley adjourned the case until next month so pre sentence reports could be prepared.

He told Dickinson and Wilkinson: ‘It’s clear that you were in business together trying to make money.

‘You caused a considerable amount of suffering to a large number of animals, some of which died. The photos of the state of animals I have seen are something not pleasant at look at at all.

‘You had no licence and you had no vet support. You didn’t seek attention when you needed to.

‘Other people took it upon themselves to intervene because of the state of the animals that had been left there. I am going to need a report before the court can decide what to do.’

The judge handed them bail until their sentencing hearing on July 21. 

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