DRUNKEN friends who got naked in a bath with a stolen pet rabbit, tried to shave her then threw her out of a window before ringing her neck, escaped jail today after magistrates handed them community orders.
Percy, a much-loved white lion-headed rabbit had recently given birth to five babies when she was taken from her hutch, carried to a party in Seaham and then cruelly abused by Martin Bell, 20, Frank Hudson, 19 and two 17-year-olds who cannot be identified.
Those young rabbits died despite the efforts of their owners to rear them by hand because they could not survive without their mother.
Peterlee Magistrates heard how Bell and Hudson admitted causing unnecessary suffering to the pet, whose loss has left the Atkinson family distraught.
Chairman of the Bench William Brown told the pair: “What we have had described to us is quite a horrendous event.
“It is a rabbit, somebody’s pet and the difference between civilised people and uncivilised people is how they deal with the creatures on the earth with us.
“You did not treat nicely that rabbit.”
Their offending was a joint enterprise, the court heard, although it was Bell who throw Percy out of the window, and one of the youths, who will be sentenced separately next week, who rung her neck.
Any of the four young men could have put a stop to her suffering, the chairman said.
He said the panel considered the custodial sentences that many people in the area had called for, but instead sentenced both men to 18 month community orders, with 18 months supervision, and 200 hours of unpaid work each.
They were both banned from keeping animals for five years, ordered to pay £85 costs each, a victim surcharge of £60 and £50 each in compensation to the Atkinsons.
Mr Brown added: “I think when you grow up and have a family and one of out children loses a pet, you will know how distressed they can be.
“While it is ‘only’ a rabbit, it is somebody’s pet and it meant a lot to them.
“I am sure you can see from social networking, people are horrified with what you have done. Today will not stop what aggravation you have been suffering.”
In a victim impact statement read in court, Anthony Atkinson, 31, of Embleton Mews, Seaham, said his wife Rebecca, his step-children Rebecca, 14, Aaron, 10, and son Brynn, four, were devastated.
Mr Atkinson reported feeling numb, angry and unwilling to go out in case he confronted the youths and lost control.
“This broke our hearts,” he said.
Mr Atkinson, a carer for his wife, said the morning after Percy was stolen his daughter noticed she was missing from her hutch. The rabbit had been misnamed when they thought she was male.
He did not report the missing pet to the police but made an appeal on Facebook and soon after his wife was contacted by a woman who had seen a similar rabbit on a video posted on Instagram.
A still image showed the rabbit in Bell’s arms as he sat naked with one of the juveniles who is brandishing a can of lager, and Hudson.
The picture was shared on a local Facebook page and one of the youths messaged Mr Atkinson saying: “Hello, that picture you put on Facebook with the rabbit - I’m on that photo.
“It got brought in the house and someone hoyed [threw] it out of the window.
“I’m just telling you the craic.”
The youth was arrested and he showed officers a black bin bag where Percy had been dumped.
An autopsy showed she suffered a serious injury caused by landing hard on the ground. She would have been in pain before she had her neck wrung.
The youth said the other 17-year-old had stolen the rabbit, brought it to the party and thrown it to the three of them in the bath.
They drunkenly tried to wash and then shave her, without success, before Bell, of Parkside Crescent, Seaham, threw her out.
The youth who sent the Facebook message to Mr Atkinson was the one who put her down.
Paula Sanderson, prosecuting, said: “None of the defendants made any attempt to stop any suffering caused to that rabbit.”
When Hudson, of Evesham Road, Seaham, was interviewed by police he admitted it was “mad” to put the pet in the bath and that she would have been scared.
Mike Simpson, defending both men, said the “only decent thing that anybody did that night was to put it out of its misery” once it had been so badly injured in the fall.
He said both men had been subject to threats and, on at least one occasion, violence.
“There has been vilification on social media and perhaps that is what follows, having used social media themselves in the first place,” he said.
Reacting to the sentences imposed, Mr Atkinson said: “We feel robbed, after months of waiting it ends up with a slap on the wrist for them.
“They will be out and about, laughing.
“It is pathetic really. My wife is fuming.”
He said thousands of people had signed a Justice for Percy petition calling for the defendants to be jailed.