TWO Southampton poachers have had their dogs confiscated in a legal first in Hampshire.

Lee Cooper, 31, and Water Smith, 25, were caught with the dogs at Quarley near Andover, magistrates heard.

Cooper, of Lebanon Road, Redbridge, and Smith, of Ringwood Road, Totton, admitted entering land at night as a trespasser with the intention of taking game.

Aldershot magistrates fined Cooper £825 and Smith £620.

The two dogs involved were ordered to be forfeited and re-homed by the police, the court was told.

A not guilty plea was accepted by a third defendant.

Last week, Basingstoke magistrates fined Morris Cole, aged 46, from Fallowfield, Yateley, £165 plus court costs after he admitted daytime poaching in Whitchurch. The court ordered the fortfeiture of two of his three dogs.

These are the first prosecutions by officers in Hampshire where courts have ordered the forfeiture of dogs used in poaching or hare coursing activity.

Hampshire police Countrywatch officers have worked to establish contacts that allows forfeited canines to be re-homed across the UK.

Poaching is a chronic problem across Hampshire. It causes criminal damage to fences on farmland, destroys crops, and creates fear in isolated communities.

In addition, it hits the hare population. The Brown Hare is a species that has declined markedly in numbers in the UK over the last century.

Chief Inspector Simon Dodds, strategic lead for rural policing, said: “These fines and forfeitures are an excellent result for these types of offences and provide a significant punishment and deterrent to these offenders.

“By taking robust action we can prevent further offences being committed and give a strong message to those that commit these offences. If we catch you, your dogs and vehicles will be forfeited. This zero tolerance approach will continue to be our response to this type of crime to support rural communities and make Hampshire a hostile place for criminals. It also supports our wider plan to disrupt criminal activity.”

Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner Judy Venables said: “We are delighted with the outcome of these court cases. The Commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan sets challenges to the Chief Constable to reduce the gap in the solved crime rate between rural and urban areas. These prosecutions relate directly to the constabulary’s rural crime strategy and it reflects the efforts of all those involved in successfully bringing this case to court, demonstrating the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The outcome sends out a strong message to criminals who commit crime in Hampshire’s rural communities, that the police are steadfast in their pursuit to identify offenders, bring them to justice and ensure victim satisfaction.”