Raids by the RSPCA at Birmingham properties with alleged links to dog-fighting were the charity's largest ever single operation, it said yesterday.

Forty-seven dogs were seized by animal welfare inspectors working with West Midlands Police to carry out simultaneous swoops on 16 addresses across Birmingham on Tuesday morning.

Ten men were arrested and interviewed in connection with the possession of dangerous dogs and alleged dogfighting offences.

Dog-fighting paraphernalia, including treadmills, breaking sticks - used to separate fighting dogs - veterinary kits, books, paperwork and videos were also recovered.

Chief Inspector John Wilkins, in charge of the RSPCA operation, said the raids were the culmination of a 12-month investigation and represented a significant step forward in the fight against law-breakers.

At a press conference at West Midlands Police headquarters in Birmingham, Mr Wilkins said: "The raids involved 32 RSPCA inspectors - ten per cent of the whole of the RSPCA inspector force.

"This is the largest single operation that the RSPCA has undertaken and is the largest number of dogs taken from a single area."

He added: "We believe this is a group who all know each other and fight as one kennel in the Birmingham area with other dog-fighting gangs around the country.

"I don't think we have broken the back of it but I think we have taken a lot of fighting dogs out of operation."

Mr Wilkins said inspectors from across the Midlands, as well as London and Wales, were drafted in to help recover the animals, which were mainly American pit bull terrier-type dogs. He said they were suffering a variety of injuries, including a dislocated hip, a tumour, and a swollen rib cage from being kicked.

Two of the animals were taken for veterinary treatment, and another ten followed later.

Mr Wilkins said all the dogs had been removed from Birmingham to locations around the country pending the out-come of possible prosecution, and said they would be examined by an expert to determine their breed.

Asked about the animals' future, he said: "It's important not to think of these dogs as pets. These are tools used for dog-fighting. They are kept in kennels in yards. The dogs are very strong, very powerful.

"They are bred for fighting, that is their sole purpose. These aren't the kind of dogs that can be re-homed or taken to a park to socialise with other dogs."

Mr Wilkins said under current legislation if any of the dogs were found to be of a dangerous breed they would be put down. The maximum penalty for dog-fighting offences under the Protection of Animals Act is six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.

He said the men arrested on Tuesday were in their late teens to mid-20s and were bailed to appear at police stations on dates between midMay and late June. ..SUPL: