A COUPLE who launched a legal challenge against a ban from keeping dogs have cost an animal charity more than £100,000, The Northern Echo can reveal.

County Durham dachshund breeders Frank and Hazel Hill staged an appeal against a decision made by magistrates when they were convicted of welfare charges.

Since the five-year ban was imposed 16 months ago, the RSPCA has spent almost £50,000 on boarding fees and £30,000 on legal costs fighting the challenge.

A similar figure was spent on initially prosecuting them for the what was said to have been poor living conditions at Park Hill Lodge, Spennymoor.

Inspectors took 31 dogs - including dachshunds, an Akita and pugs - from the couple's house in February 2013 because of fears over their welfare.

The animals have since been housed in foster homes - paid for by the RSPCA - and could not be re-homed while the Hills fought their ban and £1,000 fine.

Yesterday (Friday, February 13) at Teesside Crown Court, Recorder Abdul Iqbal, QC, rejected the couple's appeal against three of their convictions and upheld three of them.

The judge is now seeking money from the couple towards the bill, but was told by defence barrister Sara-Lise Howe that they have no available funds.

She told the court that the Hills have gone into debt and spent their funeral plans on their own legal fees, and have no equity in their home.

The case is expected to return to court next month when Mr Recorder Aqbal wants proof of the couple's finances and a schedule of the RSPCA costs.

The Hills challenged their six convictions after they were found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to animals following a trial in October 2013.

Magistrates convicted Mr Hill, 62, of five charges of causing unnecessary suffering, and his wife, 70, of three as well as failing to ensure an animal’s welfare.

They were banned from owning dogs for five years, Mr Hill was fined £1,000, and the court ruled the dogs removed by the RSPCA will not be returned.

Mr Recorder Iqbal said in his ruling yesterday: "They sought to look after their animals to the best of their ability and they had a strong emotional attachment.

"We have not found they acted in any cruel way. The health of some animals is not criticised, so they were being satisfactorily looked after."

The convictions relating to eye and ear infections in a number of dogs were also quashed, but those concerning a balanced diet and dental care were upheld.

The court heard that some animals were "skin and bones" while nine dogs had to have teeth extracted - in total 86 and in the worst single case 20.

The couple were each fined £165 and the five-year ban will remain in place - although an application to have it overturned can be made after three.