AFTER fining a businessman £2,000 for burying slaughtered dogs on his land without a permit, a judge said the case may prompt a change in the law.

Appearing for sentence at Durham Crown Court, David Smith, 57, of Northdene Terrace, Seaham, County Durham, admitted failing to obtain a £2,765 permit to dispose of waste on his land.

Fining Smith £2,000 and ordering him to pay £2,000 costs, Judge Peter Armstrong said he would have imposed a prison sentence if it had been an animal cruelty case - but accepted that Smith's activities had been investigated both by police and the RSPCA.

Tahir Khan, prosecuting, told the court how the Environment Agency had uncovered the breach following reports in a national newspaper that Smith was legally slaughtering greyhounds with a bolt gun at a cut-price rate.

Mr Khan told the hearing that Smith, a builder's merchant and newsagent, had followed in his father's footsteps and for many years had a "sideline'' of destroying and disposing of people's unwanted dogs for a fee of £10 per dog.

He also told the court that the RSPCA, police and local council knew of his activities but "had approved it because it was humane killing with a bolt gun".

Smith, he said, saw it as "a service to the community, as it was cheaper than taking the unwanted dogs to a vet who would have charged between £60 and £70".

The Environment Agency, however, prosecuted the defendant on the basis of him not having a permit to dispose of the carcasses on the land over a ten-year period.

The court heard that Smith was known as an animal lover and even kept some dogs which people brought to be put down.

Peter Schofield, mitigating, told the court that Smith's activities had been "grossly exaggerated in the media".

He said that, as a result of the press attention, Smith and his family had received more than 30 threatening phone calls and had "their lives turned upside down over eight months of hell".

Judge Armstrong said he had been told how local police officers had also taken injured animals to Smith to have them humanely put down and that 20 letters of support had been submitted to the court from local residents.

Fining Smith, Judge Armstrong expressed his concern that what started as a service to dog owners had become a business used by greyhound trainers to dispose of healthy animals who could no longer race.

He accepted, however, that the case brought by the Environment Agency was one which would normally be dealt with by way of a fine.

But he said: "As a result of this case, there may be some inquiry or even a change in the law."

After the hearing, Smith refused to comment.

However, a spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: "The RSPCA did not find any evidence of offences perpetrated by David Smith or any proof that illegal acts of cruelty took place.

"The RSPCA, while not in any way endorsing or approving of his actions, acknowledges that Mr Smith's activities did not breach any animal welfare cruelty laws."

But she added: "There is simply no justification for killing racing greyhounds just because they can't do their job anymore - it is shocking and unnecessary.

"An animal should be the owner's responsibility for life, not just until they are no longer useful."