Four men from east Belfast have been given suspended prison sentences for animal cruelty offences.

Jeremiah Kirkwood, and his sons Chris and Wayne, admitted keeping or training animals in connection with dog fights.

Jamie Morrow admitted a charge of keeping or training animals in connection with an animal fight.

Police said a custodial sentence would have provided a greater deterrent.

The judge at Belfast Crown Court sentenced the men to six months in jail, but suspended the prison term for two years.

Police said they were “very disappointed at the outcome” of the trial.

PSNI Det Insp Pete Mullan said: “We fully respect the decision of the court but are disappointed nonetheless.

“This type of crime can receive a custodial sentence of up to two years and, given the horrific nature of this particular incident, we would have envisaged a sentence that would have acted as a greater deterrent.”

All four men, who were remanded in custody last week after details of their offending was opened to the court, were also banned from keeping, dealing in or transporting animals for a 10-year period.

Earlier in the hearing, Jeremiah Kirkwood and his sons Christopher and Wayne pleaded guilty to three offences.

They each admitted causing unnecessary suffering to animals, namely four terrier pups, between 1 November 2011 and 28 November 2011.

They also admitted ownership of items in connection with an animal fight on 27 November 2011.

The items included a battery pack, hand-held lamps, a dog harness and an animal trap.

The third count to which they pleaded guilty was keeping or training four bull lurcher-type dogs in connection with an animal fight between 10 July 2011 and 28 November 2011.

Morrow also pleaded guilty to a charge of keeping or training an animal for use in connection with a dog fight, namely a whippet cross Staffordshire, on 27 November 2011.

The judge said that on 20 October 2011, police searched Morrow’s home on an unrelated matter and during the search, they seized a mobile phone that contained three videos, including one that was recorded in August of that year showing four dogs killing a cat.

The judge said it was her understanding that “dogs are blooded in this way in order to train them to fight other animals in blood sports including badgers, foxes and deer”.

Officers then searched the Kirkwood family home and at the rear of the property, they found several “well constructed kennels” in the yard.

Five adult bull lurcher dogs, which displayed injuries consistent with animal fights, were seized, while four bull terrier puppies were discovered under a heat lamp in a shed.

The puppies, who were around three weeks old, were found without a nursing mother present and with their tails docked.

The judge told the court that the four puppies seized from the shed had all been re-homed at the direction of the USPCA.

She also ordered that three of the adults dogs be destroyed by the USPCA.

BBC News