A man has been given a 12-week suspended prison sentence for killing rats by pouring boiling water over them.

Gary Doidge of Gunnislake was sentenced at Bodmin Magistrates’ Court on November 24 after pleading guilty following a prosecution by the RSPCA.

Doidge admitted pouring boiling water from a kettle onto living rats who had been captured and contained in a plastic bin at a recycling depot in Tavistock on August 10.

A filmed clip, which had been taken at the time of the incident, circulated on social media and in the media shortly afterwards.

The video showed Doidge take a kettle to the bin, which had steam coming out of the spout, indicating it had recently boiled.

The water from the kettle was then poured onto the rats, who could be heard squeaking, before a lid was placed over the top of the bin.

A vet, with more than 35 years experience in a general veterinary practice and expertise in research into rodents, reviewed the video footage.

In a statement she said: “It is highly unlikely that they were dead at this stage, although they would have been suffering terribly. The likelihood is that they were alive and suffering, though not moving, though we cannot be sure how long their pain and suffering would have gone on for.

“Humans and rats have the same basic physiology and similar organs. Both have nervous systems that work in the same way, and both react similarly to infection and injury.”

RSPCA Inspector Claire Ryder, who investigated for the charity, said: “The 2006 Animal Welfare Act applies to all vertebrates and puts a duty of care for the welfare of all animals under human control, even just for a temporary basis as was the case with these poor rats who had been captured and held in a bin, unable to escape.

“The footage of this incident is difficult to watch, no animal should be treated like that.

“It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering, and by pouring boiling water on live animals caused them suffering which could have been avoided.”

As well as the prison sentence, which is suspended for 12 months, he was also ordered to carry out 80 hours of unpaid work, and must pay £300 in costs and a £128 victim surcharge.