A former Royal Navy sailor, who stabbed at least 16 cats in Brighton, could face up to ten years in jail after police used vets’ bills to ensure he received the maximum punishment available.

Steve Bouquet went on a killing spree between October 2018 and June 2019, leaving nine family pets dead and seven more badly injured.

But rather than charge him with animal cruelty – which has a maximum sentence of six months in prison – Sussex Police charged him with criminal damage, arguing that cats constituted property.

Because the total vets’ bills paid by the owners ran to £32,000, it meant the crime was in the upper sentencing range and is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Bouquet, who works as a security guard in a shopping centre, went on the run and was not present at his trial, which was held in his absence.

But the 54-year-old, who was described as a "strange loner" with few friends or family, was apprehended by police before the jury reached its guilty verdicts yesterday. (Wed) 

He is now being assessed in hospital and is due to be sentenced on July 12.

Dubbed the "Brighton cat killer", Bouquet would approach the animals in the street and pretend to show affection towards them before stabbing them with a knife.

Nine cats – Hendrix, Tommy, Hannah, Alan, Nancy, Gizmo, Kyo, Ollie and Cosmo – were killed while another seven were injured.

He was only caught when the owner of one of the dead animals erected CCTV outside his home which captured Bouquet attacking another animal.

After the verdicts were read out, Judge Jeremy Gold QC said: "I suggest it is only really during lockdown it has been particularly clear how much many of us who have pets rely on them for companionship and comfort and one can only imagine the distress that was caused to the owners of those various cats in this case at the very thought of having a knife plunged into their beloved pet."

Bouquet was a familiar sight around Brighton where he lived a solitary existence in a basement flat close to the scene of his killing spree.

The majority of the attacks took place near Bouquet's home

Neighbours described him as an “odd and peculiar man” who was generally quite friendly and liked to talk about his time in the Royal Navy 

One local said: “He was quite strange looking with his distinctive bald head and black leather jacket.

“Also he dressed in the same outfit all the time – leather jacket, jeans and white shirt or T-shirt and a silver earring. It was like a uniform.”

Another neighbour added: “He was always on his own. I never saw him with any friends at all. He appeared to be friendless and he lived alone in the flat.

“Apart from that he seemed like a normal guy. He would say hello if he walked past but nothing more really.”

A former security guard at Churchill Shopping centre in Brighton said: “He was nice enough but he was a bit strange and a bit of a loner.

“He said he was in the Royal Navy when he was younger and would tell anyone who would listen to him. People thought he was a bit of a bulls******. He liked to impress people and play the big guy.”

During the trial jurors heard accounts from several cat owners who had found their pets bleeding on their doorsteps.

Tina Randall described the moment she discovered her 11-year-old cat Gideon had been injured in November 2018.

"He was fading and as I picked him up, blood spurted out," she said.

"I immediately thought it was a stab wound."

Gideon eventually recovered from the three-quarter inch wound, Ms Randall told the court, and vet bills for his surgery came to more than £1,600.

Jeff Carter described finding a pool of blood on his doorstep and finding his cat Nancy hiding underneath his bed in March 2019.

She was rushed to the vets but did not survive.

Samson was one of the cats that recovered from his injuries

In his police interview read out in court, Bouquet told officers that all he knew about the cat killings was what he had read in the newspapers and online.

He told police he was "no threat to animals" – but a photo of a dead cat was found on his phone, the court heard.

Sussex Police said they had investigated the possibility that Bouquet was involved in a number of other cat attacks around the country.

But said they did not find any evidence of his involvement as he rarely left Brighton.