The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced a new bill which could send animal abusers to prison for five years if found guilty.
The bill was announced today, June 26, following Cabinet approval. It arrives after years of campaigning by the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities for the increase of maximum sentences from six months to five years under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The increase in sentence is said to better reflect the severity of animal cruelty cases seen in England and Wales, bringing sentences more in line with Northern Ireland and other European countries, where convicted animal abusers can be jailed for up to five years.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood, said:
This reform is long overdue. Those responsible for extreme cruelty towards animals or those criminal gangs involved in organised animal crime, such as dog fighting or badger baiting, will now face the tough justice they deserve.
The current maximum sentence of six months neither reflects the severity of some of the cruelty we witness on a daily basis nor does it act as a deterrent. Even if magistrates and judges impose the maximum sentence – six months in prison – offenders will often serve just a few weeks before being released. As a nation that prides itself on its love of animals, this is simply not acceptable.
If courts had more flexibility and the ability to impose sentences of up to five years then this would be a much fairer reflection of the severity of some of the cases our officers bring to court.
Last week, three men from Wales were jailed for 22 weeks, 20 weeks and 18 weeks respectively for their involvement in organised badger digging (outlawed in 1973) in a case described by the judge as ‘medieval barbarity’.
Mobile phones seized from the men as part of the investigation revealed more than 400 videos as well as text messages and images depicting hunting and animal cruelty offences. Footage included clips of wildlife being killed and dogs with extensive injuries from being used to hunt animals. In one video, a baby badger is pulled from underground and attacked by dogs, who skin it alive. Shortly after the badger is seen to be still alive and is then killed, hit over the head with a shovel.
Chris Sherwood, along with leaders from 10 other animal welfare charities, hosted a roundtable discussion at with government ministers on Monday, June 24, calling on the UK government to fulfill its promise to increase the maximum sentence more than 18 months after Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove made the promise.
The RSPCA hopes the new sentencing bill will give courts the power they need to punish those responsible for severe animal cruelty, and hope it will also act as a deterrent to pet owners, to help stamp out animal cruelty once and for all.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.