RSPCA chiefs welcome plans for tougher animal cruelty sentences

The RSPCA has welcomed plans for tougher sentences in animal cruelty cases
The RSPCA has welcomed plans for tougher sentences in animal cruelty cases

Animal welfare chiefs have hailed plans to toughen the law in cruelty cases.

The RSPCA has welcomed news the Government is publishing a new animal welfare bill to increase sentences for animal cruelty and also recognise animal sentience in domestic law.

The charity's latest figures reveal just 6.5% of people prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act this year received an immediate prison sentence.

Among those who did was Hartlepool man John Michael Donaldson.

He was jailed for 24 weeks and disqualified from keeping animals for life after allowing two dogs to die.

The terriers - called Bess and Whiskey - were found dead in a house he had rented in Straker Street in May.

Donaldson, 48, now of Oak Grove, was arrested on November 28and sentenced at Teesside Magistrates’ Court on November29 He was also ordered to pay £300 costs and £115 victim surcharge.

RSPCA inspector Lucy Hoehne said: “Bess and Whiskey were found by the landlord who had gone in to do some property maintenance.

Donaldson was convicted of two offences under the Animal Welfare Act in his absence on November 1: causing unnecessary suffering to the two dogs between April 4 and 9 May by failing to exercise reasonable care and supervision leading to their deaths and by failing to provide diet suitable to their needs leading to their deaths.

Michael Ward, interim chief executive of the RSPCA, said: "It’s great news that the Government has committed to bringing in tougher sentences in England and Wales.

"Sadly, every year, our inspectors are faced with sickening cases of animal abuse, cruelty and neglect

"And while, in as many cases as possible, we seek to deal with complaints of animal cruelty using preventative measures such as education and advice, sometimes we feel it is necessary to bring animal abusers before the courts for punishment.

"This year our officers have seen shocking cases of horses being hit repeatedly with wood, pets being beaten to death by their owners, and dogs being kept in cold, concrete pens coated in their own filth.

"As the cruelty continues to shock us, so too do the sentences handed out to such cold-hearted and cruel individuals. Of the 40 people who received immediate jail terms in RSPCA prosecutions this year so far, just 14 were given sentences towards the upper limit of six months."

In 2017 so far (up to 8 December), just 40 people have received immediate jail sentences - 6.5% of the 620 people convicted - having been convicted of an offence under the Animal Welfare Act*.

While the RSPCA - which takes on more than 80% of all prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act - has seen a number of extremely violent cases of deliberate cruelty to animals and distressing incidents of neglect of pets, just 2.3% of those convicted faced a jail term towards the six-month period (the maximum jail sentence under the Animal Welfare Act).

The current maximum sentence, if prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, is six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine. However, for some time, the RSPCA has been calling for that sentence to be increased to five years - bringing England and Wales into line with Northern Ireland and other European countries.

The new draft bill also sets out that the Government recognises that animals are sentient beings - that they have the same capacity to feel joy and pleasure, as well as pain and suffering and that the Government will take this into account when formulating new policy.

RSPCA Head of Public Affairs David Bowles said: "This is potentially great news for animals post-Brexit.

"To include the recognition of animal sentience as well as increasing animal cruelty sentencing to five years into the new 2018 Animal Welfare Bill is a very bold and welcome move by the Government.

"Even better, the legislation explicitly rejects the kind of exemptions for activities that the European Union deemed acceptable - such as bull-fighting and producing foie gras - which will offer even stronger protection than Article 13 of the EU Treaty could ever do.

"We warmly welcome measures to evaluate government policy against animal sentience and we await further detail."