Local backing for tougher sentencing for animal abuse

Tougher penalties proposed for animal cruelty have been welcomed by councillors and animal welfare organisations in Wirral.

Draft legislation will be published later this year to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Individual sentences will still be a matter for the courts – including unlimited fines, banning offenders from owning animals in the future or, in the worst cases of abuse, issue sentences of up to five years.

Currently, the maximum sentence that can be handed down to those found guilty of animal cruelty is six months.

In 2016, Merseyside was among the 10 highest areas for convictions for animal cruelty.

In the last six months alone in Wirral, cases have included:

  • Liam Aitken, from Wallasey, who beat a hedgehog to death with a brick after an argument with his girlfriend, pleaded guilty at Wirral Magistrates’ Court to one offence under the Wild Mammals Protection Act of causing unnecessary suffering to a hedgehog by crushing the animal to death.

  • Jamie Weir, from Woodchurch, who tortured a dog by hanging him by his collar, stabbing him and burning him alive was been disqualified from keeping animals for life and given a 24-week prison sentence

  • Kristian Murphy, from Wallasey, was jailed for three months after his kitten died from horrific injuries

Councillor Lesley Rennie said: “It is only right that those people who commit the most shocking cruelty against animals should face tougher punishment. While most people do look after the animals in their care, a small minority still think that it is acceptable behaviour to abuse and harm animals. At the moment, around 1,000 people per year are prosecuted for animal cruelty, and fewer than five people per year receive the current maximum sentence for committing the worst offences.

Sam Simpson, Trustee at the Friends of Birkenhead Kennels, said: “At the moment courts are limited to the sentence they can serve for animal cruelty but with new legislation organisations like ourselves would welcome this change in the hope that stronger sentences will deter people from conducting some of the most horrific cruel acts, which seem to be on the increase.”

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at the RSPCA, said: “The RSPCA picks up the pieces of animal cruelty every day of the year. Our inspectors regularly rescue animals from horrific circumstances of mistreatment, brutality and neglect. It is only through the prosecutions that we take that many of the perpetrators are brought to justice. The strength of feeling behind a move to toughen up these sentences is huge - but at the moment the courts are limited by the law under which the strongest sentence for animal cruelty is six months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine - but this rarely happens.”