RSPCA welcomes draft animal welfare bill

Exclusive RSPCA figures reveal how many animal abusers don’t go to prison

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

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

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 5 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.”

Case studies

A Gloucestershire man who was caught on a CCTV camera viciously attacking a young horse has been banned from keeping equines for life – but received no prison sentence.

Connie Mullane (DoB: 16/08/1993) of Old Gloucester Road, Winterbourne, admitted causing unnecessary suffering to a pony on 20 May 2017 by inflicting blunt force trauma and physical violence, contrary to Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The disturbing footage captures Mullane as he picks up a piece of wood that he used to strike the the horse in the face.

RSPCA inspector Miranda Albinson, who investigated the case, said: “This is an absolutely horrific case of animal cruelty. There is never an excuse to treat an animal in this way. CCTV footage clearly shows Connie Mullane hitting the poor horse in the face with a piece of wood in an incident which would have caused pain and left the horse terrified.”

At Bristol Magistrates’ Court on 8 December Mullane was sentenced to 24 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, and given the lifetime disqualification order on equines.

He was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and must pay £500 in court costs and a £115 victim surcharge.

A man from Greater Manchester has admitted a number of animal welfare offences after convincing unsuspecting members of the public he was a caring, responsible breeder while keeping his dogs in ‘inhumane’ conditions.

Rocky Knight (DoB: 19/05/1981) of Masefield Drive, Farnworth, Bolton, appeared at Bolton Magistrates’ Court on 5 December where he pleaded guilty to three animal welfare offences, having previously admitted a further three. He was sentenced to a 16-week jail term, ordered to pay a £150 victim surcharge and was disqualified from keeping animals for life.

The RSPCA launched an investigation after eight complaints from members of the public who had bought sick puppies – seven of which sadly died. Two female dogs were found at Knight’s property being kept in makeshift pens in “horrendous conditions” in an outbuilding in the rear garden.

RSPCA inspector Pippa Boyd said: “It was a completely inhumane environment to keep dogs.

“Sadly, we were too late for some, including a little puppy whose body we found wrapped up in a plastic bag at the house.”

Knight pleaded guilty to three offences of causing unnecessary suffering to puppies who had been sold on to buyers, under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act. He previously admitted two offences of failing to meet the needs of two dogs, contrary to Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act, and one additional Section 4 offences in respect of the pug and dachshund.

A man from Hartlepool 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 rented by John Michael Donaldson on Straker Street on 23 May.

Donaldson (DoB: 25.05.69), now of Oak Grove, was arrested on 28 November and sentenced at Teesside Magistrates’ Court on 29 November). 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.

“It was an absolutely heartbreaking scene, they were snuggled together in a corner where there was a duvet on the floor. If it hadn’t been for the smell, at first glance you might have thought they were sleeping.

“What these dogs went through before they died doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Donaldson was convicted of two offences under the Animal Welfare Act in his absence on 1 November: causing unnecessary suffering to the two dogs between 4 April 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.

A Merseyside man has been jailed for 23 weeks after he pleaded guilty to beating to death his daughter’s dog.

Alan Pownall (DoB: 20/11/57), of Reay Court, Borough Road, in Seacombe, Wallasey, was sentenced at Wirral Magistrates’ court on 17 November. He pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to the dog at an earlier hearing last month.

As well as the prison sentence, Pownall was disqualified from keeping animals for life and was ordered to pay a £115 victim surcharge.

The court heard that the body of the Staffordshire bull terrier, named Halo, was found lying on top of a children’s paddling pool and various rubbish in an alleyway behind houses in Paterson Street, Birkenhead, on 2 February this year.

Halo, who at the time Pownall was looking after for his daughter, had blood around her nose but did not appear to have any obvious injuries. A post mortem showed that Halo had suffered severe damage to her liver as a result of multiple blunt forces consistent with being kicked.

RSPCA inspector Anthony Joynes said: “This was a stomach-churning case of brutal violence against a young, defenceless Staffie. It still troubles me greatly knowing how terrified poor Halo would have been. She was being hurt by the person who she relied upon to protect her.

“I’ve done this job for almost nine years and it doesn’t get any easier dealing with incidents like this. Arriving at a scene and finding an already deceased animal that has been abused in such a horrific way is hard to switch off from.

“Pownall now has many long weeks in a cell to reflect on his cruel actions and I’m glad that our action has meant that Halo’s suffering hasn’t gone completely unanswered.”

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