Animal sentencing – the journey to justice

For us it all began with dog fighting.

In 2015, nearly a decade after animal welfare legislation was brought in, the League issued a report that lifted the lid on the scale of dog fighting still going in the UK. It urged parliament to implement a national strategy to tackle the issue and, crucially, increase sentences for those who harm dogs in this heinous so-called ‘sport’.

Dog fighting has been illegal for more than 200 years, but our report showed that dogs were still being pitted against each other in the ring, and other animals injured or killed during training, each and every day.

Enough was enough.

Despite questions being asked in the House of Commons to increase sentences, and the answer coming back from the then-environment minister that “The Government recognises the seriousness of offences involving illegal animal fights. We will look to increase the maximum sentence when a legislative opportunity arises”, nothing happened.

We launched a petition that received the support of more than 100,000 people, and as a result an early day motion was tabled – happily receiving cross party support of some 149 MPs across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

A debate was held, with submissions from the League, the RSPCA, and Battersea Cats and Dogs Home.

Things looked promising. And then…nothing.

Until Anna Turley, former MP for Redcar, was so horrified when two of her constituents received paltry sentences for inflicting unimaginable cruelty on a pet dog that she tabled a Private Members Bill calling for tougher sentences.

As League CEO Andy Knott says in his blog, “The level of savagery was matched only by the excitement and entertainment those brothers derived from torturing that dog.”

Kevin Foster MP also brought a Private Members’ Bill, calling on tougher sentences for those who harm animals through fighting.

Battersea Cats and Dogs Home issued its own report into animal cruelty and again lobbied government to increase sentences. Meanwhile the League continued to put pressure on where we could, both in the halls of Westminster and outside.

At one of those events, both Anna and Kevin joined explorer Sir Rannulph Fiennes and The Only Way Is Essex star Chloe Meadows in loudly calling for action.

But despite more promises – three times the government ‘launched’ its commitment to increase sentences - nothing happened.

That was in 2017.

The next year another promise was made, welcomed by the League, but again nothing happened.

By 2019 the animal welfare charity sector had lost patience with platitudes and, in June of that year, the League and the RSPCA brought a coalition of charities together to take the fight back to the government – knocking on the door of Number 10 itself.

We found a friend in Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who at that time was the environment adviser to Teresa May, prime minister of the day, but six months after our visit, and those renewed promises that something was happening, we again had to publicly demand that the government stand by its promises.

Finally, on February 5, 2020, in a pre-pandemic world, Chris Loder MP tabled a Private Members Bill calling for tougher sentences for animal cruelty.

Delays abounded, blamed by Westminster on Brexit and Covid-19, though the Scottish parliament managed to table a similar bill and pass it into law that summer.

And, with just one day to go until parliament was suspended and all bills in progress would by necessity have to fail, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, championed by Chris Loder in the commons and Lord Randall in the House of Lords, passed its third and final reading.

A day later, on the final day of parliament, it gained royal assent and has become law.

Six years since our report landed.

Four years since Baby the Bulldog was put to sleep.

Two years since we all went to Number 10.

If it becomes the deterrent we hope it will, it will be worth the wait.

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