Northern Ireland a ‘safe-haven’ for animal abuse, says League

Animal welfare campaigners have accused Northern Ireland of being a “safe-haven for animal abuse” after a Belfast man was acquitted of animal cruelty charges

Neil Pinkerton from Clandeboye Street, was found not guilty of two offences of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal – a dog and a fox - and one offence of failing to get adequate veterinary treatment for an animal. Charges of animal fighting against Pinkerton were dropped mid-way through the trial. 

Senior Public Affairs Officer for the League Against Cruel Sports in Northern Ireland, Janice Watt, said:

“We are deeply disappointed at this verdict. Once again, the law has failed to protect animals in Northern Ireland. We still believe that the footage provided to police shows two animals in immense distress, suffering significantly. Despite this, the court chose not to proceed with the charges of animal fighting, and Neil Pinkerton was acquitted of the remaining charges.”

Video evidence from the trial shows an incident involving a fox and a terrier-type dog, where the fox is being held by someone by its head, so it cannot move, while the dog – also being held – is locked jaw to jaw with the fox. The fox can be seen writhing in distress, lifting its front legs up in a vain effort to try and push the dog away as the two remain clamped in place. The footage also shows the people present getting mobile phones out to film the prolonged cruelty and a man can be heard encouraging the dog, saying ‘good girl Judy’.

“The defence claimed that, rather than animal fighting, this was terrier work – a part of hunting. This case is therefore a grim reminder that as long as hunting with dogs is legal in Northern Ireland, the country will remain a safe-haven for animal abusers,” Janice Watt added.

Pinkerton was set to face trial for a total of 13 offences, including four offences of being present at an animal fight and two counts of keeping or training an animal for a fight. However, evidence of the fox being mauled by the dog, as well as footage of a dog attacking a fox in a hole below ground, were deemed to constitute ‘hunting’ and not fighting by the judge on the case.


Janice Watt said: “We would like to thank the PSNI for their hard work and assistance throughout this case; but also express how let down we feel by the Public Prosecution Service. Two years ago, the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences was increased to five years. This should have made clear the seriousness with which animal cruelty needs to be treated by those in the judiciary. Sadly, in this case, that has not happened.”

The League handed videos and photos of the incidents, which took place in December 2016 and January 2017, to the police, following being alerted to a social media page. Pinkerton had been charged under the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, which states that ‘prevention of harm’ convictions, which include ‘unnecessary suffering’, can carry a prison term of up to five years.

The League’s Director of Campaigns, Chris Luffingham, said: “Our team tried very hard to ensure that the person behind this awful brutality was appropriately punished. You only have to see the video to realise that the dog and the fox would have suffered immensely and their suffering would have been prolonged. That’s simply not acceptable – we cannot let those who inflict such cruelty on animals to be dealt leniency.”

The League’s Animal Crimewatch service is a confidential line where the public can report cruelty to animals in the name of sport: 01483 361108

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Notes to Editors

For more information or interview requests please contact the League Against Cruel Sports Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email

The League Against Cruel Sports is the UK's leading charity that works to stop animals being persecuted, abused and killed for sport. The League was instrumental in helping bring about the landmark Hunting Act. We carry out investigations to expose law-breaking and cruelty to animals and campaign for stronger animal protection laws and penalties. We work to change attitudes and behaviour through education and manage sanctuaries to protect wildlife. Find out more about our work at Registered charity in England and Wales (no.1095234) and Scotland (no.SC045533).

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