Working in Coalition – The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill.

In 2017 I was reading an article online that changed my life. Without being able to stop it, the accompanying video automatically started to play and what I saw shocked me to the core. Two brothers, whose names I cannot bear to write, were making a film of their young pet bulldog, called Baby.

The film’s script was to beat, headbutt, stamp on, and repeatedly throw it at full force down the stairs at their home in Redcar. Later, presumably after many days of similar torture, it was taken to the vet with a broken spine and put down.

Nothing in my life had prepared me for that video. The level of savagery was matched only by the excitement and entertainment those brothers derived from torturing that dog. Readers won’t be surprised to know that both escaped any custodial or meaningful sentence for these acts, recorded on video and perpetrated in our so-called country of animal lovers. The story made the national news, and their local Labour MP at the time, Anna Turley, tried unsuccessfully to bring a Private Members Bill to increase custodial sentences for this sort of serious crime from six months to five years.

The links between animal cruelty and violence perpetrated on the person are well established. Baby was aptly named, after a human infant, and just as young, innocent and defenceless as any baby at the hands of adults. She was not born to provide a punch bag to British teenagers or to know only torture and despair.

On 28 April, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill passed Third Reading, and assuming royal assent is granted, will soon become law. Baby did not die in vain, and her story proves that vast majority of kind and compassionate people in this country are not powerless. In my case, it shocked me out of a ‘normal’ life and into what I think is one of the most courageous charities in the country. I immediately joined the League as a volunteer and was privileged to be entrusted with its management soon after. I soon set about building a coalition of 11 of the most influential animal charities, along with Chris Sherwood at the RSPCA, which could draw on all our supporters, and persuade the Government to change the law. As you may have heard in the news, we did just that.

Under the new Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act, the maximum penalty for the worst animal offences rose from six months to five years. That’s ten times longer! People are going to really think twice before they throw their dog down the stairs, or engage in other heinous acts of cruelty, including those we investigate, such as those involved in dog fighting. It has been the great privilege of my life to have been able to bring this coalition together, and to have had the support of marvellous politicians, such as Lord Randall of Uxbridge, Baroness Sue Hayman of Ullock, Chris Loder MP, and Daniel Zeichner MP, who along with many others, played their parts so well in bringing this legislation.

I wanted to pay tribute to all those charities, and their various CEOs and principal staff past and present that worked so fabulously well in coalition. Although I was delighted to be recognised in the House of Lords by Lord Randall for “undertaking a lot of the heavy lifting with the coalition,” success, as ever, was down everyone’s shared sense of purpose and the determination to see this through.

Animals need our voice now, because like Baby, they cannot call out themselves. In our coalition, they have found a chorus, with Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, Cats Protection, Compassion in World Farming, Dogs Trust, Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, RSPCA, UK Centre for Animal Law, and World Horse Welfare all singing loudly, and in harmony, for both deterrence and kindness. Combined with our supporters, that likely covers millions of people who can rightly claim they made this change for animals.

Andy knott at 10 Downing Street with the RSPCA calling for tougher animal cruelty sentences

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