Government’s initial rejection to increasing sentencing deemed a cop out

Five year prison sentences for animal cruelty, including dog fighting, and a national register of animal abusers were demanded by cross-MPs today during a passionate Parliamentary debate backing calls made by the League Against Cruel Sports.

Increasing pressure to raise the maximum penalty for animal welfare offences from six months to five years in prison has been growing, both among MPs and the public amid demands from animal welfare groups including the League, campaigning to stamp out dog fighting.

The League is determined to uncover and help prevent dog fighting in the UK, which has led the charity to call for tougher punishments so that the law acts as both a deterrent and reflects the horrific nature of dog fighting as a crime. These calls have won the support of a whole list of high profile figures including legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Downton Abbey star and League Vice President, Peter Egan, comedian Ricky Gervais and TOWIE star Chloe Meadows

League Against Cruel Sports CEO, Eduardo Gonçalves said:

“I am grateful to Neil Parish MP for securing today’s important debate. It was great to see MPs mirror public fury and frustration on this subject – but now we need the Government to pick this issue up and give animals the justice they deserve.”

“With a maximum sentence of just six months in prison, England and Wales are lagging embarrassingly behind when it comes to punishing those who abuse animals. If the law is going to serve any purpose of acting as a deterrent, the time must fit the severity of the crime.”

Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes in support of the League’s campaign to end dog fighting in the UK and call for tougher sentencing said:

“Last month MPs did not even get the opportunity to debate legislation to increase sentencing, let alone vote.  To say I was annoyed would be an understatement. There is much talk of discontent with parliament, and I certainly shared a feeling of outrage when I witnessed this legislation blocked by MPs playing pathetic Parliamentary games.

“Dog fighting is one of the most heinous forms of animal cruelty. Treated no differently than disposable commodities, dogs are bred, sold and forced to fight for financial gain or to provide what can only be described as vile entertainment.

“If the current law is to ever serve as a real deterrent to dog fighters or other perpetrators of animal cruelty, the current maximum six month custodial sentence must be increased.

“I have seen first-hand how committed many MPs are to ensuring animals across Britain are protected. There is enough good will in all parties to make this happen.

“Animals are suffering and the perpetrators are getting away with a slap on the wrist. It is time the Government get on with it and bring England and Wales into the 21st century.”

In addition to toughening up sentencing, the League would like to see one of the most heinous acts of animal abuse, dog fighting made a recordable offence and the implementation of a national database of individuals banned from owning animals to prevent further animals failing victim 

The backbench business debate was scheduled at the request of Neil Parish, Conservative MP and Chair of the EFRA Committee, who recommended in the Select Committee’s Third Report, Animal Welfare in England: domestic pets, that the maximum penalty for animal welfare offences should be increased.

The recommendation was however rejected by Government at the time, claiming average sentences for animal cruelty were relatively stable. Today’s debate was called to highlight why the issue needs revisiting.

EFRA Committee Chairman Neil Parish told fellow MPs:

“Sentencing guidelines are neither a strict enough punishment nor a suitable deterrent for animal abusers…If you kick an animal senseless, strangle it, torture it, burn it to death or flay it alive, what’s the maximum prison sentence you can get in England? Six months.

I was surprised and disappointed that the Government rejected the recommendation for a higher maximum sentence of five years and I would again ask the Minister to go back to Government, the Home Office and the Justice Department to see if we can get this increase.”

Mr Parish then went onto criticise the Government’s response to the EFRA Committee’s recommendation as being a ‘cop out’.

Also speaking at today’s debate, Rebecca Pow MP and Co-chair of APGAW raised the links between human and animal violence. She said:

“There are stark statistics to prove abuse to humans often takes place after humans have abused animals, or even at the same time.”

A number of MPs including Robert Goodwill and Craig Williams also spoke of their support for a national register of convicted animal abusers.

Sue Hayman, Labour’s DEFRA Shadow mentioned her support of the League’s dog fighting campaign and Labour’s support for the creation of a register of banned owners.

Today’s debate comes after two pieces of legislation due to be debated in the Commons last month; Animal fighting Bill (sentencing) and Animal Cruelty Bill (sentencing) were stopped from progressing after an objection to both Bills came from the backbenches.

Victim of dog fighting

Recently, through the League’s investigation into dog fighting in the UK, the League were introduced to Staffordshire Bull Terrier Poppet.

Poppet was originally found hiding under a hedge near to a busy main road, after it is thought she had been thrown from a car. She came into her rescuer and now forever home, very thin, hopping on three legs and covered in multiple dog bite scars on her face, neck, head shoulders, legs and rib cage believed to be consistent with dog fighting. Thought to be no older than three years old, upon further veterinary examination was discovered to have had her leg broken two years prior and unbelievably in that condition she had also been repeatedly bred from, resulting in the crumbling of her broken bones.

Under current sentencing Poppet’s abusers if convicted, would only face a maximum six months in prison.

The League’s petition calling for the Government to strengthen of animal cruelty sentencing stands at over 90,000 signatures and can be signed here https://www.e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=122&ea.campaign.id=51218.

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  • The full case study of Staffordshire Bull Terrier Poppet is available on request including images.
  • Sentencing remains unchanged since the introduction of the Protection of Animals Act in 1911, leaving England and Wales lagging behind most other European countries which have a maximum custodial sentence standing between two and five years.
  • Please contact the League’s Press Office on 01483 524250 (24hrs) or email [email protected] for any image, comment or interview requests.
  • The League Against Cruel Sports is Britain'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 www.league.org.uk
  • League Against Cruel Sports is a registered charity in England and Wales (1095234) and Scotland (SC045533).