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updated 12/10/01
RSPCA blasts 'lenient' sentence

RSPCA INSPECTORS and animal lovers in a Lancashire town have reacted angrily to the sentence handed down to a dog breeder convicted by magistrates of cruelty to 28 dogs.

Last November, RSPCA inspectors removed 28 dogs - all Welsh Terriers - from Jennifer Williams' home at Hoole Farm in Bank Head Lane, Bamber Bridge, after they were found to be living in what they described as squalor.

Traumas

Williams, 61 admitted seven counts of causing unnecessary suffering through lack of care and attention at South Ribble Magistrates Court last week. Williams blamed a series of personal and financial traumas for the dogs' neglect.

The court was told that the dogs lived outside in three buildings but were in a terrible state when Inspectors called at Williams' home last November. James Hawks, prosecuting for the RSPCA said expert veterinary opinion indicated that some pens had not been cleaned for three weeks, with piles of dog dirt covered in blue mould. "The overall conclusion was that the circumstances and environment were totally unacceptable for the keeping of animals. The levels of contamination in the buildings were appalling and a cause of unnecessary suffering for the occupants and had been for a period of weeks or longer."

Another vet confirmed that some of the dogs, all terriers, were suffering from skin conditions including dermatitis.

Struggling

In defence, Mark Rigby said Williams was struggling to cope with the death of her mother and sister, had suffered a nervous breakdown and had been involved in three road accidents in one year.

District Judge Paul Firth was told that Williams had received a warning a year earlier. However, he accepted that Williams had pleaded guilty to seven charges of neglect but said in his judgement that there was no suggestion of cruelty and she had no previous convictions. Williams was also ordered to pay 500 court costs and disqualified from having custody of any dog for two years except for 19 of the 28, which she already owned.

RSPCA Inspector Sarah Hill criticised the sentence as too lenient saying: "I am very disappointed with the sentence. We just don't get the backing. "I saw the pens and they were dirty and squalid.

There were piles of excrement and the smell was overwhelming. They were dirty, dark and damp."

A spokesperson for The Welsh Terrier Club said: "Members of the club have for some time been concerned for the Health and Welfare of dogs owned by Mrs Williams.

"Following rejection of many informal offers of help and advice the matter was discussed by the Club's Committee and a formal written offer of help was sent on 2nd April 2000. This was acknowledged and rejected by Mrs Williams. Two further offers of help were subsequently sent, both of which were rejected.

"The Club's members are puzzled by the court's contradictory decision to disqualify Mrs Williams from having custody of any dogs for a period of two years, yet allowing the return of 19 dogs to her custody. The Club remains actively concerned for the welfare of the dogs.

Outrage

"The matter will be reported to The Kennel Club."

The sentence also provoked outrage amongst local animal rights campaigners who told of their outrage today that outdated laws allow pets to be returned to their owners after mistreatment.

The North West Animals Rights Coalition is to write to local MP David Borrow demanding to know why Jennifer Williams was fined just 250 and had 19 dogs returned to her.

Coalition spokesman Ian Richards said: "We want to know why this woman has been banned from keeping animals and still the judicial system has allowed her to have her dogs back. It is disgusting and it shows the disregard with which society treats animals."

The call comes after two local court cases, brought by the RSPCA, which showed wide disparity in sentencing. Whilst Jennifer Williams escaped with a relatively light fine and had 19 of her dogs returned to her, another local dog owner had his dog confiscated and was banned from keeping any animal for five years.

Jimmy Singh, 30, of Waterloo Terrace, Preston, pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to an animal at Preston Magistrate's Court last week.

The court heard that in October last year he had gone away to India and left the dog at the home of his girlfriend, Samera Ahmed, 32, of Ashton, Preston.

Mr Singh said he had made arrangements for other people to look after the dog in his absence but "must have been let down". On October 31, 2000, Preston council dog wardens were called by Ahmed who asked for assistance with the dog, a Belgian Shepherd called Lucky.

The dog wardens found Lucky in a pen at the side of the property and noted that it was very dirty and obviously had not been cleaned for some time. The dog was extremely aggressive, difficult to approach, and bit one of the wardens when offered food.

Lucky was taken to the RSPCA where it had to be put under sedation to be checked by a vet, because it was so aggressive. It was found to weigh 20kg - just two-thirds of its ideal weight purely through lack of food. However, the dog had no other medical condition and was otherwise healthy.

The lay magistrates bench ordered Singh pay a 250 fine, 200 towards boarding and legal fees and another 50 towards vets' fees. He was also made the subject of a deprivation order - which meant the dog was confiscated - and disqualified from having custody of any animal for five years.

Under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, courts are able to impose a fine and up to six months imprisonment. Additionally, the court has the power to make an order of deprivation of the animal and disqualify an owner from keeping animals. The court has full discretion on how to implement the law.

An RSPCA spokesman said: "We would like to see a disqualification so the animal can not be returned to the convicted defendant. We do offer training courses with magistrates but ultimately it is down to them."

Comparing the sentences of Williams and Singh, Lorraine Holden, of the animal rights group Preston Action for Animals, said: "Obviously it is a contradiction in terms to allow this woman to have 19 dogs back and at the same time banning her from keeping animals.

"The suffering caused to these animals must have been immense. The people charged with their welfare have handed them back to their abuser. We need to enforce stronger laws to protect these animals."