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Animal abusers 'may still face jail'

FOLLOWING claims that there is ‘no room in prison for animal abusers’ the Government has issued a statement clarifying that there is the chance that the ‘worst offenders’ could receive custodial sentences of ‘up to six months’, although it is unclear whether this a maximum sentence.

As reported last week, the Pet Care Trust had claimed that DEFRA barrister Chloe Nash told a London conference on the Animal Welfare Bill in October that, back in July 2004 when pre-legislative scrutiny work on the Bill had been carried out, the Home Office had been ‘final and adamant’ in rejecting the idea of sending the worst offenders to prison.

The Pet Care Trust was ‘furious’ at this admission and said that the lack of power within the Bill to punish offenders made nonsense out of amending the animal cruelty laws.

‘This is not acceptable to the Pet Care Trust and its members and not to the people of Britain,’ said Janet Nunn, Chief Executive of the Pet Care Trust. ‘People in Britain want to see the punishment fit the crime and this will just not happen with the Animal Welfare Bill.’

DEFRA’s admission came within days of the release of a survey, carried out for the Halifax Building Society, which showed that 80% of people think there should be stiffer penalties for crimes against animals.

‘Parliament is sleepwalking into the final stages of the Animal Welfare Bill with the perpetrators of the worst cruelty cases getting off with a fine,’ said Janet Nunn. ‘This cannot be right. It’s certainly not justice in the eyes of the public or pet care professionals.’

However, an RSPCA spokesperson told OUR DOGS: ‘There is a basic error underpinning the Pet Care Trust's press release which states: ‘(the Government) won't make the worst cases of animal cruelty into criminal offences because there aren't enough prison places.’ Animal cruelty is and will continue to be a criminal offence, an offence which carries the maximum possible penalty for cases heard in magistrates courts.

The RSPCA welcomes increased penalties for animal cruelty as it sends a clear message that society will not tolerate the abuse of animals, and hopefully acts as a deterrent to crime.

However, highest on the Society's wish list is for those convicted of animal cruelty to be deprived of keeping other animals, so that they are unable to inflict future harm.’

Responding to the PCT’s claims and the RSPCA’s counter-claims early this week, a DEFRA spokesperson said: ‘Legal penalties are a matter not just for individual government departments to decide but something that needs to be considered on a government-wide basis and in agreement with the Home Office.

‘The Animal Welfare Bill does include provisions for the worst offenders to receive prison sentences. The Bill provides the courts with a range of sentencing options, including imprisonment of up to 6 months.’