Britain’s leading animal advocacy group is calling for tougher sentences for animal abusers after figures revealed less than 8% of those convicted of such offences under the Animal Welfare Act are sent to prison.
Its call came as the Centre for Crime Prevention released a report exposing worrying links between animal cruelty and other crimes.
Its analysis revealed that just 7.7% of defendants taken to court by the charity received a prison sentence in 2016, and only 5.5% were near the maximum sentence that can be handed down by the courts.
In 2016, 744 defendants were convicted in court of offences in cases brought by the RSPCA. Of this number, 57 received prison sentences. It found that 41 of the jail terms were more than three months and 15 were more than four months.
“The maximum sentence for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine,” the charity’s interim chief executive, Michael Ward, said.
“But the reality is that this rarely happens and while the RSPCA is seeing unbelievably shocking and distressing cases go before the courts, only a tiny proportion of animal abusers actually receive an immediate custodial sentence.”
He continued: “RSPCA officers have had to investigate horrendous cases in which dogs have been found buried alive with a nail hammered into their skull, puppies have been kept in damp, dark rooms laying in their own filth and sold to unsuspecting members of the public, horses have been dumped to die on the side of the road and hamsters have been force-fed drugs.”
Polling by the RSPCA has shown that seven out of 10 people would like to see sentencing for animal welfare offences toughened up and longer jail terms imposed on offenders who commit the worst cruelty.
“We believe it’s important to try to work with owners to help them improve the welfare of their pets and prosecuting people is a last resort.
“While the RSPCA investigated almost 150,000 complaints of cruelty last year, less than 1% of these resulted in a prosecution. However, in some cases, if people refuse to work with us or if the animal’s suffering is simply too severe or extreme, then prosecution is the only real option.
“And we believe the punishment should fit the crime, particularly when it comes to serious, organised animal cruelty such as animal fighting or puppy farming.
“We would like to see the maximum sentences under the Animal Welfare Act increased to five years – bringing us in line with Northern Ireland – so courts have more power and opportunity to impose a sentence they feel reflects the seriousness of the crime and acts as a deterrent to re-offenders or other animal abusers.”
The charity is currently campaigning on the issue.