The RSPCA has welcomed the government announcement that the current maximum term of six months in prison for cruelty to animals is to be increased to five years.

The six month maximum was set in 1911, more than 100 years ago, by the Protection of Animals Act, and is one of the lowest in Europe. Studies by the Centre for Crime Prevention (CCP) show that custodial sentences are, in any case rarely imposed in animal cruelty cases, in just one in every thirteen cases since 2005.Many of these were handed suspended sentences. One in four of convicted offenders was simply handed a fine, with an average of less than £300.

Along with the light punishments the government has also acted on another important finding from the CCP that those who commit animal cruelty offences are far more likely to carry out other violent crimes. This mirrors the experience in other countries, such as Australia where vets have an ethical obligation to report animal abuse because of the large percentage of abusers who also attack vulnerable people, such as children and partners. It’s all about, it seems, power over the defenceless.

Recent cases in the UK include Andrew Frankish (22) and his brother Daniel (19) from Redcar, North Yorks, who tortured a bulldog pup last October by choking it, head-butting it, throwing it repeatedly downstairs, standing on it and jumping on it, all the time laughing and filming the abuse. For this the brothers got 21 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, and a six month curfew. In another case Lewis Fox, 22, of Sittingbourne, Kent tortured and killed hamsters, throwing one against a wall, strangling another with a telephone cable, crushing one to death and setting fire to another, all to spite his then girlfriend, who woke one morning to find Fox with his hands around her throat, throttling her. He also spat in her face on numerous occasions and burnt her with a cigarette. For all his offences Fox was given a 14 month jail term and a restraining order.

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