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Hopes of third time lucky for animal abuse sentencing law

Animal abusers could face 10 times longer jail sentences under legislation reintroduced to Parliament yesterday (5 February).

West Dorset MP Chris Loder has published the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which proposes an increase from the current maximum jail term of six months to up to five years for the most serious offenders.

The bill had been scheduled for the report stage in commons in September 2019 but was dropped following Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament. If approved this time, it would grant Britain some of the toughest sanctions for animal abuse in Europe.

Mr Loder said he had been inspired to fight for change after adopting his dog, a spaniel named Poppy, who had been abandoned at the side of a road as a puppy.

“I believe tougher sentencing will act as a greater deterrent against the worst examples of animal cruelty,” he said.

The initial proposal followed a public consultation in 2017 in which more than 70% of people voted in favour of tougher prison sentences for those found guilty of animal abuse.

The bill has consistently been backed by major welfare organisations including the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare.

World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said: “We are so relieved that MP Chris Loder has reintroduced a bill to the House of Commons that will mean maximum sentences for animal cruelty raised from six months to five years in England and Wales, the bill having fallen twice in the tumultuous political times of last year.

“Bringing in this legislation is a very important element of better protecting our animals and there is widespread public and political support for the move, so we implore the government to clearly show its animal welfare credentials by getting this bill on to the statute book without further delay.”

In 2018, the RSPCA reported 1,175,193 calls to their 24-hour cruelty hotline — a call every 27 seconds. Last year, it investigated more than 130,700 complaints of cruelty against animals and secured 1,678 convictions.

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RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “We are pleased a new Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill is being introduced and hope it will be ‘third time lucky’ for this proposed legislation following a couple of false starts last year.

“We see horrendous acts of cruelty perpetrated on animals and have long campaigned for the current maximum six-month jail term to be increased to five years. The bill has come so close to being enacted in the past — let’s not allow this important change to animal cruelty sentencing to slip through our hands.”

World Horse Welfare is encouraging animal-lovers to sign a petition and also email their MPs to voice their support and ensure the bill makes a quick passage into law.

The maximum penalty for animal welfare offences was increased to five years in Northern Ireland in 2016, following a review of the Welfare of Animals (Northern Ireland) Act 2011. The Scottish government also consulted in February 2019 on increasing the maximum sentence from one to five years under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

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