DPP McGrory 'ready to challenge lenient sentences for cruelty'
Northern Ireland's top prosecutor is prepared to use tough new powers to oppose too lenient sentences for animal cruelty, it has been claimed.
Stormont Opposition chief Mike Nesbitt said Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory is already monitoring all relevant cases.
The Ulster Unionist leader had claimed that although Northern Ireland had tougher animal cruelty penalties than elsewhere, they were not working because courts were consistently failing to apply the stiffer sentences.
But yesterday after a meeting with Mr McGrory and his officials, Mr Nesbitt said animal lovers could "take heart" at the stance being taken by the Public Prosecution Service.
After a review involving former Justice and Agriculture Ministers David Ford and Michelle O'Neill, Northern Ireland had the toughest penalties in the UK or Ireland for cruelty, allowing judges to send those convicted to jail for up to five years.
Mr Nesbitt said: "His (the DPP) ability to make referrals only came into effect on August 1, and no case of an unduly lenient sentence has come forward in the last seven weeks.
"But animal lovers should take heart that the director has alerted all his prosecutors and regional staff to monitor sentences in cases of animal cruelty and stands ready to intervene when appropriate.
"Barra McGrory has a track record of interventions in other areas where unduly lenient sentences have seen the guilty given probation, suspended sentences or concurrent rather than consequential sentences."
Mr McGrory's office said it had nothing to add to Mr Nesbitt's statement.
Figures show more than 4,000 animal welfare cases were investigated by local councils each year from 2012, and that between 2012 and 2014 there were 114 convictions for animal cruelty, 15 of which resulted in custodial sentences.
Mr Ford and Mrs O'Neill joined forces to review the legislation after a number of individual cases in which suspended sentences were given to four east Belfast men who trained and kept dogs for fighting, and a tabby cat called Tiger was set on fire in Hillsborough.
The DUP's Emma Little Pengelly told of a missing cat whose owner "was able to view footage of her pet being thrown into a cage to dogs and being ripped apart".
Mr Nesbitt added: "My only concern is that there is no precedent for a successful challenge for an unduly lenient sentence for animal cruelty in this jurisdiction, and therefore no guarantee the first appeal will be successful.
"However, I am reassured that Barra McGrory and his team take animal cruelty very seriously and will not be found wanting if the courts need challenged."