Belfast Telegraph

No review of animal torturers' 'lenient' jail terms

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

Suspended prison sentences given to four men for their role in a shocking animal cruelty case will not be reviewed, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

A father, his two sons and a family friend, all from east Belfast, had previously admitted training dogs for fighting.

Police said the abuse 43-year-old Jeremiah Kirkwood, his sons Chris (23) and Wayne (20), as well as Jamie Morrow (19), were charged in connection with was among the worst seen here.

On Thursday they were handed six-month prison sentences, suspended for two years. The men goaded onlookers as they left Laganside Crown Court.

Under the Animal Welfare (NI) Act 2011, the maximum penalty for causing acts of animal cruelty is two years in prison.

Alliance MP Naomi Long watched horrific footage of the cruelty retrieved from a mobile phone and led calls for the sentences to be appealed.

However, a spokesman for the Public Prosecution Service yesterday said its director, Barra McGrory QC, could not intervene to lodge an appeal.

"The offences for which the defendants were prosecuted do not fall within the statutory category of offences for which the director can consider exercising his power under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 as being unduly lenient," the spokesman said.

The criminal investigation was launched after the vile mobile phone footage was discovered showing cats and badgers torn apart by fighting dogs. None of the defendants was shown in the video, and the prosecution was unable to prove any of them were present.

The father and sons – from Island Street – pleaded guilty to keeping or training animals for an animal fight.

They also pleaded guilty to possession of items for use in connection with an animal fight, namely a CD7 battery pack, handheld lamps, a green dog harness and an animal trap.

Morrow, from McAllister Court, admitted a charge of keeping or training an animal for a fight.

A total of 10 guilty pleas were entered by the men, with 12 other counts left on the books.

Ms Long said: "If this case of cruelty did not warrant a custodial sentence it is hard to imagine the level of barbarity which would be required to merit one.

"Appealing the relatively lenient outcome would send a strong message to those who continue to take part in this sort of cruel behaviour."

DUP MLA Jim Wells, a member of Stormont's justice committee, also called for the sentences to be reviewed.

Animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports said the men had escaped with "a slap on the wrist". The police officer who headed up the two-year investigation, Detective Inspector Pete Mullan, admitted to being disappointed by the outcome.

The men were also banned from keeping, owning or controlling animals for the next 10 years.

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police, and remorse, as well as aggravating factors such as intent and excessive violence.

STORY SO FAR

Police and animal rights charities described the case involving the Kirkwoods and Jamie Morrow as among the most barbaric they had seen. An investigation was launched after shocking mobile phone footage was discovered showing cats and badgers torn apart by fighting dogs.

Further reading

Smirking animal torturers freed: Outcry after dog fighting thugs get suspended sentences 

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