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Tougher penalties for animal cruelty crimes

By Linda Stewart

Published 29/02/2016

The measure is one of a range of new legislative tools that will deliver tougher penalties
The measure is one of a range of new legislative tools that will deliver tougher penalties

New powers are to be given to the Director of Public Prosecutions to challenge animal abuse sentences that are too lenient.

The measure is one of a range of new legislative tools that will deliver tougher penalties.

It follows a public outcry after a series of lenient sentencing decisions, including a notorious east Belfast dog fighting gang who walked free from court in 2014 despite their case being described as one of the worst in NI history.

The public outcry triggered a public consultation into sentences handed down for animal cruelty.

Among the new measures contained in the Report of the Review of the Implementation of Animal Welfare Legislation, which is being launched this morning, are tougher sentencing recommendations, with some offenders now facing up to five years behind bars.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill and Justice Minister David Ford will launch the report, which contains 68 recommendations for improving communication between those tasked with protecting animals, improving processes and publicising the Animal Welfare Service.

The maximum sentence for an indictable offence has been raised from two years to five years.

Meanwhile, maximum penalties for the offences of causing unnecessary suffering and animal fighting have been raised to 12 months in prison and fines of £20,000.

The Department of Agriculture will also set up a single animal welfare website under the NI Direct website bringing together information from all enforcement bodies and these bodies will provide information for the public on how to deal with an animal welfare incident.

Ms O'Neill said: "I wanted to send a very clear message that we will not tolerate cruelty and that those individuals who neglected and abused animals would pay in court.

"Some offenders could now face up to five years behind bars for their actions. It is vital that no time is lost putting these measures in place."

Mr Ford said: "Crimes against vulnerable animals are abhorrent and will not be tolerated in our society. In the past five years we moved from maximum penalties of just three months imprisonment to the five-year maximum recently agreed by the Assembly. This shows how seriously we view animal cruelty."

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