The owners of a dog that died after being set alight have spoken of their relief after the man responsible was sent to jail.
Natalie and Martin Agnew - who campaigned for two years for justice for their border collie Cody - said they hoped the judge's decision to imprison Andrew Richard Stewart sent out a clear message to animal abusers.
The couple added they were delighted that Stewart (23) had been handed a 10-month prison sentence for attacking the beloved pet dog in what judge David McFarland described as the "most evil and cruel fashion". Stewart, from Meadowfield Court in Aghalee, was banned from keeping animals for 30 years and will spend an additional 10 months on licence when he is released from custody.
His co-accused Jamie Downey (23), from Chestnut Hall Avenue in Moira, received a six-month prison sentence for lying about both his and Stewart's movements on the day of the attack.
Cody, a three-year-old collie who lived with the Agnew family, from Maghaberry, had to be put down two weeks after she was set ablaze by Stewart, who poured lighter fuel on her and lit it.
Speaking outside court yesterday, Mrs Agnew branded the past two years "traumatic".
She said she hoped the sentence would send a clear message and make others think about the consequences of abusing animals.
The mother added that the public's support for the family since the attack had restored her faith in humanity.
She also told how her two sons were still coming to terms with what happened to their pet in August 2012, and how one had a shrine to the dog in his bedroom.
"The kids are still having trouble sleeping at night and dealing with the issues," she said.
"While we have a sense of closure, we still have to deal with the problems with our children.
"We're happy with the sentencing, but we still have to live with this for the rest of our lives.
"I have thrown all my emotions into fighting for justice, and I think now the reality is going to hit – the horror of what happened. We are delighted, but there are hard times ahead as well."
Mrs Agnew branded both men "a danger to society" but thanked well-wishers for all their help.
"Without them, we wouldn't be where we are today," she said. "They have stood by us for two years, which really helped. It has restored our faith in humanity."
East Belfast MP Naomi Long welcomed the sentencing.
"We have previously seen other cases where the guilty parties escaped jail sentences, much to the revulsion of all right-thinking people," she said.
"But this case sets an important precedent, which other judges can look at when it comes to animal welfare issues.
"While it isn't the maximum sentence available, it sends a strong message that cruelty towards any animals will not be tolerated. Offenders can expect to face the full force of the law."