A security guard who knifed cats to death in a string of attacks has been jailed for more than five years.
Owners of some of the cats Steve Bouquet killed were at Hove Crown Court on Friday to see the 54-year-old imprisoned.
The former Royal Navy gunner, who served for 22 years including in Northern Ireland and Iraq, appeared before the judge for the first time on Friday after not attending his trial.
His spree in Brighton lasted between October 2018 and May 2019 before he was finally captured on CCTV set up by an owner of a dead cat.
Bouquet was convicted last month of 16 offences of criminal damage in relation to the cats, and possession of a knife.
Nine cats – Hendrix, Tommy, Hannah, Alan, Nancy, Gizmo, Kyo, Ollie and Cosmo – were killed while another seven were injured.
Victim Lucy Kenward fought back tears as she said she still cannot understand why someone would kill cats.
She added: “Cosmo was my first cat as an adult. I had him for eight years before he was killed.
“I never thought he would end up being murdered by a person. It still seems quite unbelievable.”
Ms Kenward said she spent more than £5,000 on vet bills in the hopes of saving her beloved Cosmo, but he died with a stab wound.
Andrea Williams told the court how she was “inconsolable” after her cat Wheatley went missing.
She said: “I cried myself to sleep every night for ages.
“This went on for three months until his body was finally discovered in a neighbour’s garden. He had been 10 metres from the house all along.
“We had what was in essence a murderer walking the streets with a knife and intent to harm and kill.”
Ms Williams said the loss of her cat led her to sell her Brighton home “just to get away”.
During the trial jurors heard accounts from several cat owners who had found their pets bleeding on their doorsteps.
Ravi Dogra, defending Bouquet, cited his client’s lengthy service in the Royal Navy, which he joined age 17.
He also told the court that Bouquet has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which has since spread to his liver and lungs.
Sentencing Bouquet, Judge Jeremy Gold QC said his behaviour was “cruel, it was sustained and it struck at the very heart of family life”.
He added: “It is important that everyone understands that cats are domestic pets but they are more than that. They are effectively family members.
“They are much loved by the adults and children who live with and care for them.
“Cats and all domestic animals are a source of joy and support to their owners, especially during lockdown.
Judge Gold said he took Bouquet’s previous good character and military service into account when deciding on the sentence.
He was jailed for five years and three months.
None of us can comprehend what drove Bouquet to do this to family petsJayne Cioffi, CPS
Speaking after the hearing, Stewart Montgomery, whose cat Hendrix was among those killed by Bouquet, said he welcomed the sentence.
However he criticised the way cats are treated in the eyes of the law: “It’s a good sentence to be fair but it still doesn’t sit right with me that it’s criminal damage.”
In his police interview read out during his trial, Bouquet told officers that all he knew about the cat killings was what he had read in the newspapers and online.
He told police he was “no threat to animals” – but a photo of a dead cat was found on his phone, the court heard.
A knife, with feline blood on it and his DNA on the handle, was found during a search of his home, while mobile phone evidence placed him in the vicinity of many of the stabbings during the time they took place, the Crown Prosecution Service said.
Jayne Cioffi from the CPS said: “This has been a tragic case for all the owners involved. Not only did Steve Bouquet inflict horrendous suffering to each of the animals he attacked, but he also caused real trauma to their owners, many of whom found their beloved pets injured and bleeding.
“None of us can comprehend what drove Bouquet to do this to family pets. His claims that it was simply chance that he was present at various times when the animals were attacked were rightly dismissed by the jury after being disproved by the investigation and prosecution work.”