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167 animal cruelty convictions... but only 14 people jailed

Robin Newton

Just 14 out of 167 people convicted of animal cruelty in Northern Ireland over the past three years were given custodial sentences, it has emerged.

Seventy-seven fines were handed out during the same period and 45 people were banned from keeping animals in 2018 alone.

In one example, a mother and daughter from Belfast who allowed two dogs to starve to death were ordered to complete 150 hours of community service.

In another case in Newry last year, a dog burned with acid had to be put down because of the severity of its injuries.

The DUP's Robin Newton, who obtained the figures, tabled a series of Assembly questions to learn more about the details of the 14 custodial sentences.

The former Assembly speaker also called for a crackdown on animal abuse.

"There must be no tolerance of animal cruelty - and that message must be delivered through the courts," the East Belfast MLA said.

"Evil people attacking or abusing animals will not go unpunished.

"While 14 custodial sentences may seem to be small out of the overall number of convictions, it is very hard to draw proper conclusions without knowing the details of each case.

"I am passionate about the protection of animals and I have asked further questions to get more details.

"On a positive note, I welcome the fact that acts of cruelty to animals are being punished by a custodial sentence.

"I remember previous cases where there were outrageous acts against defenceless household pets, yet the culprits were given a mere slap on the wrist."

Mr Newton also conceded, however, that the picture had improved considerably since the introduction of cruelty legislation, which was most recently updated in 2015.

"For too long animal cruelty was not given the kind of attention it deserved," he said.

"Cruelty of any kind needs challenged head-on and tackled by the authorities."

The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals has called on the Executive to set up an official register of animal abusers.

Belfast Telegraph