Tag Archives: animal cruelty

Dog chews her own paw off after being given Ibuprofen – couple fined

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Introduction

Jessie the dog lived in Great Yarmouth with Tony O’Neil (55) and Donna Lynch (44). Last year Jessie, who was 13, had a neurological condition and was taken to the vet by her two humans. The vet gave them some medication and off they went.

In May 2013, the two humans ran out of the medication and instead of going back to the vets, they gave Jessie Ibuprofen. Not only did this not help Jessie, it may have been harmful to her. Despite her being in enough distress to chew her own hind paw off, it took several weeks before the humans took Jessie back to the vet.

By this time it was too late and Jessie had to be put down. There was a trial in which both Mr O’Neil and Ms Lynch were convicted. They were sentenced on 4th June 2014.

 

Offence and Sentence

It’s not clear what offence the couple were charged with. Probably, s9 Animals Act 2006 : “A person commits an offence if he does not take such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice.

It could also have been under s4 which requires, among other things,

    (a) an act of his, or a failure of his to act, causes an animal to suffer,

    (b) he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the act, or failure to act, would have that effect or be likely to do so,

There is an offence (s7 of the Act) of Administrating a poison to an animal, but this requires knowledge that this was a poison, or at least is should have been objectively clear that it was, and it is not clear that this would be the case.

Mr O’Neil was fined £625 (plus the surcharge which amounted to £63 according to the news reports, but should probably have been rounded down) and ordered to pay £500 costs. Ms Lynch was fined £260 (with the surcharge) and also ordered to pay £500 costs.

There is no indication as to whether an order was made prohibiting them from owning animals in the future, but it would not be surprising if one was made.

 

Comment

This was a pretty grim offence. The Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines apply (page 22). The fact that there was a fine indicates (especially as there appears to have been a trial) that this was put in the lowest category – ‘short term neglect’.

There’s no definition of when neglect is ‘short term’ versus ‘medium term’ or ‘prolonged’, but some might find this pretty generous. It’s not often that I will criticise a sentence for being too lenient, but I would have thought that the suffering caused would have merited a Community Order.

Giving the Iburprofen was obviously stupid, but it wasn’t necessarily obvious that this would have caused harm. However, given that Jessie was in obvious pain, not taking her to the vet was a deliberate omission, seemingly over a period of weeks. I would have put that as at least ‘medium term’ neglect.

Still, we don’t know any of the other factors that may be present in the case, in particular what mitigation was put forward. It may be that this would explain it.

 

Photo of a dog. Not the dog.

Photo of a dog. Not the dog.

 

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Man fined for goldfish neknomination stunt

Taken from the BBC

Taken from the BBC

Gavin Hope, aged 22, pleaded to an Animal Welfare Act 2006 offence and was sentenced on 23 April 2014.

The law

The RSPCA prosecuted Hope for, presumably, under section 4 of the 2006 Act – that of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. We presume it is under subsection

(2) A person commits an offence if:

(a) he is responsible for an animal,

(b) an act, or failure to act, of another person causes the animal to suffer,

(c) he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening, and

(d) the suffering is unnecessary.

The offence is a summary only offence, triable therefore only in the Magistrates’ Court. The maximum sentence is a £20,000 fine and/or 6 months’ imprisonment.

The facts

The BBC reported that the RSPCA Chief Inspector said:

“The video shows Mr Hope prepare a pint glass with lager, chilli, tequila, a fresh egg and fish food.

“He picks up another glass containing a small amount of water and the goldfish, which is swimming around, and shows it to the camera before drinking it down, and following it with the pint.

“A vet report advised that the stomach would be a completely unsuitable place for a goldfish and that the fish would have died in time, the cause of death being a mixture of suffocation and acid ph levels in the stomach, as well as the alcohol he drank.”

It was said that it was after the decision to flush the fish down the toilet that Hope decided to drink it as a part of the Neknomination craze and that the decision was impulsive.

Sentence

Hope was fined £300, ordered to pay a £30 victim surcharge and £431 in costs.

The starting point is to look at page 40 of the guidelines. As usual, it can fairly be said that the offence does not fit into any of the three categories.

Whilst it was ‘one impulsive act’ (a descriptor in category 1 – the lowest category), it was also an attempt to kill – in fact it did kill – the fish (a descriptor in category 3 – the highest category). The sentencing range is from a Band B fine to 26 weeks’ imprisonment.

A Band B fine is 100% of relevant weekly income (range, 75-125%). Relevant weekly income is calculated from information provided by the offender on a means form, which they are required by law to complete.

In the event, Hope was fined £300. There is no information about his income and therefore it is difficult to say whether the fine was in accordance with the guideline. It is possible to say however, that the decision to impose a Band B fine – if that is the decision of the court – seems fair, considering Hope’s guilty plea. This is because to impose a Band B fine, the court would have started significantly higher than that level before giving a reduction for his guilty plea.

On a minor issue, the victim surcharge – a point often missed or incorrectly calculated by the courts – was correctly imposed in this case. Where an offender is fined, the surcharge is 10% of the fine.

Laura Cunliffe jailed for microwaving kitten to death

Image from Daily Mail

Image from Daily Mail

In the Daily Mail on Friday 21 February 2014, it was reported that unemployed Laura Cunliffe, 23 from Barnsley, pleaded guilty at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court to causing unnecessary suffering of an animal.

On 13 March 2014, she was sentenced to 14 weeks’ imprisonment.

The offence

Animal Welfare Act 2006 s 4 creates the offence of causing unnecessary suffering. It is a summary only offence meaning it can only be tried in a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum sentence is 6 months and/or a £20,000 fine.

Facts

The Mail’s article, which contains some disturbing pictures, can be seen here.

She had a 4 month old kitten – Mowgli.

Mowgli reportedly ‘attacked’ Ms Cunliffe’s goldfish. Ms Cunliffe then appears to have placed Mowgli into the microwave and set it to cook for 5 minutes.

Mowgli reportedly was still alive when Ms Cunliffe removed him from the microwave, but was struggling to breathe. Ms Cunliffe then took Mowgli to a relatives house. He died some 90 minutes after Ms Cunliffe removed him from the microwave.

RSPCA

The prosecution was brought by the RSPCA, who reportedly said: ‘The main reason the RSPCA took this case in order to achieve disqualifications in order to protect animals and prevent further suffer in the future.’

The deputy chief inspector said: ‘It is particularly horrendous because of the period of suffering for the kitten which would have been awful.’

She said that the exposure to the radiation in the microwave would have cooked the animal’s internal organs.

She said: ‘It is an horrific case in the fact that the death of the cat would have been prolonged and it is unimaginable what it would have gone through taking some time to die.

Mitigation

Prior to the sentencing hearing, her defence advocate reportedly said that Ms Cunliffe had suffered from psychosis and depression, having been detained under Mental Health legislation ‘several times’.

The BBC reported that in mitigation, her solicitor said that Ms Cunliffe had longstanding problems with psychotic depression and had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act 20 times.

Sentencing guidelines

There are guidelines which apply to this offence. See numbered page 22 [40 of the PDF]. There are three categories and arguably this offences does not neatly fall into any of them.

The bottom category describes ‘One impulsive act causing little or no injury’ which this is clearly not.

The middle category describes: Several incidents of deliberate ill-treatment/frightening animal(s); medium term neglect’ which doesn’t seem to fit either.

The top category describes: ‘Attempt to kill/torture; animal baiting/conducting or permitting cock-fighting etc.; prolonged neglect’ which on balance isn’t a perfect match either, as one presumes Ms Cunliffe pleaded guilty on the basis that she did not intend to kill or torture the animal.

Judge’s comments

The BBC reported: District Judge John Foster said “This was an act of utterly horrendous cruelty on your part on an animal that, as far as I could see, had come to trust you and rely on you.”

Sentence imposed

14 weeks’ imprisonment, and a disqualification from owning or keeping etc. animals, under Protection of Animals Act 1911 s 2, for life.

Comment

The starting point for the top category in the guidelines is 18 weeks. Ms Cunliffe pleaded guilty and so some credit (presumably 1/3) would have been given for that. Her mental health issues provide strong mitigation and so despite the seriousness of the offence, 14 weeks immediate custody appears to be over the top (even with the aggravating factor that the kitten died). Perhaps a suspended sentence might have been more appropriate and proportionate, considering Ms Cunliffe’s difficulties. It would appear that treatment, not abandonment, is what is required.

The disqualification order seems entirely appropriate.

Woman, 23, cooked kitten in microwave as punishment for attacking goldfish

Image from Daily Mail

Image from Daily Mail

In the Daily Mail on Friday 21 February 2014, it was reported that unemployed Laura Cunliffe, 23 from Barnsley, pleaded guilty at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court to causing unnecessary suffering of an animal.

The offence

Animal Welfare Act 2006 s 4 creates the offence of causing unnecessary suffering. It is a summary only offence meaning it can only be tried in a Magistrates’ Court. The maximum sentence is 6 months and/or a £20,000 fine.

 [As an aside, I find it deeply unsatisfactory that a person could torture and kill an animal and only find themselves in the Magistrates’ court with a maximum 4 month sentence after a guilty plea.]

Facts

The Mail’s article, which contains some disturbing pictures, can be seen here.

She had a 4 month old kitten – Mowgli.

Mowgli reportedly ‘attacked’ Ms Cunliffe’s goldfish. Ms Cunliffe then appears to have placed Mowgli into the microwave and set it to cook for 5 minutes.

Mowgli reportedly was still alive when Ms Cunliffe removed him from the microwave, but was struggling to breathe. Ms Cunliffe then took Mowgli to a relatives house. He died some 90 minutes after Ms Cunliffe removed him from the microwave.

RSPCA

The prosecution was brought by the RSPCA, who reportedly said: ‘The main reason the RSPCA  took this case in order to achieve disqualifications in order to protect animals and prevent further suffer in the future.’

The deputy chief inspector said: ‘It is particularly horrendous because of the period of suffering for the kitten which would have been awful.’

She said that the exposure to the radiation in the microwave would have cooked the animal’s internal organs.

She said: ‘It is an horrific case in the fact that the death of the cat would have been prolonged and it is unimaginable what it would have gone through taking some time to die.

Sentence

Sentencing will take place on 13 March 2014.

Her defence advocate reportedly said that Ms Cunliffe had suffered from psychosis and depression, having been detained under Mental Health legislation ‘several times’.

There is a power to disqualify Ms Cunliffe from owning or keeping etc. animals under Protection of Animals Act 1911 s 2. As stated above, there is a maximum of a £20,000 fine but as Ms Cunliffe is unemployed – and when imposing a fine a court must consider the defendant’s means – it seems unlikely that this would make an effective or appropiate punishment.

There are guidelines which apply to this offence. See numbered page 22 [40 of the PDF]. There are three categories and arguably this offences does not neatly fall into any of them.

The bottom category describes ‘One impulsive act causing little or no injury’ which this is clearly not.

The middle category describes: Several incidents of deliberate ill-treatment/frightening animal(s); medium term neglect’ which doesn’t seem to fit either.

The top category describes: ‘Attempt to kill/torture; animal baiting/conducting or permitting cock-fighting etc.; prolonged neglect’ which on balance isn’t a perfect match either, as one presumes Ms Cunliffe pleaded guilty on the basis that she did not intend to kill or torture the animal.

There are certainly aggravating features in that a) the incident was prolonged, b) there was the use of the microwave to inflict the pain and c) of course that the kitten died.

Mitigation, as listed above, seems to be in the form of Ms Cunliffe’s mental state.

We’ll follow this up when she is sentenced.

Unpaid work for teenager who punched horse in the face

Nico Pettigrew, aged 18, was with his 14-year-old girlfriend. According to press reports, they lured a horse over towards them by offering to feed it. Pettigrew then punched the animal with some force, causing it to step back, and then threw a rock at it, causing it to collapse.

The Telegraph reported that he said he did so ‘for a laugh’ and had injured his hand during the attack.

Offences

Pettigrew was convicted of breach of the peace (the horse incident and smashing a bus stop) and pleaded to a separate breach of the peace and shoplifting.

Witness

The Telegraph reported that the attacked was witnessed by Hilda Cochrane:
“I heard voices shouting and joking. I got out of bed to look out the window. It was a girl and the boy.

“They were at the field. They were giggling and carrying on, then she bent down to pick grass up to try and entice the horses over.

“Eventually the horses came over, thinking they were going to get a bit of grass. The white horse came over to get a bit of grass.

“The young guy punched the horse in the face and the horse went back a bit. The boy hurt his hand and went down holding it. It was terrible.

“The girl was laughing and joking. She did it again and the horse was quite cagey. The young guy got a brick or a stone and hit the horse. I heard the thump on the horse’s chest. It went down on all fours in shock.”

Sentence

Perth Sheriff Court ordered him to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work as part of an 18-month payback order. He was also ordered to attend drug treatment after pleading to ‘a number of offences’.

Thoughts

At UK Criminal Law Blog, we are all for imposing community instead of custodial sentences where possible, the idea of focussing on rehabilitation not punishment and generally looking for the ‘good’ in people, hoping that with some help they can ‘change their ways’.

Having said that, I think I would given Pettigrew a somewhat sterner sentence. Though there is little point in sending him to custody, an unpaid word order doesn’t quite seem to mark the pernicious nature of attacking a vulnerable animal, with a weapon, (presumably to show off) with sufficient force to knock a large animal to the floor.

Now, I don’t want to turn this into a Daily Mail comments section, but perhaps readers might want to suggest alternative punishments…

Student James White fries his friend’s hamster whilst drunk

James White leaving Selby Magistrates' Court

James White aged 21, a student in York pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

Facts

When drunk, he fried his flatmate’s pet hamster. It was not established whether the hamster had died prior to, or as a result of, being placed into the hot frying pan.

Initially, James had pleaded not guilty, presumably on the basis that if the court could not be sure that the hamster was alive prior to being put into the frying pan, he could not be guilty of the offence. However District Judge Anderson indicated that James would be convicted even if the animal had died before it was placed into the frying pan.

Consequently, James pleaded guilty late. Normally, a late plea might attract only a 10% discount (see our explanation of guilty plea discounts here). However, it could be argued that until the legal position regarding whether James was guilty even if the hamster was already dead was not resolved until the last minute. Therefore, James may have been entitled to full credit as he had pleaded at the first reasonable opportunity once the legal position was made clear. We have no official report of the sentencing hearing and so this is mere speculation.

The offence

Animal Welfare Act 2006 s 4

To be guilty of the offence, it would need to be shown that James:

  • Did an act (or failed to act) to a ‘protected’ animal
  • Causing that animal to ‘suffer’
  • Where he knew (or should have known) that the act would cause this suffering
  • And that the suffering is ‘unnecessary’

A protected animal is defined in s2 as being any pet, or an animal that ‘is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis, or is not living in a wild state’.

It therefore seems somewhat strange that the District Judge ruled that even if the hamster was already dead, James would be guilty.

The sentencing provisions

The maximum is 6 months or a £20,000 fine. There is also a power to disqualify a person from owning, keeping etc. an animal.

The aggravating factors appear to be that his actions caused the death of the animal, the use of a weapon (the frying pan) and the fact that he was drunk.

Looking at the guideline, this was ‘one impulsive act’ resulting in ‘short term neglect’ – this would suggest it should be placed in the lowest category. However, because death resulted, and the lowest category states ‘little or no injury’, this is not appropriate. Similarly, James does not fit into the next category up (‘several incidents/medium term neglect’).

So, what is the right approach? Well the guidelines are not tramlines and courts often decide that cases fall between two categories. The cusp of category 1 and 2 appears to be a medium level community order (it being the upper limit of the range in cat 1, and lower limit of the range of cat 2).

What sentence was imposed?

BBC News reported:

The judge told White he was sentencing him on the basis the rodent died minutes before it was fried, when the defendant was handling it.

“It’s accepted now that there was rough handling of that animal but that it couldn’t be established that it was putting it in the frying pan and applying heat that caused its death.

The sentence was a community order with 120 hours of unpaid work. This constitutes a mid-level community order, which is at the top of the bottom category of the sentencing guidelines (see page 22).

The DJ said:

“Had that sadistic conduct been established I would be dealing with you in a far more serious way than I am.”

Picture from the BBC.