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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.