Tag Archives: unnecessary suffering

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.]


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.

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.


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.