Last week animal welfare campaigners across the country issued a resounding cheer at the Scottish Government's announcement that it seeks to amend its legislation to increase the maximum penalty for the most serious cruelty offences to five year's imprisonment. Here at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home we were quick to applaud the Scottish Government for showing its commitment towards helping many animals that are the innocent victims of the most shocking cases of animal cruelty.
Among a raft of new proposals announced by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday 5 September, were a series of pledges on animal welfare and wildlife crime, at the heart of which is the clampdown on the perpetrators of animal cruelty crimes.
When Battersea launched our campaign earlier this year to increase animal cruelty sentences to five years we didn't shy away from revealing the harsh reality about the ludicrously low sentences available to the Courts. Scotland's maximum 12-month custodial sentence, for example, is one of the lowest in Europe. Under current laws, offenders in Scotland could get a much tougher penalty for dumping litter than they would for torturing or killing an animal. Incredible but sadly true. Add in the clear link between animal abusers and going on to commit further offences, and you have a truly compelling case for action.
We have been greatly encouraged that Scotland's news outlets have been willing to talk about the country's inadequate sentences. In doing so they have joined the thousands of animal lovers and many MSPs in Scotland who have already backed our campaign and said "enough is enough", sending out a strong message and building momentum for this change to happen.
Few can fail to be horrified by some of the horrific animal cruelty cases reported in our communities. Wherever you live, be it England, Scotland or Wales, there will doubtless be a case that has shocked you with its brutality. A particularly distressing image sticks in my mind of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier tied to a piece of concrete and left to drown in a Lanarkshire pond. This senseless case, back in 2015 never even reached the courts, but the graphic photos on the front page of a Scottish newspaper and again in our Battersea Report available on our website, still make me sick to the stomach.
More recently a man who admitted to torturing his pet cat to death in Fife was sentenced to a paltry eight months in prison. The Sheriff for the case reportedly said he wanted to impose the maximum 12-month sentence but the offender's guilty plea forced him to reduce it. Cases like these show that the Scottish Courts are keen to sentence these crimes proportionately, but the powers currently available to them make it impossible for the punishment to fit the crime.
So, whilst we have every reason to cheer last week's announcement by the Scottish Government, it has made us more determined than ever to see this change enacted and applied in the Courts as soon as possible. We need to see a commitment from all political parties and from across Scotland. A commitment to seeing justice played out, and a desire to help prevent any more animals becoming the victim of shocking cruelty.
We're also hopeful that Scotland's announcement will prove to be an all-important catalyst for England and Wales to look at their woeful maximum six-month sentence for animal cruelty. So the key question is will England and Wales now follow Scotland's lead? When Battersea looked at 100 different jurisdictions across the world, England and Wales' maximum six-month sentence proved to be the lowest. Something we should all be ashamed of, when calling ourselves a nation of animal lovers.
Close to 60,000 people have backed Battersea so far when we say this needs to change, and we know they will be behind us all the way, as we continue to use our influence so politicians will make this happen. If you are one of the 60,000 I want to thank you for your support. If you haven't yet joined us in our stance against such shocking cases of animal cruelty, I hope you soon will.