Redcar MP Anna Turley’s bill to toughen up animal cruelty sentences in the aftermath of the Baby the Bulldog case was blocked by the Conservatives in Parliament today.
Three Conservative MPs who regularly thwart backbench bills deliberately talked out or 'filibustered' an earlier bill to prevent and combat violence against women to use up parliamentary time. The Tory Whips also objected to Anna's Bill progressing in the dying seconds of today's debate. The Bill will be back on the agenda for Friday 24th March but as it is the last Friday of the session there are dozens of government bills and it's unlikely to be heard.
Anna’s bill would have increased the maximum sentence available for animal cruelty cases in England and Wales from 6 months to five years, in line with Northern Ireland.
Anna queued overnight to secure the bill's parliamentary slot after local cruelty cases made the national spotlight.
“We have worked so hard to bring this important bill before parliament to secure proper justice for animals like Baby and Scamp and the many others treated appalling, it is really disappointing.
“I am disgusted at the actions of Tory MPs who have undermined democracy to block a bill they didn’t want to go progress. Their actions are shameful and one in particular seems to have made it his life’s work to filibuster legislation, including breast cancer treatments and hospital parking charges. Even so the Tory whips could have stayed silent and let the bill progress without debate but they shouted to object and the bill was stalled.
“This isn’t the end of our battle to get Baby’s Law on the statute book. I will be calling it back for another attempt next month and will use every available opportunity in parliament to secure a change in the law.”
This is the speech Anna planned to give in Parliament today:
I beg to move, that the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill be now read a second time.
We in this place owe this Bill to those that cannot speak. That cannot defend themselves. That suffer abuse and violence and cruelty by the hands that are meant to feed them, care for them, protect them and love them.
We owe this Bill to Baby the Bulldog and Scamp the dog.
Baby was held aloft by Andrew Frankish at the top of wooden stairs before he repeatedly threw her down them and laughed. Baby was totally submissive throughout, not even making a noise when she landed on the stairs, bouncing to the foot of them and crashing through a babygate to the floor. Baby’s neck was stamped on. She was thrown to the floor with force, over and over. Her small chest was jumped on with the full body weight of one of the Frankish brothers and this is the only time you hear her cry out.
Baby was tortured and beaten by those who were supposed to care for her.
Frankish is saying things like ‘one, two, three’ before hurling her down the stairs. He is clearly enjoying himself. He’s laughing and smiling. The whole horrible ordeal seems to be for his and his brother Daniel Frankish’s entertainment, for fun as they film themselves on a mobile phone.
The younger man says, ‘See if we can make it scream any more. We should throw it down the stairs by its ears’, before he picks her up against the wall and head-butts her twice, then throws her down the stairs again.
Baby should not have had to suffer this horrific abuse. But she did, and was put down shortly after the abuse took place. When the evidence was found by chance two years later on a mobile phone card dropped on a supermarket floor, you would have expected even after her death to have had justice.
Thanks to the hard work by the police, the RSPCA and all those who gave evidence, the brothers were convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to her by subjecting her to unnecessary physical violence, an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
But then she was let down once again by the law.
The two brothers received a suspended sentence, six months’ tagged curfew and £300 in costs. No one can feel that the justice system did its job that day.
On researching how the two brothers could have received such an impossibly lenient sentence for a vicious, premeditated assault, I was astonished to find that the maximum sentence for any form of animal abuse is just six months’ custody. Incredibly, it has not changed since the Protection of Animals Act 1911. This Act was introduced essentially to make it an offence to override or overload animals pulling loads on the street or in pits.
The law is lagging a century behind.
Under the last Labour Government, the issue was meant to be dealt with by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which made provision to increase sentencing to imprisonment of up to 51 weeks, or a fine of up to £20,000. Still too low a sentence, but incredibly the provision to increase prison sentences was never enacted, so people who inflict any degree of cruelty on animals can currently receive a maximum of only six months’ imprisonment should the magistrate even deem a custodial sentence suitable. The public rightly find that hard to understand or accept.
Since the incident of the Frankish brothers came to my attention, I decided to try to amend the law to ensure that sentences fit the crime in horrific cases such as this, and so am pleased to present my Bill today to increase the sentence to a maximum of five years.
But during the progress of this Bill, another horrific incident in my constituency took place which has made the case for a change in the sentencing law even more pressing. A small dog named Scamp was found buried alive in woods near Redcar in October last year, with a nail hammered into its head.
On 22nd February Michael Heathcock, 59 and 60-year-old Richard Finch, both from Redcar, pleaded guilty to offences under the Animal Welfare Act.
Sentencing will take place at Teesside Magistrates Court on 1 March. My community and people around the country will be watching very closely to see the sentence that they are given.
The people of my constituency have been horrified by these cases, and it is important to pay tribute to their response. After hearing of the Frankish brothers incident and that of Scamp, the dog who was found with a nail in his head, they held vigils for the animals, with hundreds of people coming to lay flowers and candles and send the messages loudly and defiantly. First, the perpetrators do not represent our community. People in Redcar are decent and kind. I know many passionate animal lovers, and I meet some wonderful dog owners as I walk my own dog on Redcar beach or the Eston hills. Secondly, they are angry. They feel that the criminal justice system is letting them down, and failing to protect animals, and that is why I am standing here today.
On researching my Bill, I was shocked by the number of horrific cases I came across. I read of a dismembered cat left on a war memorial, a deer with a tree branch forced up its backside and a McDonald’s bag over its head, a flock of 20 ducks strangled with cable around their necks and boiling liquid poured on a puppy. A Shetland pony was found dead near Sunderland, its body slashed and its bottom lip, mane and genitals cut off. Surrey Police have recently instituted Operation Takahe to try and find the person believed to be behind the theft and mutliation of over 200 cats. The list of horrific attacks goes on and on.
The RSPCA receives and investigates thousands of complaints about cruelty to animals each year. For example, it received 143,004 complaints in 2015, and 1,781 people were successfully prosecuted. Of the convictions in 2015, 50% were for cruelty offences under section 4 of the 2006 Act and 1.8% were for fighting offences under section 8. Yet only one in ten convictions presently results in a prison sentence.
I urge those who think that the crime of abusing defenceless animals is worth less serious attention than abusing people to look at the evidence, predominantly from the United States but also more recently from Europe, showing connections between the two. A 2001 to 2004 study by the Chicago police department revealed “a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offences toward human victims.”
Another study found that in families under supervision for the physical abuse of their children, pet abuse was concurrent in 88% of the families.
Because abusers target the powerless and are lacking in the ability to feel empathy with their victims. Crimes against animals, spouses, children, and the elderly often go hand in hand. Children who abuse animals may be repeating a lesson learned at home. Like their parents, they are reacting to anger or frustration with violence. Their violence is directed at the only individual in the family who is more vulnerable than they are—an animal.
In the UK, a new academic study—the first of its kind in Europe—by researchers at Teesside University has also identified a link between animal abuse and domestic violence. The study of young people in eastern Europe found that violence breeds violence. Adolescent males who had experienced domestic violence either showed displaced aggression against animals or progressed to committing violence against family members. The findings point towards a worrying cycle of abuse in society if violence is not addressed or properly challenged.
You would be forgiven for thinking, Mr Speaker, that as a nation of animal lovers, we would expect to be leading the way on these issues. But I’m afraid, in fact we are lagging behind many other countris.
In its recent review of the Welfare of Animals Act the Northern Ireland Assembly increased the maximum penalty from two years to five years. It should also be noted that Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK that provides for more serious animal welfare offences to be tried in a Crown court. Up in Scotland, the Scottish Government have recently committed to reviewing penalties under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. If we look around the world, we can see that the maximum penalty for animal cruelty in Australia is five years and in Germany it is three years; a maximum of six months, decided by a magistrates court rather than a crown court, seems derisory.
In addition to the examples from our colleagues in the devolved nations, there is a precedent for tougher sentencing in other UK legislation on the treatment of animals. Under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, a person can go to prison for three years if their dog injures a guide dog. In 2015, the Law Commission’s review of wildlife law recommended two years’ imprisonment for cruelty towards wildlife.
The lack of sentencing available to the courts severely blunts the Act as the existing jail terms are far too low to deter offenders, especially if we consider the fact that reductions can be given for early guilty pleas and the possibility of suspended rather than custodial sentences.
Such woefully inadequate sentences must be addressed if they are to be punishments that fit the cruelty inflicted on animals. My Bill, seeks to increase the custodial sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years, in line with the recent changes in Northern Ireland. If we are to continue declaring ourselves a nation of animal lovers, it is about time we showed it by sending out the message that we take animal cruelty seriously.
I would like thank the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs Home and the League Against Cruel Sports for their support for my Bill. I place on record my particular thanks to the staff at the RSPCA, who do a fantastic job dealing with some horrific cases and some situations that require real bravery. I would also like to thank my community in Redcar and Teesside who have shown their compassion and their true love for animals in the way they have responded to these terrible acts, with vigils, memorials and determined support to help me change the law.
Finally, I want to say a word about Baby the bulldog and the dog named Scamp, because this is their Bill.
We will probably never know the full level of cruelty and torture these silent and defenceless animals endured. We can only begin to imagine the pain they experienced and the fear they felt. We cannot undo the suffering that has been done to them, but we can show each other that this kind of cruelty has no place in our communities, and that such depraved behaviour will face the punishment that it deserves. I am grateful for having been able to introduce this debate. I urge the House to put right the injustice by supporting my Bill.