Owners of dogs involved in fatal attacks will face up to 14 years in jail

And they are liable for five-year sentences if the victim is injured

The Government has announced plans to increase the maximum prison sentence to 14 years for those who own a dog that is involved in a fatal attack.

In a written ministerial statement, the Environment Secretary outlined measures such as a maximum three-year sentence if a guide dog is killed or hurt by a dangerous dog.

Owen Patterson said the Government also proposes increasing the penalty for the owner of a dog which causes injury to a victim to five years.

Mr Paterson said the new sentences would fall in line with the penalties imposed on motorists whose dangerous driving leads to someone being killed.

But householders or business owners whose pets attack burglars will not be covered by the new sentences.

The changes will be introduced to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, when it reaches committee stage in the House of Lords. They should come into effect in 2014 if the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Mr Paterson said: "The maximum penalty of causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years' imprisonment and the maximum penalty for causing actual bodily harm is five years' imprisonment.

"The Government proposes, therefore, to increase the maximum penalties for aggravated offences under Section 3 of the 1991 Act in England and Wales to 14 years' imprisonment if a person dies as a result of a dog attack, five years' imprisonment if a person is injured by a dog attack, and three years' imprisonment if an assistance dog either dies or is injured by a dog attack."

"At the same time, there will be an exemption from prosecution for householders whose dogs attack trespassers in or entering the home. There will also be a specific offence of allowing a dog to attack an assistance dog."

Currently, each offence is punishable only by a fine, while the maximum prison term is only two years.

Home Office Minister Norman Baker had said he favoured the idea of upping the penalties for dangerous dog owners earlier this month to compare with the sentences for driving offences when the Bill was being considered in the House of Commons.

Mr Paterson said the increased sentences will protect residents and workers  including postal workers, nurses, utility workers and other professionals who attend homes within their job role.

Mr Paterson said the changes were being introduced after an online consultation. He told MPs that 91 per cent of the 3,180 responses wanted the maximum sentences increased.

Richard Leaman, Guide Dogs' chief executive, welcomed the news, but said they would have preferred to see a longer maximum sentence.

He said: "An attack on a guide dog is devastating and can rob someone who is blind or partially sighted of their means of getting out and about independently and with confidence. Each guide dog costs £50,000 to breed, train and support during its working life and we receive no government funding to provide this life-changing service."

Rachel Cunningham, spokeswoman for the pet charity Blue Cross, said: "We support an increase in penalties for irresponsible dog-owners but feel the Government should have gone further and included dog attacks on other pet animals.

David Head, chief executive of RP Fighting Blindness - a charity that works for people with retinitis pigmentosa, which is one of the most common forms of blindness among children and adults - said he supported the move.

Mr Head said: "The loss of a guide dog can severely impact quality of life for an owner and we are pleased this has been recognised."

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said they welcomed the Government's proposals and hoped they would "ensure effective punishment is finally introduced for these serious cases", adding that such sentences "will send a powerful message to dog owners that they will be held to account for attacks."

Thousands of postal workers are injured in dog attacks each year, with the union representing the largest number of dog attack victims in the UK.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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