Dangerous dogs: Owners could face life in prison if pet kills


Heather Saul
Tuesday 06 August 2013 15:05 BST
For owners whose dogs kill their victims, life imprisonment is an option, while 10 years is the maximum term suggested for injuring a person or killing an assistance dog, like a guide dog for the blind
For owners whose dogs kill their victims, life imprisonment is an option, while 10 years is the maximum term suggested for injuring a person or killing an assistance dog, like a guide dog for the blind (rex)

The owners of killer dogs could face life in prison under new proposals if an online petition garners enough public support.

Proposals for a significant jump from the current maximum jail sentence of two years to up to life imprisonment were launched today by Lord de Mauley.

The public response to the consultation will factor into the Government's decision to change the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

Sixteen people have been killed by dangerous dogs since 2005, including 14-year-old Jade Anderson who was savaged by four dogs - believed to be two bull mastiffs and two Staffordshire bull terriers - as she was visiting the home of a friend near Wigan, Greater Manchester, in March.

For owners with dogs that maim but do not kill, 10 years is the maximum term suggested for injuring a person. 10 years will also be the sentence handed to owners of dogs that kill assistance and guide dogs.

Animal welfare minister Lord de Mauley said: “Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control.

“We're already toughening up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place. It's crucial that the laws we have in place act as a deterrent to stop such horrific incidents.”

The Government announced in February that it would introduce new measures to tackle out of control dogs by changing the law to ensure irresponsible owners can be prosecuted regardless of where their dog attacks.

Currently, the 1991 Dangerous Dog Act only allows for prosecutions of attacks by dogs in public spaces and private areas where the dogs are prohibited from, such as a neighbours garden.

In August last year, a pitbull attacked and injured five police officers, but it's owner was not charged under the Act as the judge ruled the garden the incident occurred in was not a public area.

The public consultation will run until 1 September and the responses gathered will inform recommendations put forward in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents postmen and women and telecoms engineers, welcomed the consultation. Their workers suffer an estimated 5,000 dog attacks each year.

Dave Joyce, the union's health and safety officer, said: “Current sentencing arrangements do not match the serious nature of offences. Sixteen people have been killed since 2005 by dogs, yet the maximum prison sentence is just two years.

“Only one person has ever been imprisoned for a dog attack on a postal worker and as the fatality rate from dog attacks grows, sentencing must get tougher.

“This consultation is very welcome and hopefully indicates the Government is serious about tackling the problem of irresponsible dog ownership. We want to see tougher sentencing, better enforcement and greater consistency in sentencing.

“At the moment people are being handed vastly different sentences for very similar crimes, with one person receiving a suspended prison sentence while another walks away with just a £100 fine.”

The proposals come after the parents of Jade Anderson and of four-year-old John Paul Massey, who died after his uncle's pitbull attacked him in 2009, handed in a petition at 10 Downing Street calling for the Prime Minister to take action to prevent more attacks.

They called for preventative measures and education to put a stop to the 210,000 attacks and 6,000 hospital visits caused by dangerous dogs each year.

Reacting to the announcement, Mr Anderson said: “We are still going to be campaigning. It's about early prevention, it's about stopping it happening in the first place. We need dog control notices and microchipping to come into force earlier - at the moment they're planned for around 2016.

“We do welcome the new legislation being put in place.”

He went on: “We want to stop putting people through what we've been going through, and what we will always go through.

“It's a bigger problem than most people think it is. Nearly a quarter of a million dog attacks last year alone, 6,500 hospitalised, there's a bigger picture.”

A report published by Guide Dogs in June this year revealed attacks by other dogs on guide dogs are at an all-time high of 10 a month, with 240 attacks reported between March 2011 and February 2013. Training a guide dog through it's entire working life costs £49,800, according to the group.

Guide Dogs chief executive Richard Leaman said: "It's almost impossible to imagine the devastating effect an attack on a guide dog can have on someone with sight loss.

"Not only do they face being completely robbed of their means of getting out and about independently, they also face the huge emotional impact that any dog owner feels when their beloved friend is injured - only a far more extreme version.

"The punishment for irresponsible dog owners should reflect the immense turmoil and anguish these attacks cause our guide dog owners, and all assistance dog owners.

"We welcome any measures that will treat attacks on guide dogs more seriously and we are pleased that the Government is asking for views on this issue."

Crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne said: "Dog owners who fail to take responsibility for their dogs must be held accountable.

"Today's consultation will give the public a say in whether owners of dangerous dogs that attack people should face tougher penalties, possibly life imprisonment.

"This government is taking urgent action to protect the public from out of control dogs.

"We are changing the law so owners can be prosecuted for attacks on private property and our anti-social behaviour reforms will give the police and local agencies more effective powers to deal with dangerous dogs."

To respond to the consultation, click here.

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