Worst animal cruelty cases to get higher jail terms

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People found guilty of the worst cases of animal cruelty will face up to five years in prison under a new law proposed for England and Wales.

A Parliamentary bill from Environment Secretary Michael Gove raises the maximum term from six months.

The harshest sentences would be for dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, or gross neglect of farm animals.

The bill complements the so-called Finn's Law, which provides more protection for service dogs and horses.

Courts have indicated they wanted to hand down longer sentences in recent years but they were not available.

'Shocking cases'

The new Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill has backing from welfare groups, and more than 70% of people supported plans for tougher prison sentences in a public consultation last year.

Mr Gove said: "There is no place in this country for animal cruelty. That is why I want to make sure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law."

He said the new law would bring in some of the toughest punishments in Europe for animal cruelty.

Ministers say the bill builds on other government action to protect animals, including plans to ban third-party puppy and kitten sales and a ban on wild animals in circuses.

Claire Horton, chief executive of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, said the bill was a "landmark achievement" and would make a "profound difference".

"We, and many other rescue centres, see shocking cases of cruelty and neglect come through our gates and there are many more animals that are dumped and don't even make it off the streets," she said.

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Appearing on ITV's Britain's Got Talent, PC Wardell described Finn as a "lovely, lovely lad"

Finn's Law, which passed into legislation earlier this month through the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act, also carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.

The law is named after German shepherd Finn who was stabbed and seriously hurt as he protected his handler - PC Dave Wardell - from an attack in 2016.

Following the attack, PC Wardell began campaigning for a law change to make it harder for people who harm service animals to claim they were acting in self-defence.

To raise awareness, the pair took part in Britain's Got Talent, reaching the final of the ITV variety show with a magic act that moved the judges to tears.

"This law is the only reason I put myself on stage in front of nine million people," said PC Wardell, who is still a serving officer.