Councillor Robbie Butler, an Ulster Unionist Party Lagan Valley Assembly candidate and member of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, has challenged Justice Department officials “to get the gloves off and tackle animal theft and come down heavy on those responsible for animal cruelty”.
Mr Butler said: “The shift seems to be on specific animal cruelty and fighting issues. In my constituency, there is concern about premises being marked for the theft of pets.
“I suppose that provides the supply for this barbaric sport. Is there anything in legislation to make the targeting of pets, or their theft as part of this sport, more severely punished? That’s the key question which Justice Department officials need to answer.
“I was told thereis nothing in the legislation, but officials were aware of these concerns.
“If the public are concerned, even if they do not have evidence that there is necessarily a crime, we tell them to report it to the PSNI, because, if the PSNI gets several reports, it becomes more of an issue. It all leads to intelligence building.
“The theft of animals to be used in dog fighting must also be included as part of this heinous crime. To combat this dreadful type of animal cruelty, the range of penalties available under the legislation must be made much tougher, especially those for the crime of causing unnecessary suffering to animals.
“We in the UUP have been informed by a justice official that for a summary penalty, someone could face a maximum of 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to £20,000. For the more serious cases that are heard in the Crown Court, there could be an imprisonment term of up to five years.
“The hard reality is that both the police and judiciary must be given tougher new powers to give radically increased sentences to those caught and convicted of animal cruelty,”