A judge’s decision not to ban from keeping animals a huntsman and kennel maid who fed live fox cubs to hounds has prompted an outpouring of anger and calls for tougher laws.
Hundreds of social media users have branded the decision “disgraceful” and “a joke”, saying the “obscenely lenient” sentences make a mockery of animal-welfare legislation.
And the shadow environment secretary called for plans for longer jail terms to be brought forward immediately.
Paul Oliver was handed a 16-week suspended jail term for allowing his hounds to kill four cubs, causing their “painful, terrifying” deaths.
However, Oliver, who was master of the now-disbanded South Herefordshire Hunt, was not barred from keeping animals because he would have lost his job at a stud yard.
District Judge Joanna Dickens also imposed a 12-week suspended sentence on Hannah Rose, the hunt’s kennel maid.
The trial was told how live fox cubs were used to “blood” hounds at kennels, teaching the dogs to kill foxes.
Suspending the sentences for a year, the district judge at Birmingham magistrates’ court said: “The fox cubs suffered a painful, terrifying death.”
Explaining her reasons for not banning the couple from keeping animals, she added: “I think the chance of any reoccurrence is minimal.
“I also take into account that to disqualify them from being in control of animals would cause them to lose their current employment and any hope of future work, as this is their livelihood.”
But Anthony Joynes, an RSPCA inspector, said that in a similar situation a few years ago, in which a live fox was put in a cage containing dogs, the suspects were jailed and given a lifetime ban on keeping animals.
“It’s very frustrating how there is no apparent consistency when it comes to sentencing,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t lose sleep if the pair had lost their jobs.
By contrast, shoplifters are routinely jailed. Last month, Kevin Monk, 40, was jailed for four months in Dundee for stealing more than £100 worth of goods. His solicitor said Monk’s benefits had been stopped and he was unable to buy food or heat his home.
The Birmingham court heard how Oliver and Rose look after a private stud yard, caring for 14 horses and several dogs.
Andrew Cooke, a biologist and vet scientist, tweeted: “I can’t begin to get my head around how shockingly lenient that is. No served time, no ban on keeping animals, no deterrent.
“I can’t fathom why lengthy or lifetime bans aren’t more commonplace.”
The couple could potentially have been jailed for up to six months – the maximum term for animal cruelty under current legislation. The government plans to raise the sentencing limit for such offences to five years on hold.
Sue Hayman, the shadow environment secretary, said: “This case of appalling cruelty highlights the need to get serious about tackling wildlife crime and animal cruelty.
“The government has dragged its feet on extending sentences for cases of animal cruelty and must bring forward this legislation without further delay.
“Last Boxing Day, Labour announced our intention to close a number of loopholes in the Hunting Act to prevent illegal hunting.”
Labour proposals include possible jail terms for illegal hunting.
The Hunt Investigation Team, which took the footage that formed the basis of the prosecution, said: “This is not enough, this is not justice for the fox cubs. The judiciary has failed in its duty to protect wild animals.”
Jane Smith, a councillor in Cheshire for the Animal Welfare Party, said the outcome of the “appalling” case did not represent justice.
Other animal lovers said the sentences were “obscenely lenient”.