Home secretary asked to consider law change on catapults following Sky News investigation into animal abuse

An MP has asked the home secretary to consider introducing sanctions on the irresponsible sale or use of catapults to kill or harm wildlife following a Sky News investigation.

The report exposed a UK-wide network in which children - some primary school age - have been sharing footage and photos of their kills in WhatsApp groups.

Warning: This story contains images and descriptions readers may find distressing.

While it is not illegal to buy or carry a catapult, causing an animal unnecessary suffering is already an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which protects wild birds and some animals in England and Wales, also lists weapons that a person must not use to kill an animal. However, catapults are not included on that list.

On Thursday, Henry Smith MP, the vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, raised in the House of Commons whether Home Secretary James Cleverly would consider changes to the law.

"In recent weeks I've been working with Sky News on their investigation into the purchase and misuse of catapults, sadly, all too often, by children and young people to kill and maim wildlife and pets," he said.

"And all too often, videos [of these incidents] are shared on social media through channels, such as WhatsApp.

"Can we have a statement from the home secretary on introducing criminal sanctions for the irresponsible sale and use of catapults to kill and damage wildlife?"

Leader of the House, Penny Mordant MP, said she would make Mr Cleverly aware of the question.

"This is a disturbing and growing phenomenon," she said.

"And in addition to causing animal suffering, it is also, as we now know, an indicator of what those perpetrators might go on to do and other crimes they might commit.

"It is a serious matter, and I thank the honourable gentleman for raising it."

Sky News discovered nearly 500 members of catapult groups on WhatsApp, in which more than 350 photos and videos were shared of animals that had been killed or wounded with the weapons.

Read more from Sky News:
Children killing animals with catapults will feel 'huge guilt' when they grow up
British troops 'knowingly exposed' to toxic chemical during Iraq feel 'betrayed'

In some videos, injured animals were shown dying slowly after being shot with hand-held catapults.

In others, young people were seen kicking and abusing the animals after shooting them - as well as posing while holding their dead bodies.

The RSPCA described the material in the groups as "horrendous" and warned it was an "emerging trend".

The "sick" attacks have prompted calls for a change in the law as catapults are not classed as illegal weapons and can be bought and carried legally.

The animals targeted include pigs, deer, pigeons, foxes, squirrels, pheasants, rabbits, geese and ducks - with one charity saying it had seen an "exponential" rise in birds with catapult injuries.

WhatsApp said the material being shared in the catapult groups was against its terms of use.

A spokesperson for the messaging app told Sky News: "We respond to law enforcement requests based on applicable law and policy."

Sky News has approached the Home Office for comment.