New UK law will raise maximum jail time for animal abusers to five years

The RSPCA receives more than a million calls a year to its animal cruelty hotline (Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Animal abusers will face prison sentences of up to five years under a new bill being introduced on Wednesday by environment secretary Michael Gove.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will increase the maximum jail time for offenders from six months and will cover incidents of cruelty such as dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, or gross neglect of farm animals.

Mr Gove said the bill will give the UK the strongest possible sanctions in Europe

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

Animals such as badgers and foxes will also be covered by the new legislation (REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)

“Our new Bill sends a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated, with the maximum five-year sentence one of the toughest punishments in Europe.

“I am committed to making our country the best place in the world for the care and protection of animals.”

The country’s largest animal charity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), receives a call to its 24-hour hotline every 27 seconds - adding up to more than a million calls a year.

The proposed law is supported by many animal welfare groups and is backed by more than seven out of then members of the public.

Hannah Rose and Paul Oliver denied animal cruelty charges after they were linked to a hunt's Master of Hounds, who was caught by a covert camera as he prepared to feed live fox cubs to his dogs

Cases of unimaginable cruelty, including dogs being trained to attack and torture other animals, have come before courts in recent years and judges have been unable to hand down long sentences as they were not on the statute book.

Earlier this month another new law came into force that would give police dogs and horses better protection from attack.

Finn's Law - officially the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill - was named after a German shepherd police dog who was brutally stabbed as he protected his handler from a suspect with a knife.

Police dog Finn with his handler. Police dogs and horses will have more protection from attacks when a new law named after the hero police dog came into force in early June

Animal welfare minister David Rutley said longer sentences would act as “a serious deterrent against cruelty and neglect”.

He added: “This step builds on recent positive action we have taken to protect animals, including plans to ban third-party puppy and kitten sales and banning the use of wild animals in circuses.”

Claire Horton, chief executive of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, said the bill was a “landmark achievement” that 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.

“Research shows that tougher prison sentences act as a deterrent to would-be criminals, so today’s announcement should prevent the suffering of many animals in the future.”

Celebrities such as Ricky Gervais have given their strong support to the measures, which will now be debated by MPs and Lords.