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Animal Concern Advice Line News

Reply To Questions Raised About Animal Welfare

September 23rd 2017: ACAL has received a reply from the Scottish Government to several questions we raised about animal welfare. You can read that letter here. Some of it was good news but some of it left a lot to be desired.

Dear Mr Robins,

Thank you for your e–mails of 1 September 2017, 30 August 2017 and 25 August 2017 to Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, and Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. I have been asked to reply.

Your e–mails called for increased sentences for those convicted under legislation covering cruelty to animals, sought information on the progress towards the licensing of animal sanctuaries, suggested the introduction of an animal offenders register and called for the Scottish Government to look into the conduct of the investigation into the ‘Ayrshire Ark animal sanctuary’ which led to the conviction and imprisonment of the owner of the sanctuary. I will respond to each of these in turn.

The Scottish Government takes the welfare of animals seriously and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 Act (“the 2006 Act”) makes it a criminal offence for any person to cause an animal unnecessary suffering or to not take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the needs of an animal are met. Any person convicted of causing unnecessary suffering can be imprisoned for up to 12 months and/or fined up to £20,000; and those found guilty of not having met the welfare needs of an animal can be imprisoned for up to 6 months and fined up to £5,000.

The current system of penalties enshrined in the 2006 Act was approved by the Scottish Parliament during the passage of that Act. Operational experience of the 2006 Act and of separate, earlier legislation on breeding and licensing has suggested the efficiency and effectiveness of enforcing animal health and welfare legislation might be enhanced. With that in mind Roseanna Cunningham MSP announced, on 4 October 2016, a full review of the penalties under existing animal health and welfare legislation. Initial communication has so far taken place with key stakeholders and enforcement agencies with a view to consulting in due course on proposed amendments to aid deterrence of offences, and to provide for better enforcement and prosecution of any offences committed. That commitment was strengthened by the commitment in Programme for Government 2017/18 that the Scottish Government will prepare to amend the 2006 Act to increase the maximum penalty for the most serious cruelty offences to five years' imprisonment as well as allowing fixed penalty notices for lesser offences.

While sentencing is a matter for the courts, we want to ensure they have the powers they need to deal with cases of animal cruelty. In addition to any sentence, courts may issue disqualification orders that prohibit convicted offenders from being responsible for specific or all types of animals in a variety of situations on a permanent or temporary basis. These disqualification orders must be considered, upon conviction, and the reasons for not applying a disqualification order must be stated by the Court.

It is important to remember that rescue and rehoming agencies carry out a valuable service and the vast majority are run with the best interests of animals in need as their guiding principle. However, we have become aware, through stakeholder discussions around the review of pet welfare and through investigations by the press, that for a number of reasons the care provided by some rescue and rehoming agencies might not be of the desired standard. In relation to the licensing of such establishments, the Programme for Government also confirmed that the Scottish Government will prepare legislation for a modern system of registration and licensing of animal sanctuaries and rehoming activities. Officials have previously met with stakeholders to discuss a number of welfare related topics including rescue and rehoming agencies.

The introduction of an animal offender register would require very careful thought and is not something the Scottish Government is currently considering. Although there is currently no formal list, anyone who has been investigated for animal welfare offences is already known to the relevant authorities and, where appropriate, follow up visits may be made by those authorities to ensure that the welfare of any animals kept is not compromised.

Lastly, with regard to the call for an inquiry into the investigation of the ‘Ayrshire Ark’ the Scottish Government does not consider that to be necessary as there has been a successful prosecution. The photographs referred to in your e–mail appeared in an edition of the Scottish Sun on Sunday of 4 December 2016. That article notes that police officers and Scottish SPCA staff accessed the premises on Friday 2 December 2016 after the Sun had alerted them to the conditions inside.

I hope this reply is helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Phil Burns
Animal Welfare Branch

Our responce, directed to Roseanna Cunningham MSP

Roseanna Cunningham MSP,
Cabinet Secretary
The Scottish Government,

Dear Cabinet Secretary Cunningham,

I write concerning previous e–mails to you and your reply reference 2017/0032156, 2017/0030955 and 2017/0030553 of September 2017 which was written and sent on your behalf by Mr. Phil Burns of your Animal Welfare Branch. I attach a copy of that reply as there is no indication on it that Mr. Burns sent you a copy.

While I welcome the information supplied in the first five paragraphs of the attached I wish to raise some queries with you on the last three paragraphs.

On the subject of your proposed new legislation to license and regulate animal rescue and rehoming agencies Mr. Burns states in paragraph 6 that “Officials have previously met with stakeholders to discuss a number of welfare related topics including rescue and rehoming agencies.”

Can you tell me what “stakeholders” Mr. Burns refers to and what entitles groups or individuals to be recognised as “stakeholders” by the Scottish Government? Can you also tell me if you have initiated specific pre-consultation discussions with stakeholders on the regulation of animal rescue and rehoming agencies and if animal sanctuaries are to be included in your legislative reviews?

One of my reasons for raising this is that Animal Concern Advice Line has not been asked to contribute to any discussions on this matter. I have decades of experience in this field including having had contact/dealings with animal hoarders and rescuers (ranging from the very good to the very bad) of most species of animals. I have also been involved in the successful rescue and rehoming of animals, including bears, reptiles and primates, in Scotland

When I first supported licensing of animal rescue and rehoming agencies (in the 1990s) there was a lot of flak from some of the smaller rehoming agencies. They were specifically concerned over who would police the regulations. As the SSPCA, local authorities and the police are all involved in the rescue and rehoming of animals I think it is important that another agency, preferably an answerable Government department, monitor any new legislation. I am concerned that important issues such as this may not have been raised by stakeholders in the pre-consultation discussions.

In paragraph 7, referring to my request for an animal offenders register, Mr. Burns states; “Although there is currently no formal list, anyone who has been investigated for animal welfare offences is already known to the relevant authorities ….”. I think this falls far short of what is required. I know from experience that “the relevant authorities” sometimes don't communicate internally far less with other agencies.

What is required is an official Animal Offender Register to which the likes of livestock farmers and transporters, abattoirs, zoos, pet shops, sanctuaries, laboratories using animals and, under some circumstances, the general public can easily access before employing anyone to work with animals or trusting their pets to kennels, catteries or dog walkers and pet groomers or asking a rescue centre to care for and rehome a beloved pet.

In paragraph 8, referring to my request for a review of the Ayrshire Ark case, Mr. Burns states “The Scottish Government does not consider that to be necessary as there has been a successful prosecution.” He goes on to admit that “ .. police officers and Scottish SPCA staff accessed the premises on Friday 2 December 2016 after the Sun had alerted them to the conditions inside.”

It is obvious from his reply that Mr. Burns does not know enough about the Ayrshire Ark case. If he knew more I hope he would agree that the handling of this case urgently requires a full and thorough investigation to find out what went dreadfully wrong with this case, try to ensure it does not happen again and, if necessary, censure or prosecute any of the relevant authorities which may have failed in their duty to protect the welfare of the animals which suffered and died.

Animal Concern Advice Line was first made aware of welfare concerns about the Ayrshire Ark in September 2016. The information supplied to us clearly indicated that the SSPCA and other authorities had, prior to June 2015, been made aware of and had been investigating complaints – including deaths of dogs under suspicious circumstances – about the Ayrshire Ark (aka Scottish Bull Terrier Rescue and Bullies Buddies Friends and Bull Breed Buddies).

I very much regret that as my informant told me, “… all the authorities have been alerted previously and there have been investigations from SSPCA, HMRC, police, social work, local council”, I assumed the matter was being dealt with and I did not take it any further with the relevant authorities.

On 13th November 2016 The Scottish Sun on Sunday reported on a case where a dog rehomed by Ayrshire Ark attacked a child and was then returned to Ayrshire Ark by Police Scotland. In response to this I passed my information on Ayrshire Ark to The Scottish Sun on Sunday and asked them to investigate.

Questions which must be answered include why, if this place had been under investigation by the relevant authorities since 2015, did it take a press photograph, taken through a window at the end of November 2016 and showing a dog which had been dead for some time, to persuade the SSPCA and Police Scotland to take obviously long overdue action? Why, if the place was under investigation, did the police return a potentially dangerous dog to Ayrshire Ark?

As the court acknowledged very serious criminal acts occurred at the Ayrshire Ark. A large number of dogs died and were injured. The evidence strongly suggests some of these dogs suffered terribly cruel, slow deaths and others were left with painful untreated injuries due to incompetence on the part of the various agencies which were aware that there were problems but failed in their duty to enforce animal welfare legislation.

Over recent years I have discovered that a number of local authorities and the police have a policy of referring allegations of certain types of animal welfare crimes direct to the SSPCA for investigation. If the SSPCA deem necessary it is left to them to ask the PF to consider a prosecution. The police and local authorities do not pay the SSPCA for undertaking these statutory duties on their behalf, leaving the SSPCA to use charitable donations to do the work of the police and local authorities for them. As a charity, unlike the police or local authorities, the SSPCA do not have to respond to Freedom of Information requests to show how they deal with cases such as the Ayrshire Ark.

As well as the above the main questions which a review of this case should address is:

On what dates were Police Scotland, Scottish SPCA and East Ayrshire Council first and subsequently made aware of potential problems at Ayrshire Ark?

What if any, action did each organisation take up to and after the prosecution of (name removed for legal reasons) and on what dates did they take such actions?

I look forward to your response in due course.

Yours sincerely,

John F. Robins,
Animal Concern Advice Line