Owners of killer dogs could face life in prison under beefed up laws to clamp down on owners of out-of-control dogs.
In proposals outlined today, the UK Government will set out plans to increase the sentence to life for irresponsible owners of dogs who kill – up from the current maximum of two years – while owners of dogs who injure members of the public or kill assistance dogs, including guide dogs, face up to 10 years behind bars.
The proposals, launched for consultation today, follow high-profile incidents where children have been attacked, with 14-year-old Jade Anderson killed in March by four dogs, believed to be two bull mastiffs and two Staffordshire bull terriers. A total of 16 people have been killed by dangerous dogs since 2005.
Six-year-old Erfan Ali, son of Cardiff councillor Dilwar Ali, was also scarred for life after he was savaged by a Rhodesian ridgeback in 2011 after the dog leapt over the garden fence at his Gabalfa home in Cardiff as he was helping his mother bring in the washing.
Animal welfare minister Lord de Mauley said: “Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control.
“We’re already toughening up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place. It’s crucial that the laws we have in place act as a deterrent to stop such horrific incidents.”
In February, the Government said it would introduce new measures to tackle out of control dogs by changing the law to ensure irresponsible owners can be prosecuted regardless of where their dog attacks.
The new consultation will run to September 1 and will be used to inform recommendations put forward in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
The Welsh Government dropped its own plans for a Control of Dogs (Wales) Bill in May, opting instead to work with the Westminster government on their plans for the anti-social behaviour.
That law would have introduced Dog Control Notices to force owners of dogs that cause concern to undergo training – and could have extended scope for prosecution to cover attacks on private property. DCNs could have also forced owners to make alterations to private property for safety reasons.
The decision to shelve the Bill was condemned by animal welfare organisations and campaigners, who said UK proposals were not specific enough against dangerous dogs and contained few preventative measures.
Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan, who has campaigned for tougher legislation to deal with dangerous dog owners in the wake of Erfan’s attack, said it was a “welcome move in the right direction”.
But she added: “While it is welcome to have tougher sentencing, it does not mention the preventative measures that would have been in the Welsh legislation.
“That was a key aspect of what we were trying to do in Wales, which was to have Dog Control Notices which would give the power to make owners look after dogs properly.
“That was a key element of the Welsh legislation that was supported by the animal welfare organisation, the police and other people campaigning to have the Welsh law, and is still missing.”
The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents postmen and women and telecoms engineers – who suffer around 5,000 dog attacks each year – welcomed the consultation.
Dave Joyce, the union’s health and safety officer, said: “Current sentencing arrangements do not match the serious nature of offences. Sixteen people have been killed since 2005 by dogs, yet the maximum prison sentence is just two years.
“Only one person has ever been imprisoned for a dog attack on a postal worker and as the fatality rate from dog attacks grows, sentencing must get tougher.
“This consultation is very welcome and hopefully indicates the Government is serious about tackling the problem of irresponsible dog ownership. We want to see tougher sentencing, better enforcement and greater consistency in sentencing.”