The Alliance MP has stated the six-month sentences, suspended for two years, which were handed down in the case of four East Belfast men found guilty of what has been described as one of the worst cases of animal cruelty seen, do not reflect the seriousness of the crimes.
There is some question as to whether the cases, which whilst tried in the Crown Court could have been tried in the Magistrates Court, can be referred for review; however, Mrs Long has said if not, this ought to be possible.
Jeremiah Kirkwood (43), his sons Christopher (23) and Wayne (20), all of Island Street, pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including keeping animals for fighting; having equipment in connection with animal fights and causing unnecessary suffering to puppies, while Jamie Morrow (19) of McAllister Court admitted keeping or training an animal for a fight.
Under the Animal Welfare (NI) Act 2011, the maximum penalty for causing acts of animal cruelty is two years in prison.
Alliance MP Mrs Long said that she wanted Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC to appeal the sentence if possible, due to the exceptional cruelty shown by the guilty parties and strong public outcry once their crimes were made public.
“Although custodial sentences being handed down in animal abuse cases are rare, the crimes in this instance were extreme, deliberate and premeditated. People who do these sorts of activities are not only a danger to the poor animals involved but they are also a threat to people and society as a whole. If this case of cruelty did not warrant a custodial sentence it is hard to imagine the level of barbarity which would be required to merit one.
“Constituents who had previously approached me looking for help in relation to their missing pets had their worst fears confirmed thanks to these men and their vile actions, and have been hugely distressed in the process.
“I was one of many disgusted by these crimes and I have sought advice today as to whether the Director of Public Prosecutions has the power to call these sentences for review. If so, I trust he will do so urgently: if not, then the system needs to change to give him that power.
“Appealing the relatively lenient outcome would send a strong message to those who continue to take part in this sort of cruel behaviour and to the public who are affected by this cruelty that it will be treated seriously when brought before the courts.”