Killer dogs' owners in England and Wales could face life in prison

A muzzled and leashed pitbull terrier Campaigners say existing laws on dangerous dogs are not working properly

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The owners of dogs that attack and kill someone could face life in prison under new proposals for England and Wales.

The current maximum prison sentence for allowing a dog that kills or injures someone to be dangerously out of control is two years.

The government has proposed a number of sentencing options for a fatal dog attack - from five years to life. But the RSPCA said more needed to be done.

Sixteen people have been killed by dogs in the UK since 2005.

In March, 14-year-old Jade Anderson was killed in an attack by four dogs while she was at a friend's house near Wigan, in Greater Manchester.

Police have no plans to prosecute anyone in relation to her death, saying there is no evidence a crime has been committed under current laws.

Harsh penalties

At present, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 covers only attacks by dogs in public places and private areas where animals are prohibited from being, such as a neighbour's garden or a park.

Jim Moran and his guide dog Carlton

Guide dog Carlton

I had just finished guide dog training with Carlton and was walking past a high school on my way into work when a bull terrier attacked him.

I knew it was a bull terrier when I couldn't get it off him. Two caretakers helped and tied it to a rope until police arrived.

I got him back to work straight away - he's a young dog, very resilient. Because we didn't make a big deal of it he did get over it but it could've been much, much worse.

If he couldn't work anymore I could easily wait a year or two years for another dog, and it costs £50,000 to train another guide dog

The police didn't want to act at the time because there's no law against dog-on-dog attacks so we were stuck.

I want to see the law changed because we knew who the dog and its owner were.

That dog is still in the area in which I live, a year later. So it could happen again and it happens a lot more than has been reported.

There's got to be an answer to irresponsible dog ownership - it's a bit like aiming a car at somebody.

A government consultation on the new proposals, which will run until 1 September, follows the announcement in February of plans to extend the scope of the law to enable a prosecution to be brought against anyone whose dog injures someone or acts aggressively in a private place where they are permitted to be, such as the owner's home.

Under the consultation, jail terms suggested for a dog owner whose animal injures a person or kills an assistance dog, like a guide dog for a visually impaired person, range from three years up to a maximum of 10.

The process will be used to inform recommendations put forward in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

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."

But animal welfare charity the RSPCA said more should be done to stop attacks happening in the first place.

"Unless you solve this problem of people not being able to control their dogs properly then I still think you're going to see a rise in dog attacks and dog biting," said head of public affairs David Bowles.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government needed to give local councils the power to impose control notices and mandatory training on owners.

"What the government has proposed is only having a notice after the dog has committed the offence," he added.

Chart showing the rise and fall of hospital dog bite admissions

Unions representing postal, utility and delivery staff have long argued for laws to be extended to cover attacks in dog owners' homes, saying this is a "major loophole" in the legislation.

According to the Communication Workers' Union, 23,000 postmen and women have been attacked by dogs in the last five years, with as many as 70% of these attacks taking place on private property.

Dave Joyce, the union's health and safety officer, said: "This consultation is very welcome and hopefully indicates the government is serious about tackling the problem of irresponsible dog ownership.


Tougher punishments for dangerous dog owners did not feature in ministers' original plans.

They took on the idea only when it was raised by the committee of MPs considering the bill.

Consultations like this are not normally launched in high summer after a bill has completed much of its progress through Parliament.

But having raised expectations on longer sentences, it will be difficult for the government to decide not to act.

"We want to see tougher sentencing, better enforcement and greater consistency in sentencing.

"At the moment people are being handed vastly different sentences for very similar crimes, with one person receiving a suspended prison sentence while another walks away with just a £100 fine."

A spokesman for the Sentencing Council disputed the union's claim, saying new guidelines were brought in a year ago "to encourage consistency in sentencing".

A report published in June by charity Guide Dogs revealed that attacks by other dogs on guide dogs are at an all-time high of 10 a month.

'Immense turmoil'

Guide Dogs chief executive Richard Leaman said: "It's almost impossible to imagine the devastating effect an attack on a guide dog can have on someone with sight loss.

David Bowles of the RSPCA says more needs to be done to prevent dog attacks

"The punishment for irresponsible dog owners should reflect the immense turmoil and anguish these attacks cause our guide dog owners, and all assistance dog owners. We are pleased the government is asking for views on this issue."

Last month, Jade Anderson's parents, along with the parents of four-year-old John Paul Massey who died after his uncle's pitbull attacked him in 2009, handed in at 10 Downing Street a petition calling for action to prevent similar attacks.

They called for preventative measures and education to put a stop to the 210,000 attacks and 6,000 hospital visits said to be caused by dangerous dogs each year.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    not the 5 years and a slap on the wrist ,that you get for murdering somebody then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    In Italy owners have to keep dogs on a max. 1.5m lead in public and carry a muzzle 'just in case'. Let's face it, *any* dog can bite. Thus *all* dogs in public should be muzzled (or at least on a lead) and the legal (registered) owner and any keeper/walker should be responsible for the dog's actions. Also compulsory training for owner + dog before 'they' get a licence to last the dog's lifetime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    4 Hours ago

    Punishing someone for an offence by another is an INJUSTICE. A dog is like a member of your family. If a human sibling, parent or offspring does something that the country deems to be a crime, you don't expect to be jailed for it yourself.


    So you expect the dog to be jailed? A pet cannot take responsibility for itself, but it`s owner can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    I get what you are saying but everything is either animal, vegetable or mineral.
    Or fungi or bacteria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    886.Antony Aleksiev
    Re. 861.A Free Thinker is Satan_s Slave: There are plenty of examples of children and teenagers killing animals for what can only be described as 'fun'.
    Yes, but I said "mauling" not killing. I hunt. For food and fun. I eat the animals I kill. I don't maul them though. I am human after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    This is great news and is a demonstration of common sense being applied to the law (for once).

    The same should be true of idiots who drive dangerously and kill people.

    Why some people feel the need to keep packs of dangerous dogs is beyond me - clearly something isn't right with them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    867. Look yet again you miss the point. No matter how well trained the dog unless it is firmly under control in public (physical control) then you can say whatever you like about not allowing it to do this or that, it is an unknown. 886. Irrelevant. There are already laws to cover illegal/unreasoned/criminal/anti-social acts by society. Why is it so difficult? Does your door only open outward?

  • rate this

    Comment number 888.

    880. tc

    indeed, i am assuming you weren't prosecuted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 887.

    To those that go on about Staff's only being violent if brought up the wrong way, and how their one would never attack because they're a responsible owner, then they have nothing to worry about if this legislation comes in do they? So why are they against it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 886.

    Re. 861.A Free Thinker is Satan_s Slave: There are plenty of examples of children and teenagers killing animals for what can only be described as 'fun'. So, yes, the parallel between dog owners/parents' responsibility for their dogs/children, respectively, is indeed valid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 885.

    @875 sorry but i introduced my son to my partners mastiff and to date he has not been attacked or killed; if anything the dog follows him everywhere like a lap-dog and especially likes being tickled upside down on the floor (the dog not my son).....

  • rate this

    Comment number 884.

    @845. MAF
    Firstly, this legislation is targeting serious injury and death, not the odd flesh-piercing wound, which I can tell you from personal experience messes up lives, at least from a psychological stand-point, as much as serious injury. Secondly, I would be very interested to see how many attacks are a result of direct human provocation and dogs defending themselves. My guess is not many.

  • rate this

    Comment number 883.


    "There is one big chasm between a child and a dog and who doesn't see or act accordingly has highly questionable and disturbing morals and ethics."

    There is I totally agree, my youngest used to pee all over me, flick sick at the dog and rub poo on the wall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 882.

    Controls must be placed on the dog breed as well as the owner.
    All dogs can get aggitated and become vicious. But whereas a dog like a Yorkie can only give a good bite, a Pit Bull etc can maul a young child to death (When was the last time you heard of a baby being killed by a Spaniel?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 881.

    I don't like dogs. There I said it. They smell, and they sometimes bite people. I am fully supportive of a law which has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for owners of dogs which attack people.

    The key point is a maximum sentence, giving the law the ability to punish according to the severity of the crime. Why is this a problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 880.

    My neighbour's dog terrified and bit another dog & the owner. I rushed up with a chunk of wood & smashed the dog ( the owner of whom told me to "Don't you hit my dog!!......tells you what kind of people you are dealing with)
    I washed the poor women's punctured arm in TCP.
    The viscous dog is still around one year on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 879.

    'I'm only against everyone being 'educated' to accomodate your disgusting pets'

    And if I'm against educating people about drug abuse, alcoholism, history, literature? Who are you to determine who should be educated on what?

    'You are immune to logic, so save your nonsense. I'll just continue to bear mace every dog'.

    And this comment is logical with sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 878.

    Why on earth do selfish dog owners expect everyone else to modify their behaviour to suit their pets?

    It's not easy to avoid a dog if you are walking towards it on a footpath.

    Dog owners can be extremely selfish and insensitive to the rest of the population.

    You should control your dogs. And muzzle them and keep them on a lead. Oh.. and clear up dog mess!

  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    1 Minute ago

    I get what you are saying but everything is either animal, vegetable or mineral.


    Which term applies to an endolythic cyanobacterium?

  • rate this

    Comment number 876.

    The dog licence should never have been dropped.


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