Tougher sentences for dog attacks in England and Wales

Jade Anderson's family has welcomed the tougher sentences, as Duncan Kennedy reports

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Penalties for owners of dogs that injure or kill people are to increase.

New laws will be introduced in England and Wales raising the maximum jail sentence for the owner of a dog that kills someone from two to 14 years.

Five years will be the maximum sentence for a dog attack that injures someone.

Other proposals include three years for owners if their dog attacks and injures or kills an assistance dog.

The changes could take effect in 2014.

In a written parliamentary statement, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the maximum sentence for a dog attack which resulted in someone's death would now be the same as that for death caused by dangerous driving.

Of the 3,180 people who responded to a government consultation, held over the summer, 91% wanted maximum sentences increased.

Prior to the consultation, some MPs urged the government to impose life sentences on owners.

Sixteen people have been killed by dogs in the UK since 2005. Campaigners saying this proves that laws passed in the early 1990s to deal with dangerous dogs are out of date and inadequate.

'Protection'

Mr Paterson said: "This will give protection to family members, friends and visitors including postal workers, nurses, utility workers and other professionals who visit homes as part of their job.

"At the same time, there will be an exemption from prosecution for householders whose dogs attack trespassers in or entering the home. There will also be a specific offence of allowing a dog to attack an assistance dog."

He added: "The increase in maximum penalty for a dog attack on an assistance dog, such as a guide dog for the blind, reflects the devastating effect such an attack has on the assisted person."

The new penalties will be put to Parliament during the Lords Committee Stage of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and could come into force next year.

As now, those convicted of such offences could face an unlimited fine instead of, or in addition to, imprisonment.

Labour said it backed the increased sanctions but more must be done to stop attacks in the first place.

"Ministers should drop their opposition to the introduction of Dog Control Notices, proposed by Labour to urgently address the rising tide of injuries and deaths through dog attacks," said shadow minister Huw Irranca-Davies.

'Powerful message'

The Communications Workers Union, which has campaigned for tougher penalties for attacks on postal workers, said serious cases deserved effective punishment.

"Such sentences would bring punishment in line with crimes such as traffic offences and will send a powerful message to dog owners that they will be held to account for attacks," said its general secretary Billy Hayes.

The tougher sentences were also welcomed by guide dog owners, although they said even longer jail terms for attacks on working dogs should have been considered.

"An attack on a guide dog can rob someone who is blind or partially sighted of their means of getting out and about independently and with confidence," said Guide Dogs chief executive Richard Leaman.

"In some cases, a guide dog has to be permanently withdrawn from service after an attack, leaving the owner bereft and often traumatised."

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