It is always a pleasure to follow Sir David Amess. There is a rare outbreak of consensual agreement across the Benches today, which I am proud to be part of.
All of us who are speaking in the Chamber today are speaking on behalf of those who do not have a voice. We are speaking on behalf of those whom it is our human duty to protect, to feed, to care for and to love. In particular, I speak today on behalf of Baby the bulldog and of Scamp the dog and, of course, of so many other animals who have met their sad end at the hands of humans. They should have been nurtured, stroked and loved, but instead they were ultimately abused and then killed.
I am very glad finally to have the opportunity to speak to this Bill, which has, as has been said, been a long time coming. I was proud to spend the night in Parliament in July 2016, as I queued for a private Member’s Bill that was pretty much, word for word, the Bill that we have here today, and I am so pleased to see it here in paper. That Bill sought to increase the maximum sentencing for animal cruelty from six months to five years, building on a lot of work that had been done in the past, but sadly, that Bill was objected to by the Government Whips and never made it to Second Reading, and then ultimately fell with the onset of the 2017 general election. Of course, I am delighted that it is here, and I will not hold what happened against the Government. A few months later, I am delighted to say, they saw sense and announced support for the policy, and here we are today.
The change in law has been a long time coming. For too long animal abusers have been getting away with a slap on the wrist, and this Bill will finally, I hope, bring justice for the thousands of animals who have suffered at the hands of human cruelty. Like the hon. Member for Southend West, I did not come to Parliament expecting to champion animal cruelty. It was an incident of the most horrific cruelty in my constituency that caused me to understand the scale of what is happening around the country, and made me determined to make a difference and to change things. I apologise for some of the graphic details that I am about to share, but it is really important that we understand the reality of what is happening, and has happened, in the country and what has driven us to bring about this change in law today.
Baby was a small bulldog who was cruelly abused by Andrew Daniel Frankish in Redcar. Baby was held aloft by Andrew Frankish at the top of some wooden stairs before he repeatedly threw her down them, laughing as his brother filmed it. Baby was completely submissive throughout the episode, not even making a noise as she landed on the stairs, bouncing to the foot them and crashing through a baby gate to the floor. Her neck was stamped on and she was thrown to the floor with force over and over again. Her small chest was jumped on with the full body weight of one of the Frankish brothers.
One of the men said, “See if we can make it scream any more. We should throw it down the stairs by its ears,” before picking her up, throwing her against the wall, headbutting her twice and throwing her down the stairs again. Baby was tortured and beaten by those who were supposed to care for her. The whole horrible ordeal was filmed by the brothers for their entertainment, and they are heard laughing on the mobile phone. Baby should not have had to suffer that horrific abuse, but she did, and sadly was put down shortly afterwards. The evidence was found two years later on a mobile phone that happened to have been dropped on a supermarket floor; but for that, those two young men would never have been brought to justice.
We would hope that Baby would have seen justice after what she had been through, but sadly not. Despite the hard work of the police, the RSPCA and all those who gave evidence, the brothers were convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to her by subjecting her to unnecessary physical violence—an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. But she was let down because the two brothers received a suspended sentence, just six months’ tagged curfew and £300 in costs. No one in this Chamber or the country can possibly feel that the justice system did its job that day.
That was when I decided to try to amend the law to ensure that sentences fit the crime in horrific cases such as this, and I was pleased to present my Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill two years ago. During the progress of that Bill, another horrific incident in my constituency made the case for a change in the sentencing law even more pressing. A small dog named Scamp was found buried alive in woods near Redcar with a nail hammered into its head. The perpetrators pleaded guilty to offences under the Animal Welfare Act and were sentenced to just four months—not enough time for reflection, punishment or rehabilitation.