Paul Wooding sentenced for swallowing fish

Paul Wooding sentenced for swallowing fish



We looked earlier this year at the case of Gavin Hope who pleaded guilty to swallowing a goldfish as part of a ‘Neknomination stunt’. He was fined £300.

On 19th August 2014 there were echoes of that in the case of Paul Wooding. Mr Wooding received a challenge and, taking up the dare, “He took the fish from a friend’s tank and put them into a pint glass of wine, gin, vodka, rum and lemonade before swallowing them“.

It seems that Mr Wooding had drunk a not inconsiderable amount of alcohol by this point of the evening. He also recorded himself doing this and put the resulting footage on facebook. Whilst we can’t offer legal advice, we can say this – filming yourself committing a crime and posting it on the internet is not a particularly clever thing to do.


What is Neknomination?

It is described on the BBC thus – “The concept of the game has been described as “neck your drink, nominate another“. Which pretty well sums it up. Wikipedia has a full article on it here, if you want to find out more.


What’s the offence?

The RSPCA prosecuted Hope for, presumably, under section 4 of the 2006 Act – that of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. We presume it is under subsection

(2) A person commits an offence if:

(a) he is responsible for an animal,

(b) an act, or failure to act, of another person causes the animal to suffer,

(c) he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening, and

(d) the suffering is unnecessary.

The offence is a summary only offence, triable therefore only in the Magistrates’ Court. The maximum sentence is a £20,000 fine and/or 6 months’ imprisonment.


What did he get?

He got a Conditional Discharge for 18 months, together with the Victim Surcharge of £15 and some rather steep costs of £500.

What to make of that? It seems quite a generous sentence (animals tend to get quite a lot of protection in our legal system and those harming them get hammered), but maybe a sensible way of dealing with someone who was a drunken idiot.

One thing that his defence lawyer said in mitigation was “Yes, those fish may have experienced pain and then died, but they are small fish, nothing more” which, whilst it may be true, is quite a brave thing to say and may often backfire. Here, though, he seems to have got away with it.

A fish. But not the fish. A similar one (we think - we're lawyers not ichthyologists)
A fish. But not the fish. A similar one (we think – we’re lawyers not ichthyologists) though


Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. So pickling a fish, probably causing it to lose consciousness quite quickly, and swallowing the fish, thereby feeding himself, is a criminal offence. But hooking a fish on a line, teasing it to exhaustion, taking the trophy photograph, and throwing it back is not? Sounds like one law for fishermen and a different law for somebody doing something unusual. Rather like s.5 Public Order Act really.

    Of course he was punished with costs. He had the temerity to mount a defence.

    I trust that the state will find a fish to pay the victim surcharge to.

  2. So when will we see the first prosecutions of oyster eaters under these regulations? I suppose the next step will be the prosecution on infanticide charges of those who perform fellatio and swallow.

    As for the RSPCA, it is high time that they lost the right to prosecute animal rights cases, and that these powers be vested in the CPS. Entrusting a highly politicised lobby group (with a heavily laden agenda) with such matters, and then rewarding them with excessive costs awards for so doing, is frankly perverse, and is endangering public confidence in the pursuance of such matters.

  3. There are horses that are run into the ground, or shot when they fall.
    There are foxes chased by hounds.
    Fishing has already been mentioned.
    Lobsters are boiled alive without being stunned.
    Fish caught at sea are battered in nets.
    Dolphins and whales get caught in discarded nets.
    Pleasure boats cause untold damage in the pursuit of fun.
    Birds get caught in fisgermens discarded lines.
    Lead shot used to fish caused poisoning.

  4. Philip, unless there are good reasons why you can’t (ill-health, disability, etc.) you do indeed have to stand to receive your sentence, so you wouldn’t be able to accept this punishment sitting down! Indeed, were anyone to insist on sitting down, the judge or bench might well find such conduct contemptuous (not of her/him/them, you understand, but of the dignity of the court and the rule of law), and that could have even more severe consequences.

    That being said, I have real understanding for your indignation, but have to ask myself what I would have done had I been in a position to sit in judgment on the case. The court can’t go behind a vet’s report any more than it can a medical report, and it would appear (on the scant evidence available) that all the elements of the offence were made out. Even if the bench had been asked to find that there was no case to answer, it is hard to see how they could have come to such a conclusion, even if they had wanted to. Instead, they opted for a very light sentence indeed, but appear to have acceded in part at least to the RSPCA’s usual blandishments about the costs of bringing the case. My own inclination would have been to bind Mr Wooding over for a year in the sum of say £200 and let the RSPCA whistle for its members’ wasted money.