Introduction and Facts
Susan Horncastle was a respectable (and seemingly respected) woman – a Primary School head teacher, and someone of good character, until she pleaded guilty to animal cruelty.
Her trouble with the law started when she volunteered to look after Snowy, her sister’s 17 year terrier. For reasons unknown she seemingly ignored it.
It was not a case of active mistreatment, rather complete neglect. When inspectors from the RSPCA attended her house in Liverpool, they noticed ‘a foul smell‘. Snowy was “severely dehydrated and very thin with infected ears and mouth [he] had fur matted with faeces and a large ulcerated sore on its body and was put to sleep to prevent further suffering.“
Offence and Sentence
It seems the offence that Ms Horncastle pleaded guilty to was causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, contrary to s4 Animal Welfare Act 2006.
This offence is covered by the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines (page 22). It would appear to be the third category – ‘prolonged neglect‘ – which gives a starting point of 18 weeks custody and a range of 12 to 26 weeks custody.
This is before credit for a plea of guilty. Here, there is nothing on the face of it to suggest a great movement away from the starting point of 18 weeks. Which gives, applying a one third discount for the plea of guilty, a sentence of 12 weeks.
This is in fact what Ms Horncastle got – 3 months. In her case, it was suspended for two years. It was not reported what, if any, conditions were imposed.
In addition, she received a total financial penalty of ‘more than’ £1,000 (costs and surcharge probably). Further, she was disqualified for life from keeping an animal.
Offences against animals often arouse strong feelings, often stronger feelings than offences against humans.
Here, the offence was inexplicable, and it is not clear why Ms Horncastle acted in the way she did. We suspect that the truthful, albeit unhelpful answer, is that neither does she.
But, the sentence here seems fair enough – a prison sentence was justified to mark the callousness of her behaviour, but given her age and good character, it is appropriate to suspend it. Banning her from owning animals also seems appropriate in the circumstances.
For that reason, we wouldn’t expect an appeal.