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Minister hints at sharing database of animal abusers



George Eustice tells MPs’ committee there is a need for better data sharing between police and councils to support enforcement of bans

Police and local authorities should share data to ensure people with a record of abusing animals are not allowed to sell domestic pets, a minister said.

George Eustice, the animal welfare minister, has said around 650 people a year are banned from keeping an animal, but that information is not passed on to local authorities making licensing decisions.

He told an inquiry by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee that police and officials at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were “interested” in how to share data between the two parties.

“The data already exists, in that the police already hold this data,” he said. “They have a database of all the people that are banned from keeping an animal, and I understand it is around 650, from memory, a year.

“If we can find a way of giving other people access to that in a responsible way that does not lead to vigilante activity, for instance, then there is an appetite to do that - and the police are looking at the way that might be done at the moment.”

Eustice provided his evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into the effectiveness of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. The act places a legal obligation on owners and keepers of animals to care for them properly, but there have been growing criticisms of its failure to effectively regulate the sale of pets, particularly online.

The committee is also investigating enforcement, including the prosecution of offences by the police, local authorities, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and others.

Child abuse

During the committee hearing, Eustice was asked if the existence of an ‘animal abusers’ database’ could help identify potential abusers of children as well. When the RSPCA gave evidence to the inquiry, it said it worked closely with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), passing on concerns about individuals.

Dermot Murphy, the RSPCA’s assistant director, said: “There is a clear link between child and animal abuse - it is well documented.

“We have a system of training that inspectors get during their basic training. I set up a process with the NSPCC about three years ago, where inspectors can report concerns to them on a dedicated number for our inspectors.

“Those calls are then managed and referred to the local social services. There have been a number of times where they have intervened and removed children at risk.”

Such an approach was backed by the committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Neil Parish, who said: “In several countries, especially in America, they see the link between animal abuse and human abuse.”

However, speaking after his appearance, Eustice said his officials were not examining sharing data on people banned from working with animals on that basis.

Image by ASTA Sarl, CC BY-SA 3.0 through Wikimedia

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