Why did Northamptonshire horse stabber only get two months for mutilating four animals?

A new law currently in the works at Parliament could have meant a harsher punishment for a 'despicable' Northamptonshire farmyard prowler who was jailed this week.

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 6:00 am
Reece Reed was sentenced to two months in prison for stabbing a horse 20 times - which many readers, organisations and even the judge did not agree with.

Reece Reed was jailed on Monday for a grotesque incident in April 2018 where he broke onto a Wellingborough farm before stabbing a prize-winning miniature horse 20 times with a kitchen knife.

He also cut the wings off of three chickens, all of which had to be put down.

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Reed, 19, was charged with criminal damage and not, for example, animal cruelty for the mutilations. But why would the CPS charge him with this?

However, at Northampton Crown Court on Monday (November 18) Reed could only be sentenced to two months in prison for the attack, because the charge was entered as criminal damage.

The 19-year-old did, however, receive six additional months for carrying the knife he mutilated Sol and the chickens with.

Many of the Chronicle and Echo's readers have reacted angrily to the sentence and asked why Reed wasn't charged with, for example, animal cruelty in the hope it would have secured more prison time.

But, in fact, this would have led to Reed receiving even LESS prison time that the eight months he got.

By charging reed with criminal damage, he was able to be prosecuted in Crown Court and not Magistrate's Court.

The case was viewed with distaste by His Honour Judge Michael Fowler on Monday, who called the charges "an error".

He said in sentencing: "The charges that you face today do not reflect the wickedness of your behaviour.

"This has been treated as if it were criminal damage against two inanimate objects. It isn't. And it is in my view and error that ought to be corrected."

It begs the question of why Reed was charged with criminal damage - which treats the animals as 'property' and not living things - and not something that reflects the cruelty of the attack.

It bears resemblance to the infamous Northampton Cat Killer Brendan Gaughan, who could only be sentenced to three months for dismembering more than six cats across the town because they were treated as 'property'. Gaughan did, however, receive an additional five years for arson.

A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service, which decides what charges are brought in a case, said: “This was a vicious attack and we always want to ensure our charging decisions reflect the seriousness of the offence.

“We note the judge’s comments and are looking into what happened in this case.”

The answer may also lie in the difference in where charges are dealt with.

In a case in Surrey, a teenager was charged with criminal damage for shooting seven cats with an air rifle.

On that occasion, the CPS charged the teen with criminal damage because it is dealt with in crown court, where additional charges can mean the overall prison term is much higher. Meanwhile, 'causing unnecessary suffering to an animal' is only ever dealt with in a magistrates' court where the maximum sentence is six months for any offence.

It means by dealing with Reed in Crown Court he was able to be sentenced for carrying the knife as well and receive eight months in prison, rather than the maximum of six months in Magistrates.

But with that in mind, the sentence can still seem unjustly short.

However, a new law making its way through Parliament - known as the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill - aims to raise the maximum sentence for "the worst cases of animal cruelty" from six months to up to five years.

This would extend to acts like gross neglect or abuse of farm animals - which could have included the acts against Sol the horse and the three chickens.

However, the bill will likely not be passed into law until late 2020.

Tony Tyler, deputy chief executive of World Horse Welfare said: “The case highlights the need for changes to the existing Animal Welfare Law: we and other animal welfare charities have been pressing parliament to pass a bill for prison sentences for animal cruelty to be increased from six months to five years and want to see the law changed quickly under any new government."