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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Cats, Wheelie Bins, and the Law

The video footage of a person placing a cat into a wheelie bin is disgusting to watch.

On the face of it, the relevant offence would be section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The relevant provisions seem to be:

(1)A person commits an offence if—

(a)an act of his, or a failure of his to act, causes an animal to suffer,
(b)he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the act, or failure to act, would have that effect or be likely to do so,
(c)the animal is a protected animal, and
(d)the suffering is unnecessary.

[...]

(3)The considerations to which it is relevant to have regard when determining for the purposes of this section whether suffering is unnecessary include—

(a)whether the suffering could reasonably have been avoided or reduced;
(b)whether the conduct which caused the suffering was in compliance with any relevant enactment or any relevant provisions of a licence or code of practice issued under an enactment;
(c)whether the conduct which caused the suffering was for a legitimate purpose, such as—
(i)the purpose of benefiting the animal, or
(ii)the purpose of protecting a person, property or another animal;
(d)whether the suffering was proportionate to the purpose of the conduct concerned;
(e)whether the conduct concerned was in all the circumstances that of a reasonably competent and humane person.


The relevant Crown Prosecution Service guidance is here and the RSPCA prosecution policy is here.


A number of media source have quoted the West Midlands Police as saying no crime has been committed and that the matter has been referred to the RSPCA.

I am not an expert on animal cruelty law, but I am not sure that is correct, as the provision under which the RSPCA would bring any prosecution is part of the criminal law.


As a catlover, there is part of me which wants to convert my disgust into a prosecution.

(There is part of me which wants to do at lot worse.)

However, the person involved still has an entitlement to due process and the presumption of innocence.

The various "hate" sites and calls for vigilante action are inappropriate.

In a liberal society, even those who do the most dreadful and vile things should not be thrown to the mob.

And this is true even of Mary Bale.


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47 comments:

Mr603 said...

Quite right. If she's committed an offence, and it's in the public interest to prosecute, she needs to be prosecuted.

Otherwise, she'll live her life as "that nutter" and get some strange looks.

Calling for her to be locked in a bin, shot out of a cannon or banished to the hellish Dimension Z are mental. A bit like lobbing a cat into a bin, I suppose.

Charles Barry said...

This article reads like a Daily Mail editorial. :)

Nick R said...

Charles - have you ever read a Daily Mail editorial? This is placid and docile in comparison.

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

But, but, it was only a joke!

You are quite right in your assessment. In Dutchland she would be prosecuted too as she caused unnecessary suffering. I personally would not want to see that person chucked in a wheelie bin but 15 days in jail doesn't sound all that unreasonable to me. ;-)

Gordon said...

Charles I think if this was a Daily Mail editorial, it would be calling for her to be lynched and start a national hate campaign against her.

It's a very fair and objective article which correctly calls for restraint against reverting to mob rule.

However, I would very much like to see her prosecuted for animal cruelty and banned from going near pets!

Madam Miaow said...

She clearly caused distress to an animal and the cat could have died had it not been found. The woman's action reflects a general callousness and sadism, even, that's becoming naturalised in British society. That's one reason why I would want to see a prosecution.

BTW, my word verification is: whino. What's that telling me?

Dan said...

I agree with you, pretty much as always, that she should be entitled to the presumption of innocence under the law, due process, etc etc. However, assuming that the video is real (ie not doctored and not a set-up), whether or not she is guilty under the law, she did actually throw a cat in a bin! It is not as if there are just allegations being made that she did; we are entitled to feel that something "immoral" has taken place, whether or not it is "illegal".

The Justice of the Peace said...

The various "hate" sites and calls for vigilante action are inappropriate.

You`re perhaps "inappropriate" in using that word to describe threats against this person whose actions to say the least were distasteful if not unlawful. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was the subject of my blog on 24th July re the killing of a squirrel. To quote from the Act,"(1) In this Act, except subsections (4) and (5), “animal” means a vertebrate other than man." In effect if the cat had been a mouse the same law would have been available. Would you still have been pressing for prosecution? Where does your sympathy for vertebrates begin and end?

gimpy said...

And what of those cat owners who permit their pets to kill and maim the local wildlife? Should they be prosecuted for their act of letting a cat outdoors to behave in this way?

This whole issue is suffused with the ridiculous sentimentality that some elements of the public apply to inbred and retarded pests.

While this unfortunate lady should not be excused her cruelty, to have so-called animal lovers protest their horrors at an act, that if it had killed the cat would have protected far more animals than otherwise, is hypocritical.

The Heresiarch said...

@gimpy

As I understand the law, dog owners are responsible for what their dogs get up to (biting people, killing foxes, whatever) whereas cats are free to do what they like. The law assumes that dogs can be trained but cats are semi-wild creatures with all the privileges that entails. Cats get the best of both worlds - legal protection, and a licence to kill.

R M L Franklin said...

Gimpy, whilst it is certainly up for debate that cats may not actually be an appropriate pet, this does not excuse the use of violence or casual cruelty to animals. By your logic it would be fine for people to kill the birds you seem so eager to protect, after all they kill thousands of worms and insect a day. The only reason you place value on the life of the birds and not on the lives of the insects is because you feel more empathy and affection for the birds, as many people feel more empathy for cats than birds and rats. So, whilst it may be true that people are speaking in a hypocritical manner, I think you should be aware that you're the biggest hypocrite of the lot.
I also find it shocking that you can't see a difference between he instinctive killing by an animal and the medicated and sadistic cruelty this woman *seems* to have displayed. People know the cruelty they are inflicting, cats do not. Can you really not see the difference?

Zeno said...

This is separate from the issue of whether the woman has broken any law and whether she should be prosecuted, but...

The cat owner seems to have three CCTV cameras on the front of his house and at least one of them is capturing images of the public highway.

I'm not sure what the law is, but I suspect he needs LA permission and possibly needs to be registered under the DPA? So, have these images been obtained illegally?

David J Mudkips said...

Funny how a cat in a bin (still alive) provokes more public outrage than a newspaper salesman getting killed by police.

Perspective, we clearly lack it.

gimpy said...

@TheHeresiarch

I agree that seems to be the legal situation - except if a cat was to harm somebody's possession, whether pet or plant, in which case an offence may have been committed.

But my point was intended to apply to the ignorance and cant of those so publicly appalled at animal cruelty but in denial, as cat owners, to their contribution to the sum total of animal suffering.

Zeno said...

The three cameras can be seen at 1:12 into the video: two dome cameras and one on a bracket at the right side of the window.

Crispin said...

Interesting point by gimpy. We treat some animals (on which we have intentionally inflicted terrible deformities and inbreeding - but that's another issue) almost on a par with our children whilst simultaneously turning a blind eye to all the all the other animal suffering going on. In many cases our actions indirectly result in incalculable animal suffering and we don't even consider it.

There is clear hypocrisy and moral inconsistency here. Both of which are part of human nature otherwise we might find it hard to function at all, but maybe we should at least try consider the suffering we directly or indirectly inflict on all animals on a par with similar suffering inflicted on our pet.

For eg, shopping choices; I still eat meat, but will aim to buy meat which is free rang and will strongly avoid animal products which I know to be very cruel (eg, Danish pig products, crated animals, etc). I'm a long way from morally consistent but it's a step in the right direction.

The issue of course is not restricted to non-human animals. We inherently care about suffering we can see and empathise with and not about suffering that is far off or happening to someone / something we don't see as 'like us'. Take for example suffering of people in developing countries, or even the destitute in our own cities... most of us don't care most of the time, if we did it would be impossible for us to lead 'normal' lives.

gimpy said...

@R M L Franklin

Quick point, I accept that cats cannot be held to account for their actions. But their owners can for taking a pet in the knowledge that it will kill and maim local wildlife.

Also, for general clarification, I'm not actually against necessary cruelty to animals by humans, whether that be for food, farming or pharma. Unnecessary cruelty makes me uncomfortable but I don't think I'd rank the example of this woman as being more deserving of moralising than say the gavage of geese - and I like fois gras.

Charles Barry said...

@gordon @Nick R

The "Daily Mail" comment was only a light-hearted jibe at JoK's opening line:

"The video footage of a person placing a cat into a wheelie bin is disgusting to watch."

Woman traps cat in bin. Shock! Horror! Outrage!

It does have a Monty Python quality to it all.

TK said...

Ah, the great British public, getting worked up about a fluffy animal. It's so much easier than getting angry and taking action about serious issues - or even trying to understand what the issues are.

Yes, it was a cruel act and yes, if the law has been broken there should be consequences. I guess this extreme reaction is one of the downsides of modern communications; tiny stories become huge and important instantly.

There's something oddly contrived-looking about the video footage, though.

redarsedbaboon said...

Prosecuting this woman would be a grotesque waste of time and resources, and a shocking misuse of the law. The sort of thing you would normally rail against.

Somehow, because it involves a pussywussycat, awwwwwwwww, this appears to have been forgotten. Her actions were FUNNY, and the actions motivated by infantile sentimentality displayed by many on here have no place in 'a liberal society'.

Kimpatsu said...

@RML Franklin:
"Medicated"? Don't you mean "premeditated"? Or do you know something about the woman's mental health that we don't?

Mark Bailey said...

I am another cat person; I often stop and say hello to a friendly cat if I'm walking to or from work, for example. And I am with Jack of Kent here, in that although I feel personally some strong revulsion for what she did, she should not have to be subject to any kind of mob action. We have to be better than that, and let the RSPCA and the police deal with the matter.

I think also, that the owner's approach (putting the footage up on YouTube) was perhaps ill-advised, in that the inevitability of it going "viral" would make it difficult for Mrs Bale afterwards, for some indefinite time. Certainly he could have taken the footage around the local area and asked around, but using the Net in this way can have unforeseen and undesired consequences. This should really be a last resort.

I feel very much for the cat, and for the cat's owner; but I also have some human sympathy for the predicament into which that moment's thoughtlessness has landed Mrs Bale.

Crispin said...

An additional point in answer to gimpy RE: animals harming each other:

Surely if you take your point that since a cat will harm many animals in its life time it will reduce suffering and is therefore an ok thing to kill said cat and logically extend then it is also ok to kill all carnivorous or parasitic animals, including humans?

You could argue that the situation in which there is least suffering is that in which there is no sentient life and find little opposition. So, would the best thing for humanity to do be to 'do the world a favour' and end all animal life (eg, deliberate nuclear destruction of the planet)?

I (and I suspect you) would say not, it all depends on your utility function, do you simply want to minimise suffering? or maximise pleasure? or fulfilment of potential? or knowledge of the universe? or individual freedom?

Surely the only sane thing is some complicated and hard to define balance of the above, unavoidably tempered by our evolved predispositions and inconsistencies?

In which case maybe it makes sense to care about that which we can practically address (domesticated animals, each other) an not to excessively concern ourselves about that which we can not (wild animals).

Just thinking out loud, sorry for 2 long posts.

Simon said...

I can’t help but agree with Gimpy on this one. There are two acts of cruelty here (i) a woman put a cat in a bin, and (ii) someone allowed a cat outside where it could hunt wildlife.

If we are to look at these two acts to see which caused the most suffering to animals, it should be fairly obvious that it is the latter. The woman who put the cat in the bin, in the worst case scenario, could have caused a single animal to be trapped for a few days in a smelly box, followed by a relatively quick death in a compactor. It seems far more likely, however, that someone would rescue the cat before the rubbish was taken away.

In the case of the average cat owner that allows their cat outside, they are surely fully aware that this will cause regular suffering to animals. I have witnessed my old next door neighbour’s cat kill birds in my garden on many occasions. I’ve witnessed it playing with a live mouse for some time after it has already bitten off one of its limbs. It must have happened on countless occasions when I was unable to witness it.

Many cat owners allow their cats to roam outside in the full knowledge that this cruelty will take place. Yet nobody calls for their prosecution.

Why?

My neighbour’s excuse was “this is natural”, and Crispian hints at this point in his comment. It is not natural. Predatory animals must maintain a large enough territory to allow replenishment of their food supply, otherwise in the long term they will starve. The domestic cat does not have this problem, as it is kept artificially alive by the owner feeding it. This means that a great many more cats can exist than would be possible in the wild, causing more cruelty.

Surells (RML Franklin) said...

@ Kimpatsu

Yes, sorry. That'll teach me to try to rush a response. I also mean insects plural rather than one solitary one.

My appalling typing aside though. I still feel people are confusing the issue, whether a cat is a good pet or a blight on the environment is irrelevant. If the damage cats do to local wildlife is too great then legislation about keeping cats should be looked into. The answer is not some sadistic vigilante justice. To draw a parallel, you may feel that immigration is damaging social cohesion in your area, this is something you should raise with your MP, and does not entitle you to go round your neighborhood committing acts of violence. The logic is similar.
Cruelty and violence are only ever problems or the symptoms of problems, never solutions.

So lets take the cat menace debates somewhere else, its irrelevant to this discussion.
Care to set up a blog post about that JoK? =)

Yours RML Franklin (Surells)

Mojo said...

The Heresiarch said...

"As I understand the law, dog owners are responsible for what their dogs get up to (biting people, killing foxes, whatever) whereas cats are free to do what they like. The law assumes that dogs can be trained but cats are semi-wild creatures with all the privileges that entails. Cats get the best of both worlds - legal protection, and a licence to kill. "

As far as I'm aware the law places cats in the same category as dogs - domesticated animals for which, if they trespass, the owner is not liable for damage caused if they are behaving according to the usual propensities of the species (the owner would be liable if the dog or cat caused damage because of known "mischievous tendencies" of the particular animal beyond what is usual for the species).

See, for example, Buckle v Holmes [1926] 2 KB 125. The cat killed a neighbour's pigeons, and the owner of the cat was held not liable on the grounds that cats fall into the same class as dogs and that this was perfectly normal behaviour for cats. The judgment even includes the phrase, with respect to this point, "I can see no possible distinction between a dog and a cat."

Zenbuffy said...

I think that, while the women did something that appears malicious, that it was almost equally malicious for the cat owner to have put the video on YouTube and publicise it the way he did.

Regardless of how strong the evidence against her may be, she, like everyone else, is entitled to a fair trial, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of her peers. The cat owner could have reported the incident to the police and the RSPCA without making the video public, and pursued prosecution. By making the video public and then seeking prosecution, he has made it so that the women will be pre-judged. It will be difficult to find a jury composed of people who have heard nothing about the case, and who don't already have preconceived notions of her guilt.

While I'm not condoning what she did, because I think it was cruel and unfair, the fact that she did something wrong doesn't strip her of the right to due process.

Vigilante action won't solve anything - no person is above the law, regardless of how offended they are by the actions of someone else. It would be more effective for her to be prosecuted *fairly*, as that would send a strong, definitive message that animal cruelty is not acceptable, which may further impact upon those who engage in animal cruelty with distressing regularity.

Steve Jones said...

Of course it's up to JoK's alta-ego over what to actually include on this blog, but I'm wondering how this particular item qualifies under the sub-heading at the top of the pag.

"A liberal and critical blog mainly about the misuse and misrepresentation of law"

As there has been no law applied so far, it's a bit difficult to say that there has been any misuse or misrepresentation of the law.

There might be some general issues about the use of privately owned CCTV equipment covering public areas or, maybe, the potential for miscarriages of justice where apparently incriminating evidence is published before an investigation has even started, but I can't really get excited about this particular case.

polomint38 said...

@Steve Jones

It does say "A LIBERAL AND CRITICAL BLOG MAINLY ABOUT THE MISUSE AND MISREPRESENTATION OF LAW"

The use of the word mainly would imply that not all post would be concerned with law.

Tom Evans said...

While putting the cat in the bin undoubtedly could have caused suffering had it not been found, is it possible to prove that suffering actually was caused?

Maybe it could be charged as attempt, but presumably then actual intent to cause suffering would have to be proved?

English Pensioner said...

There are times when I would like to do something similar to a cat which comes into our garden, so I'll bear your information on the animal cruelty laws in mind!

Sandrine Lopez said...

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... now admittedly I'm a lover of cute fluffy things and, despite neighbours untrainable cats using my garden as the local latrine, I wouldn't want to hurt one. Am I mad at Mary Bale? Yes what she did was callous and cruel, and verging on the potential charge of catslaughter had it not been released, to die either of starvation or possibly ending up as cat litter in the back end of a council refuse truck, but does she deserve to be outed and have such hate (even a catwa issued - hehe! Sorry, couldn't resist...), no I don't think so. Again we have as much lack as perspective among some memebers of the public, as we do the tabloids (well hoorah for 'The Sun'... perhaps they can name to shame the women involved in the Assange case, instead of some true journalist endeavour, but why change the habit of a lifetime?).

People are dying in this country and others, through crime, wars, and just downright stupidity sometimes.

The phrase 'get a life' keeps springing to mind...

Ben Murphy said...

Concerning the legal status of cats: my sister's cat has started attacking a neighbour's homing pigeons. It has now been issued with an ASBO.

Madam Miaow said...

I have suggested (Twitter and elsewhere) that cats be made to wear collars and bells which would at least give the wldlife a fighting chance. Also, I've never had a cat without having a litter tray so I know my neighbours aren't having to deal with my pet's poo. Not a perfect solution but makes a bit of difference. I keep a big water pistol in the garden as this wards off cats without hurting them when they are stalking and pooing.

kris said...

people are able to put cctv up on their own property. not sure why people think it's a problem.

That the cat owner has v decent quality equipment up makes me wonder if the cat-binning is part of an ongoing pissing match.

As for Ms Bale, I wonder when collection day is? Did she intend for the cat to become macerated in the bin lorry - or "just" to distress it for 15 hours?

Every time she opens her trap she blows any defence she might have rolled out.

A poisonous, stupid hag.

JuliaM said...

"I think that, while the women did something that appears malicious, that it was almost equally malicious for the cat owner to have put the video on YouTube and publicise it the way he did.

Regardless of how strong the evidence against her may be, she, like everyone else, is entitled to a fair trial, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of her peers. "


Taking that as a guideline, I guess it's the end of TV programmes like 'Crimewatch' and the police issuing photos for the purpose of identification of wanted men, then? Or is it OK for the police to do it, and not the public?

A lot of muddled thinking on this thread, and of course, the inevitable cat haters.

So to lighten the mood, here's a reminder that cat lovers are everywhere.. :)

Conor said...

Zenbuffy
I'd expect this to be heard in a Magistrate's court and a guilty plea.
There seems little point in her doing otherwise.
Using CCTV to protect your home is exempt from the DPA.
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/cctv_code_of_practice_html/3_covers.html
I read somewhere that it was installed to cover his car parked outside.

Charlie said...

"The couple's home security system captured the footage of the animal cruelty, and they posted it online"

This is the part of the whole story that worries me most.

James Jones said...

I think that this woman's act should be illegal, but the whole reaction to it is entirely overblown. A reasonable penalty for a fist offense might be say a £20 fine or a quiet chat with a police constable.

We appear to have "humanised" certain animals in a way that I find firstly a bit peculiar and then quite disturbing given the number of people who seem to hold these views.

As others have pointed out - if the critical thing is animal suffering as a whole, the best plan would be to have the cat kept indoors where it would additionally not be exposed to bin-womanly risks.

Spending a moment on the issue instead of worrying about the million more important things we need to worry about is I think wrong. I am surprised at you JackoKent:)

Sandrine Lopez said...

Do you think if I trapped a 'journalist' (okay, think of another word meaning 'writer for trash tabloid') for 'The Sun' (those well-known purveyors of naming and shaming), it would be considered cruel, or an act of mercy. I mean, it's a step up from the gutter...

Mick Turatian said...

JoK: The video footage of a person placing a cat into a wheelie bin is disgusting to watch.


I don't think that's strictly correct. What was captured on the video was fairly anodyne and could have formed part of a comedy sketch. Indeed this may be why the clip "went viral".

Mens rea and subsequent revelations will colour one's view but my inner pedant finds the video per se unexceptionable.

Ben Murphy said...

JamesJones: "Spending a moment on the issue instead of worrying about the million more important things we need to worry about is I think wrong." I usually manage to worry about ten thousand things before breakfast, but I seldom manage to hit a million by bed-time. I often lie awake worrying about the amount of time wasted of frivolous thoughts when I could have been worrying about significant problems whose solution is beyond my capabilities.

Thomas Dent said...

So, are we going to have prosecutions for using mousetraps or rat poison? If not, why not?

Can the (quite clear and flagrant) moral inconsistency be is in the definition of a 'protected animal'? According to the Act:

'In this Act (...) “animal” means a vertebrate other than man.'

“Protected animal”
An animal is a “protected animal” for the purposes of this Act if—
(a) it is of a kind which is commonly domesticated in the British Islands,
(b) it is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary
basis, or
(c) it is not living in a wild state.

So causing suffering to wild animals does not fall under the Act. Only the touch of Man in domesticating or confining animals makes them worthy of protection against general 'suffering'.

Wild mammals are protected under separate legislation, but only, it appears, against specific acts - e.g. "Any person who mutilates, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drowns, drags or asphyxiates any wild mammal (...)" rather than the rather negligible amount of discomfort involved in this case.

Wild birds also have separate legislation, though only being protected from being killed and injured, rather than cruelty and 'suffering' in general.

It does look rather like society's concern for animals goes directly in proportion to how far they have been domesticated into society. Animal lovers are not really in favour of animal rights as a principle, only rights for certain types of animal.

To return to house mice: they are either wild or domesticated, and in either case should be protected under the law from the usual degree of injury or suffering caused by mousetraps.

Zoe Brain said...

So this wanton and unprovoked cruelty was possibly legal? Very well. If that's the law.

But it's not against the law to post the video, and publicise the name of Mary Bale, her address, and her employer.

It's not against the law that she be made a public outcast, a pariah. She's not a member of a legally protected minority, so can be refused service at restaurants and shops.

Spitting on her would be battery; threatening her in any way, assault. But shunning her, that's not against the law. Those who say "it's only a cat" should not have cause for complaint should she be given this treatment.

The problem is though - how many who would give her such treatment would do so because such cruelty to a fellow human would be not just sanctioned, but praiseworthy - and thus be indulging in pure malice? And how few would be doing it in an effort to make her realise what she's done is just as wrong as her shunning, and in an effort to deter her and others from repetition?

There's the perennial problem of casting the first stone.

Would I do it? Yes. For a limited period, or until I was convinced that the aim of deterrence had been achieved if before then.

Scott said...

I agree with other posters that animal cruelty is deeply hypocritical - you only have to discuss eating habits to see this, with most of us willing to eat certain animals and not others, and even certain parts of certain animals but not others (A cow's face is not currently on sale at the local supermarket).

I am intrigued, however, by the way this case has been referred by the police to the RSPCA and that they will "Interview" Mary Bale. This is another example of the arrogance of the RSPCA that has gone largely unnoticed. The RSPCA are a charity, one with laudable aims, but it is no more than this. It has no additional powers of prosecution than those we all enjoy. Why do they presume that they can interview this lady? If I decided to place my elderly relative in a residential home that was clearly inadequate for her needs, I would not want the police to "refer" me to Age UK for a chat. But then Age UK don't wear uniforms that look suspiciously like police uniforms...

SadButMadLad said...

Couple of points.

Domesticated animals implies that the anmimal is the property of a person. So harming an animal in any way is causing damage to a person's property. Wild animals are not generally the property of someone, so the only protection they have is inhumane cruelty.

CCTV is allowed so long as it's not pointed at private property, other than your own. The CCTV in this case was because the people were having their car damaged by passing vehicles. Looking at the location of their house, right opposite a tyre recycling place I'm not surprised.

Velson said...

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