Council calls for review of ‘lenient’ sentence in shocking animal cruelty case

The emaciated dog which was found starved to death. Picture: Mark Jamieson
The emaciated dog which was found starved to death. Picture: Mark Jamieson

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is to write to the Head of the Judiciary in Northern Ireland calling for a review of the sentence handed down to a woman convicted of horrific animal cruelty.

The local authority has taken the step in response to a public outcry over the “disgusting leniency” afforded Aleisha McLaverty, who abandoned a Labrador-type dog in an empty flat and allowed it to starve to death.

Aleshia McLaverty, leaves Antrim Court after pleading guilty to dog cruelty by leaving a dog at a house in Antrim. The dog was found dead later tangled in blind cords and suffered from dehydration.  Picture: Mark Jamieson

Aleshia McLaverty, leaves Antrim Court after pleading guilty to dog cruelty by leaving a dog at a house in Antrim. The dog was found dead later tangled in blind cords and suffered from dehydration. Picture: Mark Jamieson

At Antrim Magistrates Court earlier this month, the 23-year-old was given a two month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, and disqualified from keeping animals for five years - a sentence local MLA Trevor Clarke branded “a slap on the wrist”.

The council, which brought the prosecution against the former Antrim resident, and several elected representatives, have received numerous complaints from members of the public about the sentence handed down by the judge.

In response to the public outrage surrounding the harrowing case, DUP Councillor Nigel Kells brought forward a proposal that the council write to the Public Prosecution Service asking for a review of the sentence.

At last Monday night’s meeting of full council, he described Aleisha McLaverty’s punishment as “completely inadequate” and said that if a review isn’t possible, the council must make it clear that it is not happy with the sentence handed down.

Councillor Neil Kelly said that while “there is no appeal mechanism in these cases”, he has already written to the Lord Chief Justice asking for a review of the sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty cases in general and has been urging others to do the same.

The Alliance man added that “it is time judges handed out appropriate sentences”.

Councillor Jim Montgomery said the outcome of the McLaverty case had sparked “disgust and anger”, and he claimed that it “highlights that animal cruelty is not taken seriously by the law”.

Also calling for a change in the sentencing guidelines, Alderman Mark Cosgrove stressed: “Our citizens will not accept the disgusting leniency shown in this case.”

Cllr. Kells’ proposal also received support from Councillors Paul Michael and Mervyn Rea, who said: “The more we can highlight it, the more the judicial service will have to take note.”

Council chief executive Jacqui Dixon said that officers would look into the issue to clarify where responsibility for sentencing lies, but suggested that the council write to the Attorney General, the Lord Chief Justice and the Public Prosecution Service about the matter.

Members agreed that the council write to the relevant authorities calling for a review of the sentence handed down in the McLaverty case, and a review of the sentencing guidelines in animal cruelty cases in general.

The local authority will also call on the judiciary to hand out stiffer sentences to those convicted of animal cruelty.