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Police link animal cruelty to violence against children

The Independent - 30th January 2000

A special police force dedicated to combating animal cruelty is to be created by the Government.

The National Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit will be launched by Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, next month.

The unit, the first of its kind in Britain, will be staffed by officers from police forces across the country who will tackle an alarming increase in animal cruelty, including badger-baiting and cock-fighting.

The move comes amid concern on the part of child protection groups that those guilty of committing animal crime may also be involved in the abuse of children.

Animal crime is a burgeoning business. The illegal trade in rare birds eggs is now worth more than 100m a year, with more than 100 eggs stolen every week. There are up to 10,000 cases a year of baiting and shooting of badgers, according to the National Federation of Badger Groups.

The RSPCA's Special Operations Unit is investigating "badger-baiting holidays" in Wales and the Republic of Ireland advertised on an internet site, which also offers hand-reared badgers for baiting. The site advertises "quality" badgers for sale and declares: "We breed 'em ... you bait 'em. Home to the finest badgers ... we raise them ready for the road." Landowners are also being bribed as much as 500 to provide badgers for the "sport".

Dr Elaine King, of the National Federation of Badger Groups, urged the Home Office to include figures for animal crime in the annual crime statistics.

"If the Home Office figures were recorded it would show how serious the issue was," she said, adding that badger-baiting was not an isolated criminal activity but was linked to other violent crime. Police and welfare groups increasingly agree, recognising that those involved in badger baiting and violence to domestic pets may also enjoy cruelty towards children.

The NSPCC and the RSPCA has responded by setting up a top-level task force to identify those who abuse both animals and humans. The move has followed concerns raised by inspectors from both charities. "It's been prompted by anecdotal evidence of inspectors going into a house and finding cases of animal cruelty and questionable care for the children," said a spokesman for the RSPCA. "Our work is in the early days and we are still setting out the scientific parameters for what we will be looking for. We are keen to share any information that can help our cause and that of any other welfare agency."

Alan Wolinski, manager of the RSPCA's Yorkshire and North-East office, spent a month in the United States last year where he worked with the Humane Society and collected research on the links between child abuse and animal abuse. "My trip confirmed the feeling that there is definitely a link," he said. "Someone who is cruel to one species is likely to be so to another."

Mr Wolinski feels that magistrates must follow the tougher line adopted by their American counterparts towards animal abuse. In four states in the US it is already mandatory for child agencies and animal agencies to link up and share information. "American courts take animal violence much more seriously because of the possiblity that someone may graduate to abusing children. That interests us because we are quite concerned that magistrates over here don't always treat cruelty to animals as seriously."

Officers in the RSPCA's North-east region are being trained to identify potential signs of child abuse when they investigate routine claims of cruelty to animals. Where someone is prosecuted for mistreating animals, they will pass information to police and social services. Mr Wolinski also wants Britain to consider following the American practice of running anger management courses for people convicted of crimes against animals.

Psychiatrists already acknowledge a link between violence to animals and to children, citing a genetic trait, characterised by a lack of empathy and anti-social behaviour.

The League Against Cruel Sports believes the link may even extend to paedophiles. "Videos of animal cruelty are like hard core porn videos or child porn," said Steve Rackett, a spokesman. "There appears to be the same motivation between these people and what attracts paedophiles to sexual violence."

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