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
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
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
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
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