Owners of dogs that kill people could face life imprisonment if an online consultation run by the government demonstrates public support for more severe penalties.
Look at the picture of seven-year-old Ralfie Brickell on page 21 today.
He was attacked and mauled by a dog while on his scooter in Portsmouth.
His mum had to force the animal’s jaws apart to free her son. Ralfie needed surgery to his arm, but he was lucky.
Some 16 people have been killed by dangerous dogs since 2005. Among them was 14-year-old Jade Anderson who was savaged by four dogs – believed to be two bull mastiffs and two Staffordshire bull terriers – at the home of a friend near Wigan, Greater Manchester, in March.
Few could argue with the consultation’s main thrust, that the current maximum jail sentence of two years is too low for cases that have led to loss of life.
Instinctively, one feels that the death of Jade merits harsher punishment than that.
This consultation will ask what new maximum sentence would be more appropriate for such a crime: seven years, 10 years, 14 years or even life.
There will be cases where that maximum will be inappropriate, where the dog owner never intended to cause any harm. But you don’t have to have set your animal on someone deliberately to share some responsibility for what they do.
An unrestrained rottweiler or bull terrier can be a weapon every bit as lethal as a loaded gun. If it’s yours, you’re at least partly responsible for the consequences.
But increasing the punishment for lethal attacks is not enough.
Surely it’s just as important to prevent such attacks happening in the first place.
This is why campaigners are calling for Dog Control Notices, already in place in Scotland.
These would enable councils to crack down on the illegal breeding and deliberate training of aggressive ‘status dogs’, kept by their owners to be part-trophy, part-weapon. This would be a sensible first step for us in England.