PEOPLE convicted of animal cruelty offences in Hampshire are among the least likely in England to be sent to prison, according to new figures published today.

A new report from the Centre for Crime Prevention shows that from 2011 to 2016 just nine (4.5 per cent) of the 202 people who were convicted or cautioned for cruelty to animals went to prison.

Only four counties Surrey (1.4 per cent), Durham (3 per cent) Warwickshire (3.3 per cent) and Sussex (4 per cent) sent a lower percentage to prison

Cumbria (28.1 per cent) sent the most offenders to jail.

In Hampshire, 11 per cent of offenders were given a suspended sentence, 13% per cent a conditional discharge, 36 per cent a fine, 28 per cent a community sentence and 11 per cent another form of punishment.

The release of the data coincides with a call from the RSPCA to see the maximum sentence for animal cruelty increased to five years in prison. Currently the maximum sentence is six months or an unlimited fine.

Its interim chief executive, Michael Ward, said: “While the RSPCA is seeing unbelievably shocking and distressing cases go before the courts, only a tiny proportion of animal abusers actually receive an immediate custodial sentence.

“It’s ironic that in some puppy trade cases we’ve taken, the defendants get longer sentences for committing fraud than for the cruelty and suffering they have inflicted on the defenceless dogs.

“RSPCA officers have had to investigate horrendous cases in which dogs have been found buried alive with a nail hammered into their skull, puppies have been kept in damp, dark rooms lying in their own filth and sold to unsuspecting members of the public, horses have been dumped to die on the side of the road and hamsters have been force-fed drugs.”

Among the offences punished with just a fine or suspended sentence included starving a dog to death, strangling a cat and throwing it in a bin, setting a puppy on fire and killing a rabbit and taking it to bed

Ranil Jayawardena, the MP for North East Hampshire, who contributed to the report, added: “Deliberately causing pain, suffering or death to pets is wholly abhorrent. The problem is that people are still getting away with it.

“I am shocked at the number of animal abuse offenders who are either repeat offenders or who have been convicted of other, often violent, offences. It is staggering.

“These are not only bad people, they are very dangerous. We must do more.”