Thursday August 11, 2005
Childhood cruelty to animals can be an early warning of a propensity for violence against other people, a report published yesterday said.
The research wing of animal rights charity, Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), has compiled a study of the links between severe animal abuse by children who later committed acts of extreme violence - in some cases, murder.
Several cases have been well documented. Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer, enjoyed shooting animals and squashing rabbits' heads beneath car wheels as a youth. Robert Thompson, who was 10 years old when he and John Venables killed two-year-old Jamie Bulger, pulled the heads off live birds.
Peta, which has sent its report to the Crown Prosecution Service, MPs and all UK police forces, believes there should be closer cooperation between police and social services and organisations such as the RSPCA, so that those at risk of becoming dangerous criminals can be spotted, and perhaps helped, as early as possible.
The FBI, which already uses reports of animal abuse to analyse criminal threat potential, has found a childhood history of cruelty to animals is prevalent among many serial rapists and murderers.
Robert Ressler, founder of the FBI's behavioural sciences unit, said: "These are the kids who never learned that it was wrong to poke a puppy's eyes out." Alan Bradley, an FBI special agent, said: "Some offenders kill animals as a rehearsal for targeting human victims and may kill or torture animals because, to them, animals symbolically represent people."
The Peta study found abuse of pets in the home was often linked to domestic violence, with adult perpetrators tormenting family pets, as well as children and partners.
Peta's research found that some children in abusive homes copy the abusers' behaviour. "Children in violent homes are characterised by frequently participating in pecking-order battering, in which they maim or kill an animal. Domestic violence is the most common background for childhood cruelty to animals."
Scotland Yard's homicide prevention unit, set up last year to examine the psychological profile of violent offenders in an effort to thwart future crime, is also interested in the links between various patterns of cruelty.
Laura Richards, a senior behavioural consultant with the unit, said there was a definite link between domestic violence and stranger rape.