Two men who surrendered to Hong Kong police over suspicion of throwing 30 pets from a high-rise residential building, killing 18 of them, will not be prosecuted, officials have said.
The Department of Justice said it found insufficient evidence to initiate criminal proceedings, a decision that has sparked outrage among animal rights groups.
On Wednesday, a department spokesman said the evidence available did not support a reasonable prospect of conviction, and the decision was made after “an objective and professional assessment of the available evidence and applicable law”.
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He added that the department would follow up on the case if new evidence emerged in the future.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the investigation or whether officers had made mistakes when gathering evidence.
The suspects, a secondary school teacher and a merchant, turned themselves in days after they were believed to have hurled the animals from the private Hong Kong Garden housing estate, near Sham Tseng, on February 14.
Thirty animals, including chinchillas, cats, rabbits, a guinea pig, parrot, and rodent, were found scattered on the ground and in a ditch next to the building. Half of them had died by the time police arrived at the scene.
The other half were rescued by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) on the same day, and over the course of the following fortnight, but three animals eventually died at a veterinary hospital.
The 49-year-old teacher surrendered at Tsuen Wan Police Station three days after the incident, while the merchant, 36, turned himself in the following day. Both were arrested for cruelty to animals.
The offence is punishable by three years in prison and a HK$200,000 fine, with defendants usually standing trial in the magistrates’ courts.
However, laws governing criminal procedures stipulate prosecutors cannot lay charges against suspects of animal abuse in the lower courts after six months have passed since the alleged offence.
In a statement, the SPCA said: “The society feels extremely sad, angry and disappointed that no one has been held accountable for this incident of extreme cruelty.”
The society feels extremely sad, angry and disappointed that no one has been held accountable for this incident of extreme cruelty
The group said the case should have gone to court, as the fact the animals were all found in a residential area constituted strong evidence of foul play.
“We believe that the animals concerned would never have sought death, and they definitely without a shadow of a doubt would not have had the ability to collectively end their lives,” it said.
“In the past six months, the society has done everything in its power, but despite all efforts justice has not been served for these innocent victims.”
The incident raised questions over whether animal laws should be reviewed, and if all pets should be microchipped to hold their owners responsible, the society said, adding it would ask for tougher legislation.
Last year, the government launched a public consultation over reviewing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, where it suggested increasing the maximum jail sentence for animal abuse to 10 years behind bars, and enabling prosecutors to start criminal proceedings in the higher courts, bypassing the time constraint.
An amendment proposal has yet to be published.