Couple avoid jail after cat’s horrific death at Sunderland home

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A Sunderland cat owner who allowed her pet to be beaten to death – and the ex-boyfriend who did it – have escaped being jailed but banned for life from keeping animals.

Rebecca Cullerton, 23, failed to prevent Jordan Steel, 21, from crushing her cat Reuben’s chest, breaking its ribs and collapsing both its lungs at heir home in Sunderland.

Rebecca Cullerton

Rebecca Cullerton

Steel also strangled it with such force that tissue on its neck and head was damaged, it had a separate severe head injury, and its right eye was bulging.

His own defence solicitor admitted Steel had major problems and “goes blind when kicking off. He loses it completely”.

A vet found Reuben also had partly healed broken ribs, the result of an attack 14 days before its fatal encounter with Steel.

The pair blamed each other for the cat’s suffering at an address in Westheath Avenue, Grangetown.

The injuries to the cat

The injuries to the cat

But RSPCA investigators say Steel was the culprit - while Cullerton failed to protect Reuben.

On Friday, she was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 35 days’ rehabilitation activity requirement.

She received a lifetime ban from keeping any animals and will be unable to challenge the ban in court for five years.

Steel failed to attend that court hearing and was found guilty in his absence.

An ex-ray showing the cat's injuries

An ex-ray showing the cat's injuries

Yesterday he was brought before South Shields Magistrates’ Court, where Judge Roger Elsey described his crimes as serious and appalling.

But he spared him jail after hearing he had suffered violence in his upbringing, had serious mental health issues, and had recently tried to kill himself.

Steel, now of Park Court, Gateshead, who sobbed throughout the hearing, was banned for life from keeping an animal.

He was also handed a 24-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months on animal cruelty charges, for criminal damage and for failing to answer bail.

Jordan Steel

Jordan Steel

RSPCA prosecutor John Ellwood, at Friday’s hearing, said Steel had been violent to Cullerton.

He added: “The RSPCA received a call from a vet that a little cat called Reuben had been brought to them and that cat had been the victim of a very serious assault, such that it had no prospect of survival.

“The injuries were of an extremely serious nature and could not be accidental. The cat lived in their house and never went out, so one of them beat it to death.

“The RSPCA didn’t know who beat it to death and prosecuted them both.

“They have decided from the evidence that it was Mr Steel who beat it to death and not this defendant.”

Reuben was injured some time on the Sunday, but Cullerton did not seek treatment until the following afternoon.

Three other cats belonging to her had also died in her care, the court heard.

Jason Smith, defending Cullerton, said: “This is a young lady who accepts that cat was to a significant extent her responsibility.

“However, she did not cause the injuries to this animal, that was Mr Steel.”

At yesterday’s hearing, Tom Iceton, defending Steel, said his client thought something had fallen on Reuben.

He added: “He tried to revive it with some force that caused injury. He says that he wouldn’t have killed the animal.

“This man has had numerous threats against him since this was reported. He hasn’t been able to visit family.

“He has anger management issues and is bipolar. There are characteristics of violence and he has poor thinking skills.”