ANIMAL cruelty has fallen in East Lancashire according to the latest figures released by the RSPCA.

The figures compare statistics from 2005 to 2006 and reveal that East Lancashire bucks the national trend of rising cruelty.

While nationally, the figures from 2006 reveal a 10.5% increase in animal cruelty investigations by the RSPCA (122,454 in 2006), a 7.6% increase in animal rescues and collections (164,110), a 6.5% increase in welfare improvement advice given (52,688 instances), and a 10% increase in verbal warnings to prevent offences being committed (4,222), East Lancashire RSPCA tells a different tale.

Here, the number of cases reported fell from 70 to 69, defendants reported fell from 111 to 99, juvenile defendants convicted fell from 3 to 1 and convictions secured fell from 105 to 75.

Only adult defendants convicted rose from 37 in 2005 to 38 in 2006, and the number of offenders cautioned rose from 19 to 23.

The number of defendants dismissed remained the same for both years at two.

The decrease is thought to be down to the introduction of the new Animal Welfare Act. RSPCA inspectors are reporting that the new law, which came in to force in the spring, is enabling them to intervene earlier, helping more animals before they start to suffer.

Alan Wolinski, regional manager for the RSPCA in the North, said: "Today's figures refer to last year and, although the Animal Welfare Act is only a few months old, so far it seems to be working extremely well.

"Many RSPCA inspectors are reporting that people are responding well to the new law, and increasingly we are able to prevent animal suffering before it begins.

"The new Animal Welfare Act obliges courts to explain their reasons if they don't impose a ban. We hope this will focus attention on preventative action, which could save lives."

There are also some other positive trends. Offences against dogs and cats were down (by 15.6% and 9.5% respectively) although dogs remained by far the animals most offended against - with 891 convictions over the year, compared with 240 crimes against cats.

The statistics do however reveal an increase in offen-ces against horses, ponies and other equines - up 33% on the previous year (104 offences in 2006).