Updated 3.40 p.m.

Alfred Vella, 44, a farmer from Birzebbuga, has been jailed for three months and fined €10,000 after he admitted in court to having shot the dog Star at his field in Birzebbuga last month.

He admitted to charges of animal cruelty, manufacturing a home-made gun and being in possession of stuffed, illegally hunted birds.

Magistrate Edwina Grima said the court had noted Mr Vella's early admission and the fact that he had no criminal record. However, Mr Vella had committed two very serious crimes - animal cruelty which could be described as excessive cruelty - and the production of a home-made firearm. 

Instead of making use of the state and voluntary services to dispose of the dog, Mr Vella had opted for a cruel manner, the court said.

Furthermore, he had manufactured a firearm for illegal hunting. This crime was as serious as the first as the accused had used the firearm for other purposes. The firearm was manufactured in a way meant to be silent. The intention, clearly, was to ensure no one noticed when the firearm was fired. Had Mr Vella not intended to use the firearm illicitly, he could have easily used any of his seven registered firearms.

The court said that it could not, in its decision, be swayed by public outcry.

The accused had committed mistakes which he regretted in a police statement. He had told the police: "I sincerely regret what happened, as my intention was to kill her in the same way as is done at the dogs' home, and not to cause suffering."

The court said it needed to mete out a sentence which fitted the crime.

The accused was therefore jailed for three months (for manufacturing and illegally using a firearm)  and fined €10,000 (for animal cruelty). His licence for the possession of weapons was suspended. The fine is a record for animal cruelty, the previous having been €700 imposed on a man for trying to export birds packed in luggage.

Mr Vella gave notice of appeal.

Earlier, it was revealed in court that the dog had been buried for 14 hours until it was rescued by animal welfare officers.

The accused admitted to the police  that he shot the dog using a home-made gun. He first tied up Star, then shot her and buried her. 

He claimed he shot Star because she was old. She was 10 years old and was called Buttons by a previous owner. The owner had had the dog for 10 years but gave it to Mr Vella after the dog started shedding fur.

The magistrate  turned down a request by defence counsel to order a ban on the publication of the name of the accused because of vulnerable family members.

The prosecution, headed by Inspector Ramon Mercieca, objected to the request, asking why the court should protect the same family members who knew about this crime and had not come forward.

"Should we be protecting these people?" the prosecutor asked.

He also insisted that the prosecution was seeking a jail term for the accused.

Defence counsel Peter Paul Zammit said the Court should give a message that it was not after a 'pound of flesh' but wanted to see justice done.

"We are in the 21st century and justice needs to be done".

The prosecution said that in the 21st century, such barbaric acts are not supposed to happen.

Mr Vella was heckled by a small crowd as he left the court building, with a number of people shouting insults at him.

Earlier this month, Carmel Sacco, of Kirkop told a court that a report he had filed against his neighbour Mr Vella claiming that he had shot Star was false. That report has now turned out to be true. 

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