According to the BBC News website yesterday, a man by the name of Andrew Thompson is standing trial in Dumfries Sheriff Court, the case against him being that he "went "berserk" in a third floor flat and recklessly threw a hamster in a cage and other items out of the window".
The precise charges against Mr Thompson are not clear from the report, but it does not seem that any specific charge has been laid in respect of the hamster. Instead, the charge presumably relates to the risk to the public caused by throwing the cage out of the window (the hamster's presence being, strictly speaking, irrelevant). This is an oddity of animal protection legislation. The relevant offence criminalises causing "unnecessary suffering" to animals (Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, s19, replacing s1 of the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912).
Hamsters are notoriously recalcitrant when interviewed by police officers, and it is not obvious how one would assess whether the hamster had "suffered" - even, it seems, if it had not survived the fall. In Patchett v MacDougall 1983 JC 63, a man shot and killed a collie dog. The appeal court quashed his conviction for an offence under the 1912 Act, noting that although there was no doubt that he had acted "wantonly and unreasonably", it could not be established that the dog had suffered.
Lord Wheatley suggested that the accused might have been charged with malicious mischief instead. If that is correct, then vandalism - under s52 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 - would have been an equally valid charge, but presumably his Lordship recoiled from endorsing a charge as absurd as vandalising a dog by shooting it dead.
Regardless of such questions of terminology, protecting animal welfare through property offences is an unsatisfactory solution, because such offences would be inapplicable where the accused himself owns the animal in question.
If Patchett v MacDougall suggested a defect in the 1912 legislation, it has not been remedied by the 2006 Act. Although that Act says that the offence of causing unnecessary suffering "does not apply to the destruction of an animal in an appropriate and humane manner" (s19(5)), it does not follow from this that destroying an animal in an inappropriate and inhumane manner is necessarily an offence. Nor, it seems, is throwing hamsters out of third-floor windows any different.
Update (3.25pm): The BBC News website now reports that Mr Thompson has been found guilty of a number of the charges against him (including recklessly throwing items from the flat window), but acquitted of some others. It is noted in this report that the hamster subsequently died.