James White, a 21-year-old student enrolled at York University in England, was sentenced to an eight-year ban from owning animals after a British court found him guilty of drunkenly frying his flatmate’s hamster in a pan.
White was charged by UK animal welfare organization RSPCA with "causing unnecessary suffering to an adult female Syrian hamster by subjecting her to hyperthermia.” Although White pleaded guilty to the charges, he told police that the incident happened while he was in a drunken stupor and that he didn’t remember it afterward.
According to the York Press, the pet was believed to have belonged to another student who lived in White’s apartment. In his defense, White alleged that he believed that the hamster had died minutes prior to when he placed it in a hot frying pan and turned up the heat, although he said that he had been intoxicated “on the point of madness” and could not reliably verify details about the animal’s death.
District Judge Roy Anderson, who heard the case, also sentenced White to an additional 120 hours of community service. Anderson said that his pronouncement was on the basis that the animal had died while being handled by White before his body was fried.
"What happened on that night is still shrouded in mystery,” Anderson said. "By virtue of your treatment of this small, unfortunate rodent, you've destroyed your good character and acquired a criminal conviction.
"It's accepted now that there was rough handling of that animal but that it couldn't be established that it was putting it in the frying pan and applying heat that caused its death,” he added. "Had that sadistic conduct been established, I would be dealing with you in a far more serious way than I am."
A spokesman from the university said that it was deferring to the court’s judgment on the matter and would not be pursuing further disciplinary action against White.
"We note the decision of the court,” the spokesperson said. “As this matter has not been raised formally as a disciplinary issue under University regulations, we propose to take no further action."