Thousands of people from the district and beyond joined our campaign to express outrage that a man charged over the Gourock petting zoo massacre has escaped prosecution due to a legal loophole.

Today — in a clear indication of the importance of local journalism — the Scottish Government has pledged to ‘seriously consider’ our demand for the country’s wildlife law to be changed.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, made the promise after inviting the Telegraph to meet with him in person in Edinburgh.

Mr Lochhead said: “I very much appreciate and understand the outcry amongst the public of Inverclyde — and indeed outwith the area — given the background to this particularly horrible case.” The Telegraph called on our army of readers to sign-up to our Justice for Pets petition after revealing that the slaughter suspect will never face court under the current terms of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act.

Police who investigated the 2011 outrage found DNA evidence in 2013 directly linking a then-18-year-old man to the offence.

But Crown prosecutors declared that they couldn’t take the case any further because the breakthrough came more than six months after the commission of the crime.

A staggering 5,400 people answered our petition call — signing up at a rate of nearly 300-a-week since June — and helped us take the campaign to the corridors of power at Holyrood.

As we handed over our petition to Mr Lochhead, he thanked us for it and promised to re-examine the inexplicable six-month time bar.

The minister said: “I can very much understand why people would feel strongly in this case and it does merit a serious look at whether there should be a re-categorisation so that such offences may not be subject to the six-month time bar in the future.

“This could be an example of where the legislation has not caught up and it may be time for a review of the categorisations.” Dog owner Mr Lochhead declared: “I think that the case here concerning the Pets’ Corner mini zoo does merit a look at this time bar.

“Now that I have the petition, I will look at the background to the case in detail, speak to colleagues in government and seriously consider the request made.” Leading Inverclyde politicians today praised the Telegraph’s campaign and welcomed the stance adopted by the government.

Greenock-based SNP MSP Stuart McMillan declared: “The Greenock Telegraph deserves a huge amount of credit for running this campaign.

“Nearly five-and-a-half-thousand signatures is tremendous and clearly highlights the strength of feeling.

“The people of Inverclyde have clearly spoken — and they are being listened to.” Inverclyde’s Labour MSP Duncan McNeil remarked: “This is certainly a step forward.

“What you have got to also consider is that sometimes violent activity starts with cruelty against animals and then escalates to violence against people.

“So, when you’ve got a serious and outrageous incident perpetuated on those animals at Pets’ Corner, you’ve got to have some concern that the person who committed this appalling crime could go on and commit that kind of violence against people and children.” Inverclyde Council leader Stephen McCabe called for our law-change call to be raised directly with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her cabinet when they visit Greenock later this month.

Mr McCabe said: “I am pleased the government appears to be listening to public opinion on this matter and I would congratulate the Telegraph on its efforts.

“The visit of the cabinet to Inverclyde on 23 November will provide an opportunity for the Telegraph and campaign supporters to raise this issue directly with the First Minister and let her know the strength of feeling. I’m sure that opportunity will be taken.” During the attack four years ago, animals at Pets’ Corner — a favourite spot for local children and families — were bludgeoned to death with a golf club while the perpetrator’s ‘large and powerful’ dog crushed others, including tiny guinea pigs, between its jaws.

Neil McIntosh, of Greenock’s Abbey Veterinary Practice, told how he is still haunted to this day by the sight of the dead and dying animals he encountered in the wake of the merciless attack.

He said: “The savaged guinea pigs, being completely defenceless and without hope of escape, were particularly disturbing.” MSP Mr McNeil said: “If we can avoid this happening to any other community then we have made an advance today.

“I am delighted that the minister is going to look at this matter seriously.”