A SHOCKED couple told how they were blackmailed into paying a £500 ransom for the safe return of their dog that was stolen from their garden.
John and Lesley Starr from Leicestershire were given the grim ultimatum at 10pm last Friday night. The male caller told them: "Bring £500 to the back of Harborough Leisure Centre or you will never see your dog again."
The couple's four-year-old working Springer Spaniel, Teal, had been stolen last Wednesday.
The frantic couple contacted the missing pets registry DogLost UK who immediately listed Teal as stolen and helped the Starrs to create posters and publicise Teal’s theft. Mrs Starr said:
"Then the thief phoned on Friday night saying he'd got our dog. He asked how much we were prepared to pay to get her back. A price of £500 was negotiated. He asked us not to bring the police or to be violent. He said 'meet us at the back of the leisure centre in ten minutes, and come alone, else you'll never see the dog again'."
The couple drove to the meeting place and saw a man and boy waiting in a white transit van. Mr Starr got out of his car and approached the van. "I wasn't frightened. We were really angry and upset about it and just wanted her back. But you have to keep your anger in check or it could be you who ends up in prison," he said. "Luckily, I'd just been paid for a job so had the cash without having to go to a cashpoint. I handed it over in a bundle. The lad in the van was about 10 to 12 years old and chubby. He was holding the dog."
The spaniel was left agitated after the ordeal but is now starting to feel more like her old self. Mr Starr said: "I dread to think what they have done to her and where they kept her. I bet she was locked in the dark somewhere."
The blackmailer was stocky, tanned, and had slicked-back jet-black hair. He was wearing a white sleeveless vest and was aged in his mid-40s. "He didn't even have a disguise. It must be the lure of getting money for nothing," Mr Starr said.
Dog Theft Action, the lobby group founded in an attempt to get the Government to take dog theft seriously, said exact figures for dog thefts were not available but various sources estimate between 25,000 and 50,000 a year nationwide.
Inspector Mick Norman, head of Harborough police, said: "We are in the process of investigating. In the circumstances where a dog is held to ransom it is classed as blackmail. If anybody finds themselves in similar circumstances I would urge them to contact us. Don't go and attempt to meet the offender."
On Monday of this week, however, there was a rather unexpected twist to events. Following extensive local news coverage which pointed the finger of blame at travellers, it turned out that members of the local travelling community, tired of being labelled criminals forecd the thief to hand himself in at the local police station and confess to having stolen the dog. It is believed that the man has since been charged with theft and blackmail.