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Call to make pet theft a crime

Issue: 26/06/2020

Petition committee asks for pet theft to be made a specific crime

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Debbie Matthews of Vets get Scanning is a supporter of the call is a supporter of the call and is part of the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance.  Vets Get Scanning appeals to all vets to adopt a practice policy where all dogs are scanned for microchips, which means stolen and lost dogs can be more easily reunited with their owners. 

The House of Commons Petitions Committee have called on the government to make pet theft a specific crime.

They have written to the Minister of Justice, Robert Buckland, calling on the government to ensure the value of pets, particularly dogs, are valued in the law as a deterrent for those that may commit a crime that can have a devastating impact on pet owners and their families.

In the letter they write, ‘Since 2018, petitioners have been pressing both Parliament and Government to make changes to the law on pet theft to ensure that the value of pets is fully recognised in statute and that sentencing options available to the court are a real deterrent against committing what can be a devastating crime.

‘The Petitions Committee is today publishing a video and transcript of a discussion held earlier this month on this issue between Tom Hunt MP, a member of the Committee, Dr Daniel Allen, the creator of three petitions calling for pet theft reform, which combined have received almost a quarter of a million signatures, and campaigners on this issue.

‘Dr Allen’s most recent petition “Make pet theft crime a specific offence with custodial sentences” calls for a minimum two-year sentence for the crime. I would encourage you and your Ministerial colleagues to watch this discussion and see the impact that pet theft can have on the pet owners who have had to deal with it. It is available on the UK Parliament YouTube Channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOKQOIPVIpM

‘It is clear to us from this discussion that the responses from the Government to successive petitions, relying on guidance from the Sentencing Council on the level of harm a theft causes, is not enough to deal with this crime. As Dr Allen raised in our discussion, these are acts undertaken by criminals “despite knowing the devastating impact pet theft has on families”. Freya Woodhall, who spoke to us about her 20-month search for her stolen Sprocker Spaniel Willow, described how she and her family have spent more than a year and a half “living in limbo.”

Scale

‘Without a specific offence of pet theft, it remains difficult to confirm the true scale of the problem in the UK but based on limited reporting by police it is likely to extend to thousands of cases each year. Research by pet theft reform campaigners has shown that the number of thefts is increasing each year, but the number of charges is going down. By creating a specific offence of pet theft these cases could be both punished and deterred more effectively.

‘At the very least, the Government should require the police and courts to specifically record the number of reported crimes, arrests and convictions for the theft of pets so the true scale of this problem is made clear.

‘Ministers could bring forward legislation, either by amending the Theft Act or the Animal Welfare Act, that would create a specific new offence of pet theft with an appropriate sentencing range that will act as a deterrent and provide a punishment that reflects the impact of stealing a living creature and companion.

‘In recent years, Parliament has passed Finn’s Law to ensure that service animals are protected and Lucy’s Law to crack-down on puppy farming. Bringing forward a specific offence of pet theft would be an important and welcome addition to new laws to protect animals. So, we are asking you to reconsider the repeated refusal to bring forward this change, in spite of the significant support that this campaign continues to receive, and the cross-party consensus on this issue.’

There was an attempt to introduce a Pet Theft Bill as a Private Members Bill by Ross Thompson MP in the last Parliament but without government support it had little chance of succeeding.

Dr Daniel Allen, an Animal Geographer at Keele University, has researched the issue and his findings conclude that dog theft has continued to increase from every year from 2015 to 2019.

The same research also found that there have been a reduction of charges for the same period.

In the discussion he points out, ‘In 2018... just one percent of dog thefts resulted in a person being charged. And that included, those charges included small fines, community orders, suspended sentences, very few custodial sentences at all. So it has become this low risk, high reward crime.

‘It’s not recognised in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Pet theft is not a specific offence in itself. And the Theft Act 1968 only sees stolen pets as property. So just like a laptop, just like a mobile phone. That’s the reality, the annual realities of pet theft today in the UK. So the pet theft reform petition calls to address these inconsistencies.’

John Cooper QC who has been advising the pet theft campaign said, ‘It doesn’t need a new Act. That’s the first thing to say. This is an issue about amending existing legislation. And the first point is to consider amending the existing legislation, which is the Theft Act 1968, so that it can specifically lay down that theft of a pet, and I emphasise not just a dog, although the majority of instances impact on dogs, but we’re talking about pets generally, so that the theft of a pet is significantly and specifically highlighted by the Theft Act as a separate offence.’

Vet and campaigner Marc Abraham said, ‘I such an easy win for Government. I know you guys call it low hanging fruit. But, you know, it’s been going on for so long. There’s not going to be one MP that doesn’t back it. There’s not going to be one member of the public that isn’t thrilled by this. And I just think, you know what? What are you guys waiting for?’

Dr Allen added, ‘The victims aren’t just the families, the human families. It’s also the animals. You know, they go through fear. They have pain. They have anguish and anxiety and stress as well as the human families.

‘These changes need to happen. We need pet theft reform to help protect our pets and also help protect the families that have pets.’

To read a transcript of the discussion go to – https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/326/petitions-committee/publications/8/scrutiny-evidence/.


Comment(s):
Name: S Guy
Comment: Definitely this sort of theft should carry a severe criminal sentence.
Name: G. Fisher
Comment: Let's hope this goes through and then the issue of dog on dog attacks is addressed. www.protectourpets.co.uk
Name: T Johnson
Comment: Pet theft is not just about loss its about the mental health and well-being of those affected- the owners and their families which often includes very young children too young to understand why their best friend who may have been by their side since the day that they were born is no longer at home;this trauma is truly devastating and long lasting for children and adults alike (and in the case of dog on dog attacks leaving owners and their children severely traumatised). The consequences of pet theft are so far reaching that if the Government is is true to its word and mental health and well-being is high on their list of priorities then pet theft must carry a very severe sentence.


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