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Campaigners incensed at Defra theft guidelines

Issue: 05/10/2018

The campaigners who want to make pet theft a separate crime are incensed after they received a letter from Defra that places the responsibility on pet owners and not the criminals.
Lord Gardiner, the minister responsible for companion animals, was responding to a letter that Dr Daniel Allen, who has led the campaign, after he had written to Theresa May and handed it in to Downing Street last month.
In the letter Lord Gardiner says, 'The Sentencing Council has updated its guidelines in relation to the sentencing for theft offences to acknowledge that the emotional distress of the victim should be taken into account when deciding on the appropriate sentence.
'In relation to the category of offence, the Sentencing Council's guidelines do not specifically state or imply that pet theft is a particular category.'
During a debate on the issue last July George Eustice, the Defra minister, indicated that dog theft would be a category two or three offence. A category two offence would receive a three and a half year jail sentence. It was always assumed that dog theft was a category three or four offence which would result in a fine. As stated in the letter it appears now that pet theft does not have a category and that what matters is the amount of pets stolen.
To clarify this the letter says, 'For example, there have been occasions when owners have had entire litters of puppies stolen along with their mother. In such circumstances the value of the dogs could push the case into the higher categories.
'In such a case, both the emotional distress, as well as the financial value of the pets would be taken into account.'
Defra seem to be arguing that what matters is the amount of dogs that are stolen and that the more animals that are taken the greater the emotional distress.
What has annoyed the campaigners is that the emphasis in the letter is not about how they can bring in a meaningful deterrent for dog thieves but that it is up to owners to prevent pet theft.
The letter continues, 'We consider that owners need to be more aware to prevent the theft of their dogs. There is a lot of useful advice on the internet about the sorts of precautions owners can take. 
'One of the things owners should do is to microchip their dogs... In this country, the great majority of dogs, about 94%, are microchipped, but their details on databases are not always kept up to date. Owners should keep their details up to date because it increases the chances that a displaced or stolen dog can be safely returned.
'We believe that the courts have the necessary powers in place to impose appropriate sentences when such cases come to court... The government takes the issue of pet theft seriously and considers that more can be done to prevent such crimes from taking place.'
At the moment Ross Thomson MP has introduced a Private Members Bill called the Pet (Thefts) Bill, which is scheduled for its second reading on the 26th October. However, without government support it is unlikely to become law.

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