A law giving greater protection for police horses and dogs will come into force this summer after clearing its final parliamentary hurdle.
The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act was granted royal assent late Monday night (8 April) after a two-year journey through parliament.
The ruling, known as “Finn’s Law” after police service dog Finn, changes how courts view attacks on all police service animals, giving them increased protection.
While it was a police dog who inspired the change in the law, the new ruling gives added to protection to all service animals, including police horses.
Finn and his handler PC Dave Wardell (both pictured, below), of Hertfordshire Constabulary, were stabbed while on duty in October 2016. While the 16-year-old who attacked the pair was charged with ABH for stabbing PC Wardell, the harm he caused to Finn was classified as “criminal damage”.
The new Act addresses this, meaning it is now an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to a service animal. It also allows in certain circumstances, to disregard a defendant’s claim that they were protecting themselves and so were justified in using physical force against a service animal, therefore causing it necessary suffering.
PC Wardell said he is “a little emotional, but so happy Finn has gone down in history”.
“What a legacy for the job he absolutely loved doing every day of his career,” said PC Wardell.
“This has been an amazing journey and such a positive campaign to be part of. All this positivity came from such a negative event.
“Finn has attended every stage through parliament and is quite a feature there now.
“I would like to thank every single person who has supported us through this. I can’t believe we’ve made history.”
The Act was introduced as a private members’ bill by North East Hertfordshire MP Sir Oliver Heald in 2017. For a bill to become law, it must pass through the Commons and the Lords before reaching the final stage, which is royal assent.
It will come into force two months from the day it was passed (9 June).
Hertfordshire Constabulary assistant chief constable Paul Fullwood said he is “thrilled for Dave, our service animals and all those in support of the campaign”.
“What happened that night in 2016 was truly horrendous and the injuries Finn suffered were almost fatal,” he said.
“Our police dogs are part of our family and this incident affected us all. Our dogs, their handlers and their colleagues run towards danger and do some amazing work 24/7 to protect us and it is right they are seen as more than property.
“I know this has been a long and emotional journey for PC Wardell, his family and supporters but the outcome is so positive and well worth every moment, well done.”
Chief constable Charlie Hall added that every day, officers and police dogs put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public and bring offenders to justice.
“What happened to PC Dave Wardell and PD Finn is etched in all our memories and we continue to celebrate their bravery and courage in what was a very difficult situation,” said chief constable Hall.
“After months of campaigning, it’s great to see something so positive coming to fruition which recognises the importance of police dogs in our family.”
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What happened to Finn?
PC Wardell was on duty on 5 October 2016 when he was called to reports of a robbery in Stevenage.
While chasing the suspect, PC Wardell released Finn with a command to detain him. The suspect tried to jump over a fence, but Finn caught up with him and grabbed his leg.
PC Wardell caught up with them both and within moments the suspect lunged at them — stabbing Finn in the head and chest, and PC Wardell’s hand.
Despite his injuries, Finn did not let go and the pair kept the suspect in place until backup arrived and he was arrested. The teenager was later charged and subsequently found guilty of ABH and criminal damage.
Finn’s actions protected PC Wardell’s life and nearly cost him his own.
But he recovered and returned to active duty 11 weeks later before retiring from service in March 2017.
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