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‘No plans’ to make pet theft a specific offence despite owners’ ‘deep distress’

The government has “no plans” to make pet theft a specific offence despite the “deep distress” caused to owners – but there is hope a debate on the topic will allow owners’ concerns to be heard.

On 17 June the House of Commons petitions committee wrote a letter urging the government to amend the Theft Act or the Animal Welfare Act to create a new offence of pet theft, with an appropriate sentencing range to reflect the impact it has on owners.

This followed a discussion between campaigners and committee member Tom Hunt MP about the petition Pet Theft Reform: Amend animal welfare law to make pet theft a specific offence, which was signed by more than 117,000 people, so is awaiting debate in parliament. It was hoped that a new law would recognise pets, including horses, as “more than an inanimate piece of property”.

Today (30 July), secretary of state for justice Robert Buckland QC MP responded to the letter and said the government “fully understands the deep distress” caused by the theft of a pet, but that stealing this is already a crime under the Theft Act, with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment.

“Sentencing decisions are a matter for the courts, taking into account all the circumstances of the individual case. The Sentencing Council’s guidelines on theft specifically include the emotional distress, and therefore the harm, that the loss of valued pets (among other matters) can have on victims, and accordingly recommends higher penalties for such offences,” he said.

“I understand the strength of feeling among campaigners regarding this issue, but the government is satisfied the existing law already covers the criminal offence of pet theft. The government therefore has no plans to introduce a new specific offence to deal with the theft of pets.”

Petitions committee chair Catherine McKinnell MP said the government’s decision was “incredibly disappointing”.

“Petitioners have been pressing parliament and the government on this issue since 2018, with more than 250,000 signatures on petitions urging action to be taken,” she said.

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“With significant cross-party consensus and public support on this issue, the petitions committee will continue to raise it with the government and look to ensure there is opportunity to challenge their response by scheduling a parliamentary debate to ensure the petitioners concerns continue to be heard.”

Mr Hunt said he was disappointed by the government’s response, adding pet theft is a cruel crime causing “untold harm” to the animals themselves.

“I’m firmly of the view the law doesn’t reflect where the public is on this issue, and I will be pushing for pet theft reform to get the debate in parliament it deserves after the [summer] recess,” he said.

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