Calls for theft of an animal to be made a specific offence

  • Currently an animal being stolen is treated the same in law as the theft of inanimate object, such as a bicycle, but campaigners hope this can be changed to make sentences more closely reflect the emotional impact of such a crime. H&H finds out more...

    The law does not sufficiently consider the “devastating impact” the theft of an animal has on owners, campaigners believe, as fresh calls are made for tougher legislation.

    The House of Commons’ petitions committee has written to secretary of state for justice Robert Buckland urging the government to amend the Theft Act or the Animal Welfare Act to create a specific new offence of pet theft, with an appropriate sentencing range that reflects the true impact.

    This follows 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 received more than 117,000 signatures and is awaiting debate in parliament. It is hoped that a new law would recognise pets, including horses, as “more than an inanimate piece of property”.

    The letter of 17 June acknowledges there is already legislation to protect animals, including Finn’s Law which protects service animals, but adds that legislation on pet theft would be an important addition.

    Stealing an animal currently falls under the Theft Act, which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence, the same as for stealing a bicycle, but the petitions committee said it is not aware of the maximum sentence being used – and Sentencing Council guidance does not specifically reference animals.

    Blue Cross borrower Ali Bluck’s Shetland pony Basil was stolen on 21 May and recovered 11 days later. She told H&H she feels “very strongly” that pet theft should be a specific offence.

    “Having an animal stolen is different to having your tack room raided – they’re part of your family,” she said.

    “It’s the not knowing what’s happening to them. When Basil was taken, it was unbearable – I cried every day and I couldn’t sleep while he was gone, it had a huge impact on me and my family.”

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H the charity would welcome more stringent punishment that acknowledges the emotional attachment of owners.

    “If there were changes to the law, we would ask for horses to be included,” he said.

    Petitions committee chairman Catherine McKinnell MP said the theft of a pet can have a “devastating impact” on owners, and Mr Hunt added current sentences do not reflect the serious nature of the crime.

    A Defra spokesman said the Sentencing Council updated its guidelines in 2016 to take into account the emotional distress and harm that theft of “personal items”, such as a pet, can have and accordingly recommends higher penalties for such offences.

    A spokesman for the petitions committee told H&H the committee is awaiting the government’s response to the letter.

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