Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who led the debate, told H&H he had been involved in discussions around changing the sentencing guidelines to give judges the ability to sentence for the theft of pets, including horses, more harshly after the Government refused to create a specific offence for pet theft. H&H finds out more...
STOLEN pets are treated no differently to stolen mobile phones, which needs to change, an MP has pointed out, in discussions over changes to sentencing guidelines.
A parliament debate on 19 October followed two petitions calling for tougher sentencing for pet theft – which together received more than 260,000 signatures – and a letter from the House of Commons Petitions Committee to the Government urging for either the amendment of the Theft Act or for a new offence to be created under the Animal Welfare Act.
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who led the debate, said pet theft is not treated with the seriousness it deserves, and that reform is “urgently needed”.
“Those with pets can only imagine the sense of loss, anger and hopelessness they would feel if their pets were snatched away from them in such cruel circumstances. This must feel worse than when they simply pass away,” he said.
“In the vast majority of cases, our pets are treated no differently under the Theft Act than replaceable and inanimate objects, such as mobile phones.”
Mr Hunt said while the Government responded to the petitions by stating the maximum penalty for theft is seven years and reform is not needed, he challenges anyone to find a case where the maximum sentence has been imposed for stealing a pet – adding that changing the law “should be the goal”.
MP Victoria Prentis, on behalf of Defra, said that in 2016, the Sentencing Council updated guidelines for theft sentencing, which Defra fed into.
“The guidelines set out emotional distress and non-monetary value are factors to be taken into consideration when passing sentence, so the impact on the victim is now very much something a court can and should take into account,” she said.
“We do not currently think the creation of a specific offence, with a two-year custodial penalty, would really help much. We think the way to go is to continue discussions on sentencing guidelines. To that end, the Government is very willing to work with interested parties, including the police and animal welfare organisations.”
Becky Thwaites, head of public affairs at Blue Cross, said the charity is “incredibly disappointed” the Government has not committed to make pet theft a crime in its own right.
“We feel this is a huge missed opportunity to protect pets and reassure owners that theft is taken as a very serious crime,” she said. “We are however, encouraged that the Government has stated its willingness to engage in further discussion on the sentencing guidelines and we look forward to being involved.”
Mr Hunt told H&H he had been involved in discussions around changing the sentencing guidelines to give judges the ability to sentence for the theft of pets, including horses, more harshly when necessary and said he is “reasonably confident” there will be movement on this.
H&H 29 October 2020
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