This week I’ve written about the pressing need for pet theft reform and how this campaign has become even more important during the Covid-19 lockdown. Cases of pet theft have increased significantly since lockdown begun, robbing people of their pets just when their companionship is needed most.
This cruel crime causes great distress to victims which can stay with them for years but the theft of a pet is currently treated under the law in the same way as the theft of an inanimate object like a mobile phone. This means that pet thieves, if caught, often only receive pitiful fines of no more than £250. We must make pet theft a specific offence under the Theft Act so prison sentences of up to 2 years become more readily available to judges. The current punishments clearly don’t represent justice for victims or a sufficient deterrent to stop pet theft from continuing to rise.
Following my virtual discussion with campaigners behind the pet theft reform petition last month, we have now received a written response from the Government which says that they have no plans to change the law. This is disappointing but it’s no means the end of the campaign. I’ve asked Ministers to meet with me directly to discuss this issue and I’ll be calling for a debate on pet theft reform in Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The status quo doesn’t reflect how important our pets are to us and needs to change.
Yesterday I made a speech on the Counter Terrorism and Sentencing Bill which will see the most dangerous terrorist offenders spend longer in prison. This is a crucial piece of legislation which will punish those who would try to spill blood on our streets out of their hatred of this country and its people. And it will also provide a strong deterrent others who might be thinking about doing the same.
After I raised the case of terrorist Shamima Begum last week on the news, I again raised it in Parliament yesterday to underline just how angry many people are in the country at the Court of Appeal’s recent decision to allow her to return to the UK. The out of touch decisions which continue to come out of our courts must be addressed as we continue to build on the work of this Bill and look to put the public interest first. And I was glad to secure reassurances from Government during the debate that they will be appealing the Begum decision with everything they have.
I also used the speech to argue against amendments Labour were seeking to make that would limit the impact of this Bill on young adult terrorist offenders between the ages of 18 and 21 because of their immaturity. At 18 for all intents and purposes you are an adult with the same rights and responsibilities as every other adult. And you’re certainly old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and that actions which could result in the deaths of many people are inexcusable. I’ve frequently heard Labour politicians make the case that 16 year olds are mature enough to vote and it seems they change their view on where adulthood starts depending on what suits them.
I’ll continue to do everything I can as Ipswich’s MP to make sure we are as robust as possible in the fight against terrorism.
Written a piece about the approach I believe we ought to take in tackling the illegal crossings we’ve seen over the past few months. In short, I think we need a more robust approach, one that is prepared to do whatever it takes to get a grip of the situation in the short term. It’s all well and good looking to come to an agreement with France but ultimately if this is not possible we need to be prepared to take the situation into our own hands regardless of international opinion or convention. Australia took a very robust approach and were successful in dealing with a similar challenge.
Our ability to tackle illegal immigration should not be dependent on our ability to strike an agreement with another country. Taking back control of our borders must mean that we are able to deal with this issue by ourselves if necessary. I know a number of you are very concerned about the illegal crossings we’ve seen and I’ve received hundreds of emails and letters on the matter. I share your concerns which is why I’ve published this opinion piece.
I’ve now tabled a series of written questions to the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary on pet theft. I’ve worked closely with some of the founders of the pet theft petition I held a discussion with last month to craft these questions and ensure they go right to the point about the need for pet theft reform. Ministers must respond to these questions and I hope it draws their attention to this important issue.
In short, without a specific offence for pet theft and the robust sentences this would make available to judges, not enough pet theft cases are resulting in appropriate prison sentences for this cruel crime. The pitiful fines which are often handed out in these cases don’t act as a deterrent and don’t give the police the proper incentives to put resources in tackling pet theft.
This is just one of a number of steps I hope to take alongside pet theft campaigners over the coming months, including lobbying Ministers directly for reform. I’ll keep you updated as the answers to these questions come in as well.
Today I wrote the Chief Executive of Highways England calling for the deployment of a full complement of Highways England Traffic Officers to Suffolk to assist our local police with traffic control on our major roads. Currently there isn’t a single Traffic Officer based in Suffolk. This means that, unlike in many other counties, Suffolk Constabulary’s specialised road policing units have to manage traffic control when they should be able to focus on improving road safety, preventing crime and catching criminals.
The resources of our local police are invaluable and the lack of Traffic Officers in Suffolk means resources which could be used to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour on the streets of Ipswich aren’t being fully exploited. The current level of support isn’t good enough for our local police and the people they protect.
I’ve also sent a copy of this letter to the Transport Secretary to make him aware of this issue, and I’ll continue to work closely with Suffolk Constabulary to push for action from Highways England.
I have made clear before that I don’t believe Suffolk Police are fairly funding and that there should be a wholesale review of the Police funding formula at the national level. Suffolk are getting an additional 50 police officers as part of the 20,000 extra police officers the Government are bringing forward across the country but a fairer funding formula would have meant we would have got even more than this. I have also supported the Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner in his bid to secure extra funding through the Safer Streets Fund, we should know whether we’ve been successful very soon. However in addition to securing further resources it would be beneficial for unnecessary pressures to be taken off the resources that Suffolk Police currently has.
Today I used a question in the Chamber to acknowledge the incredible efforts of Tavis Spencer Aitkens’ family to bring about positive changes following Tavis’s tragic death at the hands of gang violence.
Tavis’s step mum, Helen, has recently qualified as a youth worker and alongside Tavis’s father, Neville, they have set up the Reflections youth club in Ipswich to help prevent young people falling into crime.
I asked Justice Ministers to join me in recognising the work of Tavis’s family and the importance of bottom-up community action targeted at tackling the causes of knife crime and gang violence. And I’m glad the Minister responded by underlining the importance of cohesive communities to root out gang violence.
These crucial grassroots initiatives aimed at tackling the underlying issues behind crime must go hand-in-hand with a zero tolerance approach to crime. And I’ll continue to raise both elements of this approach in Parliament going forward.
I’ve also spoken to Tavis’s mum, Sharon, about the positive difference she would like to make. And I’ll support this in any way I can.
Today the Home Secretary made a statement on the horrific terrorist attack we saw in Reading at the weekend. And I asked her whether she thought our legal system is becoming a roadblock which prevents elected governments taking decisions in the best interests the law-abiding majority.
It appears the suspect in the Reading attack was a foreign national who came here illegally in 2012 but was granted asylum in 2018 despite having being jailed for other crimes as well.
We must have a legal system which allows us to deal with illegal immigration and to deport those who pose a risk to our country. This is the overwhelming view of the public but not it seems of certain liberal sections of our legal profession which exploit loopholes in our legal system to keep criminal foreign nationals in the UK.
I’m glad the Home Secretary is working to overcome the obstacles currently preventing more deportations and I will support the implementation of her plans as soon as possible.
I have now co-signed a letter to the Lord Chancellor with the Chair of the Petitions Committee about the pressing need for pet theft reform. This follows my virtual meeting with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance earlier this month where we presented their petition calling for pet theft to be made a specific offence with tougher sentencing.
The full video of our discussion is also now available to watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOKQOIPVIpM
Despite pet theft being raised a number of times through petitions and in Parliament over recent years, the Government hasn’t yet moved to make the necessary changes to the Theft Act which would make sentences of up to 2 years more readily available to our courts to punish this particularly cruel crime. I hope this letter will cause the Government to look again at changing the law because, as you can hear in our discussion, the law as it stands often results in pitiful sentences which only take into account the monetary value of the pet and not the emotional cost to the owners and the harm caused to the pet.
In the letter we have also stressed how the lack of a specific pet theft offence makes it harder to record pet theft cases and focus the full scale of this growing crime. Sadly we know that pet theft has increased during the Covid-19 lockdown, robbing many an important source of companionship during this difficult time, but many cases won’t even get a crime reference number and this issue isn’t attracting the attention it should.
The sentencing law on pet theft must be changed to deter this abhorrent crime and provide an incentive to our police to track down those responsible, and I hope the Government recognise this in their response. I do not plan on leaving this issue here though and I am reaching out to pet theft campaigners to look how we can continue to raise this issue in Parliament and make further direct representations to Government ministers. Watch this space.