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.
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.
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.