Dartford MP Gareth Johnson has reiterated his call for tougher sentencing for pet theft during a debate in the House of Commons this week.
This issue was debated in Westminster Hall on Monday after two public petitions gained more than 260,000 signatures calling for pet theft to be made a specific offence with tougher sentencing for those who commit this ‘nasty’ crime.
Mr Johnson, who has been campaigning for tougher sentences for many years, said: “I think everyone in this room would agree that pet theft is a particularly nasty offence. It is incredibly stressful for the owner and for the dog itself when it is stolen. I think the problem emanates from the Sentencing Council guidelines.”
He said that in 2016, he had written to the Sentencing Council to ask it to change the guidelines so that there was less emphasis placed on the value of the piece of property that was stolen: in this case an animal.
He said: “It came back to me and said that the current guidelines were perfectly acceptable, and even mentioned the fact that pedigree dogs are very often worth more than £500, and therefore it was not necessary to change the guidelines, but that misses the whole point of this particular crime.”
In 2017, nearly 2000 dogs were stolen in England and most were never returned to their owners. Kent had the third highest number of reported dog thefts that year.
Mr Johnson said that when an animal is stolen, it is a member of the family that has been stolen.
He said: “The animals are stolen simply because the crime is low risk with a high reward. If someone knows they are not likely to be sent to prison because the value of the dog is less than £500, that is a very attractive crime to commit. That is why unfortunately we are seeing an increasing number of people carrying out the offence. It was happening before lockdown, and the numbers have shot up since because the value of dogs has gone up and there is an even greater reward, but with the same low risk for people carrying out these dastardly offences.”
During the debate Mr Johnson said that if the Sentencing Council is so ‘stubborn’ that it will not change its guidelines, Parliament could step in and make it a specific offence to steal an animal, which the petition alludes to.
“If we did that, it would give the courts separate powers to impose the sentences that we all want to see for such a crime,” he said.
At the end of the debate, Mr Johnson urged the Minister to act, he said: “I urge the Minister to use her good offices to persuade the Sentencing Council on that, if that is possible can. I am pleased that this is a cross-party interest and that we are at one on the issue. Hopefully, collectively, we can either get the Sentencing Council to see sense or this place needs to take action and bring in a specific offence of dog theft.”
After the debate Mr Johnson said: “2020 is sadly the worst ever year we have had for dog theft. The increased value of dogs at this time has made it an attractive crime for the vile people who carry out this crime. Kent police have been proactive in tackling this offence, but we also need the sentencing guidelines to be changed so we can lock these people up more easily.”