On a radio station this week Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, talked about there being more pet thefts, which she described as ‘absolutely shocking’ and indicated that she was considering legislation making pet theft a more serious offence, meaning more serious penalties could be given.
A BBC request showed that five policing areas saw a double digit increase in the number of dog thefts being reported between January and July 2020, compared with the previous year.
Overall, about half of the 26 forces that responded to the BBC’s data request saw an increase over the last seven months, while the rest saw fewer reports. Five forces had more reports between January and July 2020 than the whole of the previous year.
There was a significant increase across Northumbria, Devon and Cornwall and Leicestershire – compared to the same period in the previous year.
Northumbria Police saw the largest increase of reported dog thefts, rising from 27 to 67 reports.
In Leicestershire, there were 41 reports compared to 22, which was also more than the total for the whole of 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Do we need a new law?
The stealing of a pet amounts to Theft under s 1 of the Theft Act 1968, and in some cases could amount to a burglary. The offence of theft carries a maximum sentence of 7 years imprisonment, and burglary carries 10 years (for a non-dwelling) and 14 years for a dwelling house burglary.
It is unthinkable that any pet theft could result in a sentence anywhere near the maximums allowed for, making no sense of the creation of a new offence.
Priti Patel is wrong in thinking the sentencing needs talking about. The court can always come away from the sentencing guidelines to consider new issues, and in any event, the existing theft guidelines already applies to pet theft.
The guideline assesses more significant harm having been caused where:
‘Items stolen were of substantial value to the loser – regardless of monetary worth.’ Or ‘Emotional distress’. We would probably see both of these in pet theft cases.
Considering all factors it would seem that existing maximum sentencing powers, and guidelines, are sufficient to deal with animal theft cases.
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