Boris Johnson backs pet theft taskforce, claiming ‘malicious’ dognappers could commit more ‘serious crimes’

‘If you are cynical and nasty enough to steal a dog, in an organised gang, then you will almost certainly be party to other types of crime’

Joanna Taylor
Sunday 02 May 2021 19:31

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has thrown his weight behind a taskforce aimed at tackling pet theft to ensure that those “malicious” enough to steal a dog face criminal conviction.

Mr Johnson wrote in The Mail on Sunday that those “cynical and nasty enough” to steal pets as part of organised gangs will “almost certainly” be willing to commit other crimes.

The Pet Theft Taskforce was announced last month by the home secretary, Priti Patel, who had come under pressure to tackle rising rates of pet theft during lockdown.

Ms Patel met with justice secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and environment secretary George Eustice in March to discuss a “cross-government approach” to combat the issue, according to a government spokesperson.

Mr Johnson lent the taskforce his support in The Mail, writing: “One crime type that has risen in prominence during the pandemic is, oddly, pet theft – mainly the stealing of dogs. At present, this crime is far too often dismissed as relatively trivial – on a par, say, with shoplifting.

“I don’t agree. That is why the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland has set up the Pet Theft Task Force, to make sure that the criminal justice system is dealing properly with anyone who is so malicious as to steal a dog.”

“If you are cynical and nasty enough to steal a dog, in an organised gang, then you will almost certainly be party to other types of crime as well.”

He added that he strongly believes in “the broken windows theory”: that a “ruthless” approach to crimes like dog theft – which causes “huge pain and grief to victims” – will help to stop “serious crime”.

Currently, stealing a pet is classed an offence under the Theft Act and can result in a maximum jail sentence of seven years. Sentencing Council guidelines mean emotional distress is also considered when deciding punishments.

But ministers have been met with pressure to make dog theft a specific offence. Ms Patel said in February that this is something the Home Office is “definitely looking into”.

She then came under fire when a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request revealed that they had no information on meetings regarding the issue involving the home secretary from between October 2020 and mid-March.

The prime minister’s comments come as he tries to focus the nation on crime and fighting Covid-19, rather than the sleaze allegations which have plagued his office in recent weeks.

In his Mail column, he pointed out the number of dogs recovered and arrests made since the start of the year: 27 dogs and three arrests in Hertfordshire, 26 dogs and three arrests in Surrey, 83 dogs and six arrests in Suffolk and 80 dogs and two arrests in Carmarthenshire.

It is not immediately clear whether these are related to the efforts of the new taskforce.