Coronavirus: MPs debate pet theft law change amid lockdown rise

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image copyrightWest Mercia Police

image captionMore than 30 puppies, thought to have been stolen, were found in a van by police in Cheltenham in August

Pet theft reform has become "more pressing" following lockdown when "record numbers" of animals were stolen by thieves, MPs have been told.

They were debating two petitions, signed by almost 300,000 people, urging the government to make pet theft a specific offence.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt also said pets have been taken at a time when people "need their companionship the most".

The government said it was "keen to act".

Opening the debate on Monday, Conservative MP Mr Hunt told Westminster Hall: "Covid-19 has made pet theft reform more pressing, not less."

He added: "Our pets are being snatched away from us in record numbers just when we need their companionship the most.

"Organised crime groups are planning and ruthlessly executing the thefts of our cherished pets.

"They know the money they can make from breeding pedigrees and selling puppies for a quick profit, yet we're fighting this growing tide with outdated and underpowered laws.

"The risk of small fines will not stop this type of organised crime."

image captionCriminals are thought to be targeting puppy litters

He added by making pet theft a specific offence, it will empower judges to be able to hand out two-year prison sentences.

The debate follows the BBC's own investigation which suggested 2020 has been the "worst ever" for dog thefts.

image copyrightParliament TV

image captionTom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, opened the debate saying current laws were "outdated"

During lockdown demand grew for puppies and so did the price, attracting the attention of criminals, it is believed.

A BBC freedom of information request showed five policing areas saw a double-digit increase in the number of dog thefts reported between January and July 2020, compared with the previous year.

Dr Daniel Allen, an animal expert from Keele University, who started both petitions which led to the debate, said criminals were targeting breeders and "taking the mum and the pups in one fell swoop".

He added: "During lockdown, people wanted that canine companionship but there is an increasing risk of our pets being taken away from us."

Victoria Prentis, minister for agriculture, fisheries and food, said the government was "keen to act" on the issue.

However, she told Westminster Hall that it did not think the creation of a specific offence for pet theft, with a two-year custodial penalty, "would really help much".

"We do think the way to go is to continue the discussions on sentencing guidelines," she said.

"The government is very willing to work with police and animal welfare organisations to bring this forward and we are keen to act in this area."

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