Many constituents have contacted me about the protection of police dogs and horses, and the related ‘Finn's Law’ campaign.
In October 2016, a police dog called Finn was stabbed in the head and chest while chasing a suspect. For many people the charges brought in this awful case have highlighted a wider issue about the protections available in law for police animals.
People who attack a police animal can be charged under the Criminal Damages Act 1971. This legislation is designed to deal with destruction or damage to property, not with animal cruelty. Those who attack police animals can also be charged under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it a criminal offence to subject an animal to unnecessary suffering. The maximum punishment is six months in prison or a fine of up to £20,000, which is much lower than the maximum penalty of 10 years available under the Criminal Damages Act.
I agree with the 'Finn's Law' campaign: that police animals deserve better protection than property. I am concerned that many of those who work with police animals think the law is currently failing to offer that protection. Police dogs and horses are not merely police property; they are valued public servants. I believe that the law should recognise them as such and give them the protection they deserve.
In response to a petition on this issue with over 100,000 signatures, the Conservative Government had said that it has found it unnecessary to create an additional offence that dealt specifically with attacks on police animals, and that an additional and separate offence may not result in more prosecutions, or increased sentences.
I can understand that it is good practice to avoid duplicating laws on the statute book. However, I believe Conservative Ministers need to address the serious concerns about the legal protection afforded to animals working in the police service. The Conservative Government has now agreed to explore whether there is more that the law should do to offer the most appropriate protections to police animals and all working animals. I will closely monitor any developments.