'Finn's law' MP says attacking service animals like police dogs must be offence

Police dogs and horses deserve to be treated as "key members of the law enforcement team" rather than as equipment, an MP has said as he introduced "Finn's law" to the Commons.

Former minister Sir Oliver Heald said new legislation was needed to make it an offence to attack service animals as there is a "gap in the law".

PD Finn and PC Dave Wardell
PD Finn, winner of the Hero Animal of the Year award, with his handler PC Dave Wardell (Ian West/PA)

Sir Oliver told MPs how his constituent Pc Dave Wardell's police dog Finn needed surgery after being stabbed with a 10 inch knife while chasing a suspect in October 2016.

The Hertfordshire police dog and Pc Wardell survived the incident and returned to work 11 weeks later, but Finn's injuries were not considered serious enough to warrant a separate penalty for the attacker in court, Sir Oliver said.

His Service Animals (Offence) Bill, brought in via a 10-minute rule motion, would "create a clear offence of attacking a service animal" by making it an either-way offence with a maximum of five years imprisonment.

Attackers are prosecuted under current rules for causing criminal damage, but campaigners want police dogs and horses to be given the same status as injured officers.

The North East Hertfordshire MP said: "To accept such attacks on animals are just damage to property is, I think, distasteful."

He added: "A police dog of seven or eight years of age is not that valuable in money terms, but retired police dog Finn's injuries couldn't have been more serious but when it came to sentencing the offender was sent to custody for the offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but they felt that Finn's injuries were insufficiently serious to warrant a separate penalty."

#FabulousFinn is looking out for me, it's like he knows something is going on today ? @SiDix67@mickbland27@nicola_deltapic.twitter.com/uPUpDAlZ31

-- Finn for change (@Davewardell) December 5, 2017

Sir Oliver continued: "We are lucky in Britain to have fantastic and brave service animals like Finn, but there is a gap in the law: these animals should not be treated as equipment, but as what they really are: key members of the law enforcement team and providers of essential services.

Last year, policing minister Brandon Lewis said he had written to his ministerial colleagues at the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to "explore whether there is more that we can do in law to offer a more appropriate protection to working animals".

More than 127,000 people signed a petition which called for police dogs and horses to be "given protection that reflects their status if assaulted in the line of duty".

The Bill was listed for a second reading on February 23, but it has many hurdles to clear as it bids to becomes law.

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