North Yorkshire police commissioner candidates ready for polls opening

In the final hours before the polls open tomorrow, Thursday in the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) election for North Yorkshire and York, the four rival candidates have spoken about pet and dog thefts.

Conservative candidate Philip Allott, left, met the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and Julian Sturdy MP at the Red House Kennels and Cattery near York.
Conservative candidate Philip Allott, left, met the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and Julian Sturdy MP at the Red House Kennels and Cattery near York.

Conservative candidate Philip Allott, who met the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and Julian Sturdy MP at the Red House Kennels and Cattery near York last week to discuss the isssue, says it's a crime that many pet owners have been frustrated by not being taken seriously when their family pets are snatched or vanish.

Demand for dogs as pets has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Labour's PFCC candidate Alison Hume said pet theft was a crime that "devastates families"

The cost of some puppies, on Pets4Homes, is currently as high as £3,000, making them a valuable commodity to criminals.

According to Dog Lost, the UK's largest lost and found dog service, it is estimated thefts have risen by 250 per cent, with criminal gangs involved.

Non-specialist breeds of dogs can fetch well over £2,000, while those in great demand such as French bulldogs can sell for more than £5,000. A litter can fetch £35,000.

Pet theft, dog theft in particular, is a growing concern for the public and their fear has been perpetuated over the last couple of weeks with shocking reports in the media of more dogs being snatched by criminals.

Many pet owners have been frustrated by the lack of engagement by some police forces who have treated dog thefts as low priority.

Conservative candidate Philip Allott said he discussed the matter last week with the Home Secretary by Zoom. - along with other Conservative candidates and Police Commissioners.

Mr Allott said he supports making dog theft a specific criminal offence and also wants one standard database accessible to vets and law enforcement agencies to support collaborative working.

While there is a requirement to microchip, the databases are held by a number of non-related bodies. Existing databases do not speak to each other, making it easier for dognappers to get away with their crimes.

Following the representation, the Home Secretary said she recognised the devastating impact of this crime and is now considering how to implement more robust actions against the perpetrators.

Currently, whilst the theft of a dog is already a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968, the same act covers stolen cars, artwork, mobile phones, and many other objects.

The Covid epidemic has meant people are relying on pets as a source of companionship now, more than ever.

Mr Allott said he agreed with many dog owners who believe their pets should not be treated as an object and the status of dogs should now be upgraded.

But Labour's PFCC candidate Alison Hume said pet theft was a crime that "devastates families" and the Government needed to do much more as a matter of urgency.

Alison Hume said: "I’m very surprised by the statement from North Yorkshire Police who say the county is not suffering from a spate of dog thefts. Just last week a dog owner sustained minor injuries when someone tried to snatch his dog.

"You only have to look at social media to see this wasn’t an isolated incident.

"I have a rescue dog and where I live, myself and other neighbours who own dogs have found unusual blue chalk marks left on the pavements outside our houses.

"We think our homes have been identified and targeted by thieves who are looking to make money by stealing people’s pets. We’ve also noted unusual vans that are cruising the area.

"This is a crime that devastates families and needs addressing now. It’s no use to anyone for the Home Secretary to say she’ll ‘look into changing the law’ or for the incumbent PFCC to be running an online survey.

"This crime has increased as a direct result of lockdown and a spike in demand for companion pets.

"How many more dogs will have been snatched from their owners by the time the impact of the pandemic is over?

"It’s upsetting enough to have property stolen - but it causes deep distress to have much loved members of the family snatched away and in some cases used as breeding machines.

"As PFCC I would ensure not only that dog owners know how to keep their dogs safe but reassure them that the police service treats dog theft as seriously as any other crime."

Independent candidate Keith Tordoff MBE said: "There doesn't seem to be a day go by when we don't read in the press or see on social media a story about someone's dog being stolen.

"This must be heartbreaking to the owners whose dog is usually very much part of their family.

"The dogs being taken are often high value breeds with the offenders looking to sell them on quickly for financial gain.

"This is a callous offence and whilst it is good that this illegal act is being highlighted I do not think a new law is necessary.

"The existing Theft Act covers someone stealing a dog with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of it.

"It is a criminal offence punishable with up to seven years imprisonment.

"The proposal for a new specific law would only be duplicating the existing one, albeit with an up to eight year prison sentence for committing the offence.

"A one year additional possible prison sentence in reality, like the existing seven year one, is highly unlikely to be handed down by the Courts.

"If elected Police Fire and Crime Commissioner of North Yorkshire I will work with the Chief Constable to address the problem of theft of dogs.

"I will look to have cases investigated, as I would expect if any of my pets were stolen as they are very much part of our family."

Meanwhile, on a different election topic, Liberal Democrat candidate for York and North Yorkshire's Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, James Barker, has condemned the Government's cuts to the funds given to councils in York and North Yorkshire to carry out transport maintenance as 'potentially unsafe'.

On February 18 the Government announced their plans to cut road maintenance funding for local councils.

For 2021/22 the funding to North Yorkshire County Council has been reduced from £49.6m in 2020/21 to £37m in 2021/22. In York the funding has been reduced from £4m in 2020/21 to £2.8m in 2021/22.

Factfile: North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner elections, North Yorkshire, May 6, 2021

The candidates

Conservative: Philip Allott

Labour: Alison Hume

Independent: Keith Tordoff MBE.

Lib Dem: James Barker.

Looking back: Result of 2016 election for North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner

First Choice Voting: Conservative 53,078 Labour 34,351 Independent 30,984 Lib Dem 13,856

As no candidate won over 50%, the second preferences of the Independent and Lib Dem candidates were distributed to the two leading candidates, giving this final result:

Conservative 65,018

Labour 44,759

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