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Pets: Theft

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 155490, tabled on 19 February 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what recent assessment his Department has made of the (a) deterrent effect of sentences and (b) length of average sentence for people convicted of stealing pets.

Answered on

1 March 2021

The government recognises the deep distress which the theft of a much-loved pet can cause. All reported crimes should be investigated and, where appropriate, taken through the courts and met with tough sentences. The theft of a pet is a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 and the maximum penalty is seven years’ imprisonment. The sentencing guidelines for theft, acknowledge that theft which causes emotional distress, or where the items stolen were of substantial value to the loser, regardless of monetary worth, will indicate a higher level of seriousness and the offender should be sentenced accordingly.

There has been no specific research into the deterrent effect of longer sentencing in relation to pet theft. However, in the Criminal Justice System overall, the deterrent effect of sentence severity has received a high level of attention in wider research literature. The evidence is mixed, although harsher sentencing tends to be associated with limited or no general deterrent effect. Increases in the certainty of apprehension and punishment have consistently been found to have a deterrent effect.

There are a range of theft offences under the Theft Act 1968 which could relate to the theft of a pet depending on the individual circumstances of the case. Centrally held information on theft offences does not identify if a pet specifically was stolen. The information may be held on court records, but to access these records in order to identify the cases in which pets were stolen and to determine the average custodial sentence for these convictions would be of disproportionate cost.