Saturday 20 January 2024

UK's new Pet Abduction law will not lead to old ladies feeding cats being prosecuted

There are many kind old ladies and men (for that matter) who are concerned about animal welfare who occasionally feed 'stray cats' and even adopt them. All perfectly normal. And sometimes a kindly old lady might live down the road from a cat owner whose cat likes to visit the old lady's home because she feeds him. And she might be feeding him better food than he receives at his home 😊.

Update: Christopher Wake, of South Croydon, London, writing to The Times said the following: "As a pet owner I acknowledge the emotional distress involved in the theft of family pets but new legislation is not required. The Theft Act 1968 allows for a five-year prison sentence, the same as in the proposed pet abduction bill. Unless the police investigate such crimes more thoroughly and judges are directed to impose stiffer prison sentences, this new legislation will achieve nothing that can't be achieved by present laws."

Comment: perhaps the government thinks that with a specific law concerned only with pet theft, judges and the police will take the matter more seriously and there will be more prosecutions and longer sentences?

Some people might see this as attempted theft 😕! It would be cruel to presume that an old lady is trying to entice a cat away from their owner. Although it might happen very rarely. But the problem here is that in the UK, a new law is being debated in the Houses of Parliament.

It is one specifically tailored to the theft of companion animals. The  existing Theft Act 1968 does not do justice to pet theft. Ordinary theft does not take into account the emotional distress caused to both companion animal and caregiver. It is this emotional distress element which distinguishes the theft of a companion animal from the theft of an inanimate object such as a laptop computer.

Currently they are treated exactly the same but it's time for change which is why the UK government supports the bill going through Parliament currently called the Pet Abduction Bill. Punishment will be tailored to the crime more accurately with a maximum five year prison sentence on conviction as I understand it.

But one Member of Parliament, Sir Edward Leigh, has raised the question about the workings of this Act after it has passed through Parliament. As I think it will be passed by the way because there's great support for it among Members of Parliament.

Sir Edward said that he remembers his mother's grandmother who was a great cat lady. She had 14 cats and every one of them she had adopted by feeding a stray cat as she saw it. Perhaps some of her cats were the property of her neighbours! Who knows. But Sir Edward saw a possible problem because under this proposed law (if it had been in place at the time) it might have resulted in her mother's grandmother being prosecuted and convicted for the crime of pet theft.

Apparently it won't but I can see a problem arising potentially at least. Anna Firth, the MP for Southend West who sponsored the bill said that it would not punish cases where there had not been malice or ill intent when looking after a cat.

This is about what is called mens rea which means intent. All crime requires an intent to commit that particular crime which is part of the prosecution process. There are two parts to it both the mental and the physical. So if an old lady is feeding a cat voluntarily because they want to help the cat but she has no intention of stealing the cat then she can't be prosecuted. 

That's common sense but it doesn't totally preclude the possibility that a charming and kindly old lady might have, on occasions, malicious intent to steal her neighbour's cat! A rare event but just about imaginable.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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