Criminal suspects who attack police dogs should be jailed for up to five years under a specific new offence, MPs will say this week. Sir Oliver Heald, a former solicitor general, is to call for legislation to cover those who injure “service animals”, including guide dogs and animals assisting police and military officers.
The Conservative MP will introduce a bill on Tuesday, backed by four former ministers, aimed at filling a “gap” in the law.
It comes after a police dog, Finn, was seriously injured having been repeatedly stabbed in the head and chest with a 12in hunting knife last year while being arrested by an officer in Stevenage, Herts.
The officer, PC Dave Wardell, was a constituent of Sir Oliver’s. Sir Oliver said the case highlighted how there was no “suitable or appropriate” specific legislation under which an attack on a service dog could be prosecuted.
The only two options – animal cruelty or criminal damage – were both inappropriate, he said.
The 16-year-old attacker in PC Wardell’s case received a four month sentence earlier this year after being found guilty of actual bodily harm against PC Wardell and “criminal damage” by stabbing Finn.
Earlier this year a public petition on Parliament’s website calling for police dogs and horses to be given protection “that reflects their status if assaulted in the line of duty” attracted more than 127,000 signatures.
Sir Oliver’s bill, nicknamed by campaigners as “Finn’s law”, would introduce a maximum sentence of five years and an unlimited fine for those convicted in a crown court of attacking a service animal, or six months’ and a £10,000 fine in a magistrates’ court.
Sir Oliver said: “This is a service animal doing its duty and assaulting a police dog is an attempt to to evade arrest and stop the lawful apprehension of a suspect for a criminal offence.”
In October Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, outlined plans to raise the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. But Sir Oliver said: “Where a dog is acting in accordance with its duty as a service animal and is attacked then there should be a specific offence.
“Countries such as Canada already have an offence. It is time we did the same.”
A spokesman for Mr Gove’s department said: “We are absolutely clear cruelty to all animals, including our dedicated and hard-working service animals, must be stamped out. That’s why we are increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty tenfold to five years in prison.”