Sir Oliver Heald: Why it’s time for a ‘Finn’s Law’ to protect service animals
There is no satisfactory offence to deal with attacks on animals supporting our law enforcement services. Now is the time to change that, writes Sir Oliver Heald
On Friday 23rd February I am moving second reading of my Service Animals (Offences) Bill, known as Finn’s Law. This Ten Minute Rule Bill was prompted by the experience of Police Dog Finn and my constituent, his handler, PC Dave Wardell of Buntingford.
On the night of 5th October 2016 they were pursuing a robbery suspect in Stevenage, when the man turned and produced a large knife with a 10-inch blade. The suspect stabbed Finn in the chest and then aimed his weapon at PC Wardell’s head. At this point the brave dog put himself in the way, possibly saving the officer’s life. PC Wardell had a cut on his hand, but Finn had severe wounds to chest and head. He required four hours’ surgery at a specialist vet.
Happily, Finn survived and went back to duty. The suspect was arrested and charged with actual bodily harm on the officer, but the only serious charge available for the attack on Finn was criminal damage, treating Finn as “police kit”. The only other possibility was a minor offence under the Animal Welfare Act. At court, the offender was sent to custody for his attack on the officer, but there was no separate penalty for the criminal damage to Finn.
Animal welfare campaigners, the public and the media took up the case and I pay tribute to everyone involved, particularly solicitor Sarah Dixon, who has led the campaign for Finn’s Law.
Having met Finn, a brilliant dog, and PC Wardell, a courageous officer, it is clear that there is no satisfactory offence to deal with attacks on police animals and other animals supporting our law enforcement services. Currently, it is a matter of trying to shoehorn the criminality into offences designed for other purposes, which have no recognition of the specialist role of a service animal and which face legal obstacles such as the ‘fear of harm from an animal defence’ to the Animal Welfare Act offence.
I am publishing my Bill on 21st February and it includes a straightforward offence of attacking a service animal, including police animals, fire service dogs and military animals and enables the Secretary of State to extend coverage to assistance dogs. It also creates an aggravating feature for sentencing other offences where a service animal is injured.
I have had positive meetings with ministers and opposition MPs and I hope to gain second reading on Friday.
I am grateful to have heavyweight support from my joint sponsors Sir Roger Gale, Jim Fitzpatrick, Sir Paul Beresford, David Hanson, John Spellar, Neil Parish, Ben Bradshaw, Jack Lopresti, Gareth Thomas, Maggie Throup and Nigel Evans. I have had a huge number of supportive messages from the public. It is time for Finn’s Law.
Sir Oliver Heald QC is Conservative MP for North East Hertfordshire. The second reading of the Service Animals (Offences) Bill is on Friday 23 February