Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 am on 8th February 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 9:34 am, 8th February 2019

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I wish to thank Members who co-sponsored this Bill, those who were selected for the Committee and all the other Members and supporters, such as Holly Lynch who has been very supportive but who is currently on maternity duty. They have been great supporters of this small but important change in the law, popularly known as Finn’s law. I also thank all those who have campaigned for this measure, including PC Dave Wardell, Sarah Dixon of the Finn’s law campaign, many animal charities, the media, including the “Today” programme, The Sun and the Daily Mirror, all police and crime commissioners, including David Lloyd from Hertfordshire, and mayors such as Andy Burnham. I am grateful to the Administration Committee for agreeing that Finn could attend the various stages of the Bill accompanied by PC Wardell and Sarah Dixon. I thank my Whip, my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, who has championed the Bill and helped me a great deal with this. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for your advice early on in the proceedings when you told me to keep persisting and perhaps I would get there, and it looks as though I may, so thank you very much.

This Bill, which received a Second Reading on 6 July last year and passed Committee on 16 January, arises from events that I explained to the House in my ten-minute rule Bill application on 5 December 2017. My constituent PC Dave Wardell is a police dog handler from Buntingford in my constituency where he lives with his family and Finn, now a retired police dog. On Wednesday 5 October 2016, PC Wardell and Finn were on duty in Stevenage when a robbery suspect ran off and they followed. The suspect was found hiding in a garden when a light came on. PC Wardell called, “Stop! Police!”, but the suspect started to jump up a fence. Finn took hold of his lower leg to restrain him. The man lunged at Finn with a 10-inch bladed hunting knife and stabbed him right through the chest several times. He then turned his attention to PC Wardell. Finn intervened to save PC Wardell as the blade was aimed at his face. Finn put himself in the way to save the officer, and PC Wardell received a hand wound, but the dog received serious head wounds as well as the chest injuries. PC Wardell believes that Finn saved his life.

As other officers arrived, the suspect was apprehended. Finn was badly injured, bleeding and was taken to the vet and then on to a specialist vet. He was in a terrible shape with his lungs punctured in four places and yet he was licking his handler’s hand wound. Finn had a four-hour operation to save his life. The vet commented on his strength and bravery. PC Wardell slept downstairs with Finn for the next four weeks and I think we are all pleased that Finn made a remarkable recovery. After 11 weeks, he was ready to go back to work with PC Wardell. On his first shift, on 22 December 2016, they arrested a fleeing suspect on their first outing.

Finn is one of the most successful police dogs that Hertfordshire police has known. He has won national recognition for his bravery: Action Animal of the Year; Hero Animal of the Year; and the PDSA gold medal, which is known as the animals’ George Cross. However, when it came to charging the offender, it became clear that there is a problem with the law. For the assault on the officer, it was a straightforward offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but there were two potential charges for the injuries to Finn himself—either causing “unnecessary suffering” to an animal under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, or section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Neither offence properly provides for the criminality involved in the attack on Finn. In the event, an offence of criminal damage was brought, but this treated Finn as though he were simply a piece of police property that had been damaged—a bit like a police radio or something of that sort.