Priti Patel vows to clamp down on dog thefts at York kennel visit as she refuses to be drawn on Downing Street flat controversy

The Home Secretary vowed to clamp down on dog thefts yesterday on a visit to a kennels and cattery near York.

Home Secretary Priti Patel (right) on a visit to a kennels in York today. She was there in support of PCC candidate Philip Allot (left) and was joined by York MP Julian Sturdy (centre)

Confirmed dog thefts have climbed to 25 in North Yorkshire in the past year, compared with 18 in the previous year amid demand for “designer puppies” rocketing over the course of the pandemic.

But pet theft is not classed as a separate offence to theft of personal property, something campaigners say should be changed, and national figures of number of dogs stolen throughout the pandemic have not been counted by the Home Office.

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Under the Theft Act 1968, dog thefts can be punished by up to seven years imprisonment, but campaigners say this does not take into account the emotional impact victims of pet theft face.

A parliamentary petition to make dog theft a separate offence has received some 301,529 signatures, meaning the issue will be debated in Westminster.

Philip Allott, the Conservative candidate for Police, Fire and Crime Comissioner (PCC) said he has heard of elderly people in the region taking knives out with them on dog walks as they are so frightened of having their pet stolen.

Speaking at The Red House cattery and kennels at Murton near York, Priti Patel said such thefts are “tragic” and vowed to crack down on them, saying she “absolutely supports” calls to make it a crime in its own right.

She said: “One of the tragic and sad aspects of the pandemic that we’ve seen is dog theft, it’s absolutely shocking.

“I’ve seen and heard some horrible stories, violent stories, dreadful things happening.

“We are still in a pandemic for a considerable period of time. Dogs and pets are part of our family lives, they mean a great deal to pet owners and especially people living in isolation. The callousness of the perpetrators is just unacceptable.”

Ms Patel said that she was working on a taskforce with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and Department of Food, Rural Affairs and the Environment (Defra) to tackle to issue.

The visit came amid ongoing controversy surrounding the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson has faced two separate scandals this week - the issue of his Downing Street flat refurbishment, and a furore over an alleged comment he made about allowing “bodies to pile high” rather than plunge the country back into lockdown.

The PM’s partner Carrie Symonds, 33, reportedly saw the lavish overhaul as necessary to rid the Prime Minister's residence of the "John Lewis nightmare" left behind by Mrs May, according to Tatler.

The taxpayer funds a £30,000 annual allowance but the redecoration, which reportedly involves the company Soane, co-founded by designer Lulu Lytle - have stretched beyond that.

Some reports suggest the upgrades hit the £200,000 mark while a leaked email suggested Tory peer Lord Brownlow was making a £58,000 donation to the Conservatives "to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon-to-be-formed 'Downing Street Trust'".

Questions on the refurbishment at from leader of the opposition Keir Starmer left the PM visibily rattled during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday.

But Ms Patel refused to be drawn on the Prime Minister’s mood following the controversies, and said she believed the public did not see them as a priority.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, she said: “I spent some times in meetings with the PM yesterday. He is focussed on the job and that’s what matters to the British public.

He’s phenomenal and delivering for the country. He’s already said he’s paid for the flat, and there are inquiries that are taking place.”

The Home Secretary was visiting the kennels to support Philip Allott ahead of PCC elections next Thursday. Mr Allot has made combatting dog theft one of his six key priorities on his manifesto.

Alison Hume, Labour's candidate for PCC, said: "The fundamental problem is that the current law is inadequate and ineffective and does not deter determined thieves. If elected I will support the police to appoint a dedicated Chief Inspector as dog theft lead in North Yorkshire Police, support a safety information programme for owners and use my voice at a national level to demand tougher action from the Government instead of the Home Secretary’s warm words which are of little comfort to bereft dog owners now."

Elections take place next Thursday.