You may have read about the murder of a police community support officer, Julia James, in woodland in Kent while walking her Jack Russell dog. The last I heard the police had come up with nothing in their investigation to find the perpetrator. However, it has come to light that in that specific area there has been a series of attempted dognappings carried out with violence.
One neighbour of Julia James, Pat Moon, 77, a retired postal worker said that she had heard of several violent incidents in which thieves tried to steal dogs in the fields between Aylesham and Nonington a couple of months before James’s murder.
This information has led to a new line of enquiry for the police. It is said that there was a van going around the area with RSPCA on the side but it was not an RSPCA van.
Anybody who has kept up with the news will have heard about a surge in pet thefts, mostly dogs, because dogs have become a valuable asset in the eyes of thieves and of course they are readily available on the streets, on the leads of their owners. They can fetch £4,000 each so all the thieves have to do is to knock the person to the ground, grab the lead and run off. And this is exactly what is happening to the great distress of many dog owners.
There have been some very high-profile cases including that of Lady Gaga. In the UK, Boris Johnson has written about pet thefts in the Mail on Sunday and his intention to stamp on it by making pet theft a specific crime rather than it falling within the Theft Act. Under this Act dog thieves are prosecuted but the punishment is relatively minor because the Theft Act is really an act covering inanimate objects which are referred to as “chattels” to use old-fashioned language.
The theft of a dog is entirely different because it is the theft of a family member. And dogs and cats are genuine family members with the same rights and relationships as human family members. The law needs to be amended to take this fully into account and the punishment on conviction should also take it into account. There are many highly distressed former dog owners in the UK who have lost a dog to theft despite their best efforts to protect their companion animal.
To me, it seems quite likely that the murder of Julia James was indeed a botched dog theft attempt. Her dog was next to her body when it was discovered by officers on a country footpath in Akholt Wood a hammered about five miles north of Dover, Kent. The thieves embarked on what they thought was a minor crime and are now looking at 20 years behind bars if they are apprehended and successfully convicted.