Gangsters in Scotland are switching from “cocaine and meth labs to canines and pet labs” MSPs were warned yesterday. 

During a debate on plans to introduce a new law on making dog theft a crime in its own right, the Conservative justice spokesman, Jamie Greene, said more needed to be done deter the illegal trade in animals. 

“I don't think our justice system adequately serves as a deterrent for dog theft because five per cent of dog thefts result in someone being charged and just one per cent lead to prosecution. If that was any other field we would be in absolute uproar,” he said.

“I think we should take steps to deter those who steal our furry friends  It's a massive business and in fact, we know that the third most profitable illegal trade after narcotics and weapons are pets. Serious organised criminal gangs and syndicates have given up trading drugs actually, because of the risks involved, and they've switched to the illegal dog trade, They've gone from cocaine and meth labs to canines and pet labs. That's the sad reality of where we are.”

Police Scotland has said there are “indications of more organised criminality” in some dog thefts.  

In a recent report, they pointed to an incident in the Lothian and Borders, where eight Border Collie puppies from a farm outbuilding were stolen. Police say this would have needed suitable transportation and “some prior awareness of the situation.”

In Fife, one bitch and nine puppies were taken from locked cages in an external kennel at a dog breeder’s home. The estimated value of the loss was £27,500. 

Last year the SSPCA told the Herald on Sunday that organised crime was now heavily involved in puppy farms because of the huge amounts of money to be made and the ease with which cash can be laundered. 

READ MORE: Neil Mackay's Big Read: The inside story on how organised crime gangs took over Scotland's illegal trade in puppies

The debate in the Scottish Parliament was called by Greene’s Tory colleague Maurice Golden, who’s attempting to get the new offence, carrying a maximum sentence of five years, onto the statute book.

However, the proposal has been criticised by Roddy Dunlop QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, who says the new legislation is unnecessary. 

The advocate told The Herald: “There is already in place in the common law of Scotland a significant deterrent. If one needs to make that more robust, then it can be done by way of reinforcing sentencing guidelines without the need to introduce a specific statutory crime.”

Mr Dunlop pointed out that currently, the maximum sentence for theft of any kind in Scotland is life. 

READ MORE: Dog theft law is unnecessary says Dean of the Faculty of Advocates

Responding to the criticism in the chamber, Golden said he would be consulting on the length of term “through discussing with the dog charities.” 

“We think that five years is reasonable and proportionate. And in fact, from the evidence that we've looked at, no one is receiving beyond that in the current system,” he said.

He told MSPs: “The existing law treats stealing a dog as any other property theft. So there is no requirement for the police to record that a dog was involved, let alone additional information such as breed type. 

“And this brings us to the simple sad fact, the law of the land treats dogs as nothing more than things. As far as the law is concerned, stealing a dog is no different to stealing a mobile phone or TV or any other inanimate object. 

“But dogs are not objects. They are part of the family. And for many people, their dogs are by far the most important part of their lives. The current law simply does not recognise this treasured and irreplaceable role that they have. That means justice is very rarely served.” 

Mr Golden said that because the law treats dogs as property, the monetary value of the animal would influence sentencing.

Ash Regan, the minister for Community Safety, said the government would consider whether the creation of a specific criminal offence would “have a real and beneficial impact.” 

She also said it wasn’t “a high volume crime in Scotland,” pointing to figures which showed there were 88 dog thefts in 2020/2021, up from 62 in the previous final year. 

Ms Regan told MSPs: “There is estimated to be at least 600,000 dogs in Scotland, and so the scale of theft is low within that context, although a traumatic experience it is undoubtedly when it occurs to a loved family pet “

The minister also said courts wouldn’t treat animals as stolen property. “I think the courts are very well used to taking account of the facts and the circumstances of each individual case. And when sentencing a person for the theft of a dog or pet the court would take into account the fact that the offender stole a beloved family pet and the impact that this has had.”