It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien). Like everybody else here, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald). I also welcome Finn and his handler and supporters up in the Public Gallery.
It is safe to say that our relationships with animals have stood the test of time, and none more so than that with man’s best friend. Dogs, in particular, have become an important part of the police in the post-war period. It is thought that the first ever police dog was used in 1859, when a bloodhound helped Luton police track down a murderer. Today, dogs are used in maintaining law and order, fighting the war on drugs, and supporting counter-terrorism operations.
These intelligent and dedicated animals have demonstrated time and again that there is nothing they will not do for their handlers. Finn’s story shone a light on that. We have heard how Finn, even having been stabbed in the chest with a 10-inch blade, still intervened to save his handler, PC Wardell. That is an amazing story, and it gives us such faith and hope that there are dogs such as this on our streets to protect us.
Intervention -Trudy Harrison MP: Does my hon. Friend also recognise that police dogs are incredibly capable at what they do, with a really remarkable success record? Just 5% of the 1,920 incidents mentioned resulted in a suspect escaping. That is just to reiterate how effective police dogs are in their work.
Absolutely. I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The value of dogs in the force is clear. As she says, in 95% of deployments involving dogs the suspects are apprehended.
In Sussex, our police force utilises dogs in tackling a range of criminal activity every day. Recently when Sussex police attempted to stop a car, a brief chase ended with the suspect vehicle crashing into a roundabout and all three passengers fleeing the scene. Police dog Isla was sent after the driver first, and once the dog was spotted the chase ended rather quickly. Isla then started a fresh pursuit for the first passenger. She was found sitting in front of the suspect barking continuously, as she was trained to do, until her handler back-up arrived. However, two out of three was not enough, and police dog Isla then led her handler 300 metres down the road, where she located the third and final suspect. All three were arrested for the theft of a vehicle.
As well as Isla, in the past few months police dogs Sparky, Lottie, Gonzo, Jack and Bobby have all contributed to arrests in my constituency. The great thing about this Bill is that it has given all of us the opportunity to go and meet our police handlers and the dogs, as well as to learn all about their incredible work. The police handlers told me that the dogs are frequently beaten and kicked on duty when assisting in an arrest or working to control crowds.
It is the bravery of a serving dog that has led to this debate, but it is also worth highlighting the important role that our mounted units play. This Bill will of course protect all service animals, including many of the horses we see in mounted units. I have had the experience of watching police horses actually break up a huge crowd of people in my home town of Liverpool.
Finn’s story and others highlighted in this debate show how vital these service animals are to the police—they tackle crime on our streets every day, and they keep their handlers and the public safe—so it is simply wrong not to have the protections in place that they need. I am so pleased that this Bill will put in place all the protections that they deserve:
“You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.”