You’re a cat. It’s Christmas Eve. And not just any Christmas Eve, your first Christmas Eve. You have spent the last few weeks being shooed out of the kitchen where the smells are lovely and barred from the living room with that new tree with the nice shiny baubles that should really be cat toys. But, tomorrow is Christmas Day.You curl up in a ball on the sofa and fall asleep, dreaming of field mice and Father Christmas and wondering what your human will put in your stocking. All is well with the world.
Fast forward a day. The scene is a neighbour’s house. A mum gets a Christmas present from her son, James Boyce, of a nice new purry puss. And yes, at sometime the night before, Mr Boyce had broken in and stolen Misty the cat from next door.
Misty’s owner reported this to the police and enquiries lead them to Ms Boyce’s family home. When they turned up they found Misty happily snuggled up in bed with Mr Boyce (cats are fickle creatures), who was promptly nicked and taken down the station.
This is actually a burglary not a theft, and was charged as that. This means that the burglary guidelines apply. The facts are not completely clear, but it would appear that it would be a Greater Harm (Misty had, presumably, high sentimental value to her owners) and Lower Harm which would put it into Category 2 (non cat lovers may say it is Lower Harm because the value of Misty is low).
However, it would be at the lower end of that as there does not appear to be any of the aggravating features. This would indicate a sentence of a High Community Order or Suspended Sentence (if there are no previous convictions) to a prison sentence that would be short (measured in months).
In the event, the sentence was 15 weeks imprisonment. There was, seemingly, a guilty plea, which would mean a starting point of about 5 months. This would appear to be well within the range and we would not expect an appeal.
Excuse me, I’m a cat and I am certainly not property
Although anyone who has had dealings with a cat can confirm that that view has a widespread currency in the animal kingdom, the law is clear – cats are property and can be stolen.
Under s4(4) Theft Act 1968, “Wild creatures, tamed or untamed, shall be regarded as property; but a person cannot steal a wild creature not tamed nor ordinarily kept in captivity, or the carcase of any such creature, unless either it has been reduced into possession by or on behalf of another person and possession of it has not since been lost or abandoned, or another person is in course of reducing it into possession.”
Here, as much as she might deny it to her cat friends, Misty was certainly included in this definition (there’s not much caselaw on it, but have a look at Cresswell v DPP  EWHC 3379 (Admin) which involved trapping badgers) and, of an older hue, Pierson v Post  3 Cai R 175 (chasing foxes in New York).