East Sussex resident’s warning over ‘dognappers posing as charity workers’

An East Sussex resident has issued a warning over suspected dognappers posing as charity workers.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 6:21 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 6:24 pm

The resident who lives in Uckfield said they noticed a man leaving British Heart Foundation donation bags on driveways before talking to a colleague in a waiting pickup truck – but the man only left collection bags at houses with dogs and ignored ones without them.

The resident said they believed this was a new tactic so dognappers know which homes to visit later and swipe pets.

They told Sussex Crimewatch public Facebook page: “A scruffy bald man walked around our cul-de-sac holding a Heart Foundation donation bag. He walked all around, threw the donation bag on our drive and walked off.

Manor Park in Uckfield and (inset) a dog. Picture: Google Street View
Manor Park in Uckfield and (inset) a dog. Picture: Google Street View

“He was then seen talking to a guy in a silver truck who drove up and around looking at our house.

“We are the only house he threw a bag on and are the only house with dogs,

“We are treating this as being targeted and a new trick is a donation bag on the drive.”

The resident said the man was also seen using a similar tactic in another road.

The British Heart Foundation said it does not leave collection bags on doorsteps and warned people to be on their guard against fake charity workers.

Sarah Marshall, head of retail service, said: “We are concerned to learn of this incident but we no longer distribute donation bags to doorsteps.

“While our shops remain closed we’d encourage our supporters to use our freepost donation service or by dropping donations off at their local shop once we reopen.”

Sussex Police confirmed in January it was taking action to prevent dog theft as soaring prices for pets during lockdown has seen a rise in theft nationally.

The force said its dedicated Rural Crime Team (RCT) was tackling this ‘devastating crime’ by working closely with partner agencies, gathering intelligence and highlighting crime prevention among the dog owning community.

Reports of dog theft are thankfully relatively low in Sussex, it added, but officers do ask dog owners to take necessary steps to keep them safe.

Inspector Andrea Leahy, from the RCT, said: “Dog theft is an abhorrent crime where criminals selfishly steal beloved pets from their families - sometimes to exploit these poor creatures by selling them on at inflated prices or breeding them for monetary gain.

“The emotional impact of a missing dog is considerable, with victims left bereft and searching for their much-loved family member, in some cases not knowing whether they have been lost or taken.

“Unfortunately, because of the nature of these incidents, it can sometimes be difficult for police to identify whether or not a crime has occurred and, if it has, if there are any realistic investigative lines of enquiry.

“We are aware of worrying reports from across the country circulating on social media and would like to reassure our local communities that cases of dog theft remain relatively low in Sussex and tackling it is a key priority for the RCT.

“There is currently limited evidence to suggest Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) are targeting dogs in the area, however it is known this is happening across the UK.

“By raising awareness, we want to both prevent dog thefts and to increase the quality of community intelligence reported to police, so we can take action to catch offenders.”

The RCT works closely with partner agencies, including Trading Standards, to disrupt criminals by cross-referencing information about dog theft, found dogs and puppy farming.

Insp Leahy added: “We urge people to remain vigilant by following our safety advice to help protect your pet from going missing or from being targeted by thieves. It is vital that people report any suspicious behaviour or information about suspected puppy farming to us as soon as possible so we can take action. Those who cause such considerable distress to families through dog theft will not be tolerated and we will work hard to take action against them.”

Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “Pets quickly become part of our family and the impact of these crimes is often devastating, leaving an unbearable sense of loss.

“While reports to the police in Sussex do not appear to be showing an upward trend in this area, you only have to look on social media to know that dog theft is a big concern for residents.

“Sussex Police are issuing helpful advice this week on keeping your dogs safe and how to report thefts or suspicious activity.

“The Chief Constable has assured me that officers will take your concerns seriously and all information received will feed into vital community intelligence to disrupt any criminal activity.”