On 5 October 2016, PC Dave Wardell and his police dog Finn were called to an incident in Stevenage where there was a search for a male suspect, believed to be armed. PC Wardell and Finn located the suspect who ran off. After a shouted warning, PC Wardell released Finn and the dog seized the suspect’s leg as he was attempting to escape over a fence. As he fell, the suspect viciously stabbed Finn in the chest with a 10-inch hunting knife, before making a second attack directed at PC Dave Wardell. Finn bravely dived in front of his handler and dad to save his life. Finn suffered another wound to his head and was left bleeding profusely. Despite this, Finn retained his grip on the suspect, enabling PC Wardell to disarm him. When other officers arrived, Finn was taken to a vet immediately where he underwent emergency surgery in which part of his lung was removed.
Finn recovered from the attack and returned to duty just eleven weeks later. In May 2017 at Stevenage Youth Court, a 16-year-old boy from Lewisham in south London was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm for the attack on PC Wardell, but shockingly, could only be convicted of criminal damage for stabbing the dog. The attacker was sentenced to eight months’ detention in a Young Offender Institution.
Since the attack, Finn retired shortly before his eighth birthday in March 2017. Since then, Dave & Finn have campaigned tirelessly to change the law to protect dogs as loyal public servants.
Finn’s case highlighted the limited legal sanctions available against those who injure animals being used by the emergency services. Dave created an online petition for “Finn’s Law” which attracted more than 127,000 signatures, to make sure crimes like the attack in 2016 are treated as an “aggravated offence” rather than criminal damage. In turn, this would allow for increased sentences.
Further to Finn’s Law, a private member’s bill was proposed, the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill by Member of Parliament Sir Oliver Heald. The bill completed all the parliamentary stages and received Royal Assent on 8th April 2019 as the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019 and came into force in June 2019. In September 2019, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that a new Animal Welfare Bill, incorporating “Finn’s Law”, would be part of the new programme of legislation to be introduced into the Scottish Parliament.
On the 10th February 2020, a motion was put forward through the Northern Ireland Assembly to incorporate “Finn’s Law” to Northern Ireland under its own animal welfare laws. The motion was passed unanimously and was passed to the Northern Irish Agricultural minister.
Dave and Finn have successfully campaigned for increased sentences for animal welfare, and Finn’s Law Part 2 was passed in May 2021 extending the law for all animals.