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Hero police dog watches in the commons as MPs back Finn's law

Former police dog Finn, with Senior Doorkeeper David Pryor, after he watched in the House of Commons as MPs backed attempts to give service animals greater protection from attacks. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday February 8, 2019. Finn joined Pc Dave Wardell in the public gallery to see the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill move a step closer to becoming law. The Bill, nicknamed Finn's Law, removes a section of the current law of self-defence often used by those who harm a service animal while committing a crime. See PA story COMMONS Finn. Photo credit should read: Jennifer McKiernan/PA Wire

By Richard Wheeler and Jennifer McKiernan, Press Association Political Staff

A hero police dog watched in the House of Commons as MPs backed attempts to give service animals greater protection from attacks.

Finn joined Pc Dave Wardell in the public gallery to see the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill move a step closer to becoming law.

The Bill, nicknamed Finn's Law, removes a section of the current law of self-defence often used by those who harm a service animal while committing a crime.

Pc Wardell, from Hertfordshire, said the dog - now retired - saved his life when a robbery suspect they were pursuing turned on them with a knife in 2016.

Finn suffered serious stab wounds to the chest and head but did not let go until reinforcements arrived, and was initially thought unlikely to survive.

The suspect was charged with ABH in relation to wounds to Pc Wardell's hand but faced only criminal damage charges over the injuries to Finn, with MPs hearing such a charge essentially treated the dog as if he was a piece of police property.

Pc Wardell said he was delighted that Finn's Law had passed its third reading in the Commons.

Sitting with Finn the dog in the Government chief whip's office of the Commons, he said: "He can sense that dad was a bit emotional, so I think he's quite excited now and looking forward to a run in the park.

"For me, what it shows is just how highly the whole of the UK thinks of their service animals and it's our right really to protect them and, from what we've heard today, we're well on our way to doing that."

Finn's presence in the Commons emerged as Tory MP Victoria Prentis (Banbury) spoke in support of the Bill.

After it was initially believed he was not there, Pc Wardell lifted Finn up.

Ms Prentis said: "Finn is here - super. I look forward to meeting him later.

"Oh look, he's standing up. We can see him - marvellous. I can only apologise that those on the opposition benches probably can't quite see him."

Conservative Sir Oliver Heald, who tabled the Bill, earlier said: "This change in the law, when taken together with the Government's increase to the animal welfare penalty, will mean for the first time there is suitable protection for service animals and a proper sentence for offenders.

"Service animals, such as Finn, do a great job.

"There are 1,200 police dogs in service at any one time.

"There should be proper recognition in law of their vital role."

The Bill would amend the 2006 Animal Welfare Act to address concerns about defendants' ability to claim they were justified in using physical force to protect themselves from a service animal.

The Government last year also announced animal abusers would face up to five years in jail - an increase from the previous six-month maximum sentence.

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny at a later stage in the House of Lords.