The £6k spaniel snatchers.

Two couples escape jail over ‘amateur’ plot that left victim heartbroken.

he dogs were snatched from a breeder but they were traced within days and the two couples who planned the raid were quickly arrested.

However, because of strict microchipping laws only one dog was returned to the owner.

After the theft, police launched a media appeal with pictures of the dogs and owner Madeline Cowling offered a £5,000 reward. Three days later 11 spaniels were found at the home of Peter Darling, 51, and his wife Bridget, 40, in Birstal, West Yorks.

Cutting equipment had been left at the scene of the raid and CCTV even captured a meeting between Peter Darling and the dognappers – Barbara PetrieHarrison, 45, and partner Craig Jackson, 42 – after the burglary in Middle Rasen, Lincolnshire.

Another dog was found alive at the side of a motorway near Leeds and police believe it had been thrown from a moving vehicle, Lincoln Crown Court was told yesterday.

This became the only one of the dogs returned to its owner. The 11 found at Darling’s home had not been not microchipped as the law now demands and Mrs Cowling – a King Charles breeder for more than 20 years – could not officially identify them. Yesterday, Lincolnshire Police were unable to say what had happened to these dogs.

Petrie-Harrison and Jackson pleaded guilty to burglary. The Darlings, now separated, both admitted handling stolen dogs. Prosecutor Lisa Harding said: ‘Two sets of couples at the time effectively got together resultne in the theft of a number of spaniels. Their value was in the region of £6,500.

The burglars had grabbed the dogs after climbing over a fence and breaking into an outbuilding at the kennels. But a black Vauxhall Astra picked up on nearby CCTV was quickly traced to the Darlings’ home.

Police did not know precisely how many dogs were taken but the owner Mrs Cowling believed it was 15, including a pregnant bitch, the court was told.

Mrs Cowling, who had treated her dogs like ‘babies’, was left very emotional by their disappearance and had since installed extra security equipment.

‘It was stressful,’ she said. ‘It has made me very poorly. I’ve got high blood pressure and have panic attacks. I’m not getting an awful lot of sleep. I’m just exhausted.

‘It’s life- changing, what has happened. They were our babies. It was like part of my life was taken away – to wake up and all of a sudden part of your life is missing.’

Barry Darling – who had convictions for 67 previous offences – was given a 16-month suspended jail term, as were PetrieHarrison and Jackson.

Bridget Darling, who arrived at court wearing a short fur jacket, got a 12-month susing pended term after it was said she played a lesser role.

Judge Andrew Easteal told the four that the case was ‘ bad enough to warrant you all going to prison’ but he had suspended the sentences because there had been no new offences since it happened in September 2015 He told the two couples: ‘Let’s be clear, this was as deplorable and awful as it was amateurish and doomed to fail. The speed it was detected and identified was almost embarrassingly fast.

‘The goods here were valued at £6,500 but we are not taking about a TV or electrical products – we are talking about animals. It has had a devastating effect. What the effect has been on those animals I am unable to say.’



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