THE man who unclipped a German Shepherd puppy from its leash outside Tesco Express at Poole Quay told the owner “I’ve got your dog” before fleeing on a Beryl bike.

Craig Anthony Morgan, 36, of Melbury Avenue, Poole, pleaded guilty to one count of theft after he stole the puppy Bear from Andrew Smith on April 23.

He appeared at Bournemouth Crown Court for sentencing.

Bournemouth Echo: Bear the puppy

Prosecuting, Russell Pyne told the court Mr Smith and his wife Marie bought the puppy on March 29, 2020, for £1,800.

The dog had a microchip and the owner’s phone number on its collar.

Mr Pyne said: “Mr Smith was outside Tesco Express in Quay Road whilst his wife went inside to do some shopping.

“Mr Smith had Bear on the leash. The defendant appeared to stroke the dog, while doing so he unclipped the leash from the dog’s collar.

“He picked up the dog and said to Mr Smith, ‘I have your dog’. He got on to a Beryl bike and made off on that bike whilst holding the dog under one arm.”

The court heard how police were able to track the bike and found the defendant deceived a member of the public in giving him a lift from the area. Two weeks later, police visited the defendant’s home and found Bear.

A victim impact statement from Mr Smith said: “Since Bear has been returned to us, we are very anxious and fear he will be taken from us again. We feel unsafe outside and in our home.

“Bear’s behaviour also changed when the police returned him, we noticed he was more aggressive.

“We were so thrilled and happy when we first got Bear, since this awful crime it has taken that away.

“Bear is a member of the family, no person should have the right to take a family member away.”

Morgan had a number of previous convictions, but none of a “dishonest” kind.

Bournemouth Echo: Craig Anthony Morgan outside Bournemouth Crown Court

Mitigating, Robert Grey said Morgan was not stealing the dog to sell it and the dog was unharmed.

Mr Grey said the defendant was remorseful for the upset he caused and added the seriousness of the offence could be marked by a suspended sentence.

“Is it necessary for the defendant to go immediately to prison when he is not a danger?” he added.

Recorder Nicholas Haggan QC sentenced Morgan to 10 months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

He said: “It was, in every sense of the word, a very mean offence.

“It is right that I should mention the views of the victims in this case. It is perfectly clear that what you did caused enormous distress.

“They now feel uncomfortable when they go out, they no longer enjoy the act of walking their dog which gives pleasure to every dog owner.

“The one thing that saves you from an immediate sentence is the fact you did not make attempts to sell the dog.”

Morgan was also ordered to carry out 20 rehabilitation requirement days and undertake 200 hours of unpaid work.

Mr Haggan QC added: “If you commit any further offences during the next two years, you will be brought back before the court and it is almost inevitable the suspended sentence will be activated.”