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(Updated 10/4/01)

Lacey: it's now eight years 'inside'

A special report by Nick Mays

LACEY’, a white Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross seized by police in 1993 as an illegal, unregistered pit bull ‘type’ dog has now been held in solitary confinement at secret kennels for eight years. This is a total of 2,922 days, the longest period any dog has been incarcerated under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act. Lacey’s only ‘crime’ is that a police officer decided that she resembled a Pit Bull Terrier. Under the terms of the DDA, all pit bull ‘type’ dogs must be registered or they will be deemed illegal.


Lacey is owned by Spanish-born artist Montserrat ‘Monste’ Christian, who, in March 1993 was undergoing a divorce from her British-born husband, Clem. Montse was living elsewhere, whilst her dogs, Lacey and Maite, were being looked after by Clem.


Lacey’s ordeal began on March 30th 1993. At 11.30pm that evening, Clem answered a loud knocking at the door and was confronted by several police officers in body armour and an RSPCA Inspector, who informed him that they had come to seize two unregistered Pit Bull Terriers known to be on the premises. They seized both dogs and took them to secret kennels. Their owner, Montse was eventually charged under Section 1 of the DDA.


A police officer with responsibility for DDA cases later approached Montse and offered to make a deal with her. If she signed a disclaimer that one dog was a pit bull ‘type’ and allowed it to be destroyed, then the police would return the other dog to her. The officer made it clear to Montse that he didn’t care which dog she chose. Montse refused, but even so, nine months later, Maite was returned to her without charge. However, the police did not release Lacey.

Montse Christin with Lacey at their brief reunion


In May 1994, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued proceedings, mainly due to the unavailability of a vet who regularly gave ‘expert’ evidence for the prosecution in DDA cases. Montse was initially delighted at this news but her joy was short lived. The police re-seized Lacey under Section 5(4) of the Act (now Section 4(b)). This section was originally intended for use in cases where the ownership of a pit bull could not be proven. This necessitates the owner taking the police to court for the return of their dog but becomes a civil, rather than criminal, hearing and, as such, not subject to assistance under legal aid.


Montse had a brief reunion with Lacey at a London police station, but has not seen her dog since, nor indeed is she sure that Lacey is even alive.


Lacey’s case was taken on by the solicitor Trevor Cooper, working for the Fury Defence Fund. Despite an abortive attempt by the Metropolitan police to secure a destruction order on Lacey at Richmond Magistrates’ Court in November 1994, Lacey was still not released.


Death sentence


The most recent attempt to free the hapless dog came as far back as November 1997. The DDA was amended earlier that year, with the mandatory death sentence removed, thus allowing any owners with dogs accused of being pit bull ‘types’ to have their dogs registered as such, neutered, tattooed etc. and then released. However, arrangements for this fell through. Montse Christian then dispensed with Mr Cooper’s services and sought the appointment of a new legal team, but with limited success.


Since then, Lacey has remained in ‘legal limbo’, with no hope of release.


Earlier this year, Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund took over responsibility for Montse’s legal dealings in respect of Lacey, although still the matter has been unable to proceed.


“Basically, Montse had a lot of trouble with various solicitors over the handling of this case,” says Mrs Glass. “Needless to say, they want paying, nobody seems to be prepared to act pro bono for her. But with every change of solicitor, there’s a further delay, and Lacey continues to be held in prison. It’s a vicious circle.”
Montse Christian remains bitter at the way in which she has been deprived of her pet for most of its life.
“Lacey was a young dog when she was seized, now she’s old, most of her life has been spent away from me, in secret kennels where she has no social contact with people or other dogs,” says Montse. “I was devastated when Maite and Lacey were taken, and I felt sick when the police suggested that I should agree to have one of them killed so they could say they’d done their job and I could have the other back.


“I always thought that the British were admired for being the world’s greatest animal lovers, but it’s obvious that there’s some people who don’t love animals at all if they allow laws like this to happen and for pets to be locked up just because of the way they look.


Ridiculous
“I also thought that British justice was the best there was, but where’s the justice in what has happened to Lacey? How can one policeman say ‘I believe that dog is a pit bull’ and then she’s seized, I’m ‘guilty’ and it’s down to me to have to prove that my dog is not a pit bull? It’s ridiculous!”


Montse is aware that she has been criticised by some anti-DDA campaigners for not biting the bullet and simply admitting that Lacey is a pit bull ‘type’ dog, so she can be registered and freed by the courts.


“I don’t see why I should have to register Lacey as a pit bull even if the case is remitted back to court,” she says. “She is not a pit bull, she should not have been seized in the first place. The DDA is a cruel law, a stupid law. It has nothing to do with justice.”


And so, another year has passed and still an innocent family pet remains locked up in solitary confinement, in secret kennels, her only crime being that she resembles a particular ‘type’ of dog. The police officer who identified her as such has long since moved to other duties and probably doesn’t even remember Lacey. Montse Christian has started a new life for herself in Spain. Campaigner Juliette Glass continues to harbour a hope that Lacey may one day be released, but after eight years, this appears to be ever more unlikely.


In the meantime, Lacey enters old age and the eighth year of her incarceration. The question remains; how much longer will her imprisonment go on?