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(Updated 30/01/01)

Postman fails to win compensation in 'dog attack' case

TWO ROTTWEILERS faced a possible death sentence after they were accused of attacking a postman, although magistrates accepted the testimony of dog experts and found them not guilty of the attack.
The case was heard at Consett Magistrates’ Court, County Durham last week. The court heard how in May 2000, the two four year-old Rottweilers, “Storm” and “Shadow”, both owned by Mrs Dawn Knight, allegedly attacked postman James Pye as he delivered letters to Mrs Knight’s home.

According to Mr Pye, the dogs lunged at him as he entered the front yard of the house. Mr Pye fled down the lane, but was knocked to the ground, whereupon the bigger of the two dogs, Storm, bit into his hand and dragged him around, whilst the smaller dog snapped at his side. Mr Pye then claimed that the two dogs broke off their attack on him and fought with each other, before resuming their attack on him then running back to the yard before Mrs Knight appeared to investigate the sound of her dogs barking.

It took three days for Mr Pye to report the alleged attack to the police and the medical evidence to back up his claim of a sustained attack was inconsistent with the injuries he received. Despite this, Mrs Knight was charged and summonsed under the 1871 Dogs Act.

Mother of two Mrs Knight, a former special constable, contacted the Fury Defence Fund, who advised her on the best course of action to take. Unlike most ‘ordinary’ dog owners who find themselves in such a predicament, Mrs Knight was extremely knowledgeable about her dogs, and had taken both to training from the age of twelve weeks, where they had achieved Intermediate level of obedience.

She secured the aid of a good solicitor who managed, against all the odds, to secure civil legal aid for Mrs Knight to defend herself.

Expert witnesses were called in her defence. Michelle Westwood, the dog trainer who had trained both dogs, gave clear and detailed evidence as to the dogs’ behaviour and Mrs Knight’s control of them. Canine geneticist and author Dr Malcolm Willis also gave detailed evidence, pointing out that when he examined the dogs in August 2000, both had treated him with “friendly indifference” and had displayed no signs of aggression.

Mrs Knight told the court that she had been in her back garden with her young son on the day in question. “It was an exceptionally hot day and my son had been playing with the dogs a lot, so I decided to give them a break from him,” said Mrs Knight. “I put them in the front yard, which has a wall round it, and the gate was closed.

“I heard the dogs barking briefly and hurried round to see what was going on. I noticed that the gate was ajar, but the dogs were lying down, quite contentedly, not in the least bit agitated. I saw Mr Pye, some 15 yards down the lane, on his hands and knees, so I ran out to see what had happened. I am a trained first aider, and I could see that he had scraped his arm and hands, receiving grazes from the gravel in the lane. I certainly am in no doubt that my dogs did not attack him.”

Mrs Knight went on to say that Mr Pye had seemed unshaken and he refused offers of help from her and another witness, then he had gone on his way. No mention was made of the dogs attacking him until three days later when the police called on Mrs Knight and outlined the allegation.

Mr Pye’s solicitor produced photographs of his client’s ‘wounds’ in court, taken a few days after the alleged incident. Mr Pye had claimed that his hand, which had been bitten, was stitched, but no stitches were visible in the photograph. Dr Willis opined that dog bites were seldom stitched, and despite a put-down from Mr Pye’s solicitor that he was “not a medical man”, he maintained this opinion.

The neighbour who had seen Mr Pye on the ground testified that she had seen no dog attack.
The magistrates considered all the evidence, and noted that Mr Pye’s story was inconsistent with his earlier statements to the police. They were impressed with Dr Willis and Ms Westwood’s evidence on the dogs. After a short deliberation they ruled that the dogs were not guilty, thus nullifying any claim for compensation from the postman.

Mrs Knight told OUR DOGS: “I’m so, so relieved all this is over. This has been a very stressful time for the whole family, because I am aware that anything could have happened if my dogs have been found guilty. I am a responsible owner, both dogs are neutered, both are well trained and are not aggressive. I would like to thank everybody who helped me in this case, especially Michelle and Dr Willis and Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund, who has been a rock and an inspiration throughout.”