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(Updated 27/7/01)

GSD wrongly charged under DDA goes free

by Nick Mays

A GERMAN Shepherd Dog which allegedly bit a child was wrongly charged by police under Section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, as the alleged biting took place on the dog owner’s own property.

The GSD in question, Major, is 5 years old, owned by mother-of-two Mrs Helen Allen from Reading, Berkshire. The family had owned the dog since he was a puppy. Major is a much loved family pet, used to children and with a calm temperament.

The incident took place in October 2000 when Mark Maynard, 12, a friend of one of Mrs Allen’s sons called at her home. Mark opened the front gate but instead of knocking at the front door, leaned over the side gate where Major was asleep. Mark’s cousin, who was with him, initially admitted that he urged him not to do so.

Major, surprised by Mark’s intrusion, jumped up suddenly and bit the boy on the lip. It was, as Mrs Allen acknowledged, a bad injury, necessitating hospital treatment to have part of the lip sewn back on again. (Mark has since made a full recovery).

The boy alleged that Major leap over the side gate, bit him and then jumped back over the side gate again. However, Mrs Allen heard his cry and rushed outside within seconds. She did not believe that major could have jumped over the gate and back again so quickly, believing instead that Mark had leaned over the gate and startled the dog.

Being a responsible dog owner, Mrs Allen realised that this was a serious matter and she herself called the police. She was subsequently visited by a PC Bergman who listened to her story and advised her to keep the dog indoors. He later returned, saying that his sergeant had said that major must be taken into custody and that Mrs Allen would be charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Mrs Allen alleges that PC Bergman also said he believed the dog would be destroyed.

Mrs Allen was very upset and confused, as she had never hard of the Dangerous Dogs Act. When PC Bergman asked her to sign a disclaimer about Major in his notebook, she felt she had no option but to agree.

PC Bergman then telephoned the local authority’s “Animal Welfare Warden”, Albert Honey, who has been involved in several DDA cases previously (most of which the prosecution lost). Mr Honey sent a woman colleague in a van to collect Major.

On reflection, Mrs Allen realised she had been hasty in signing a disclaimer and she telephoned Honey and withdrew the disclaimer. She then engaged well-known solicitor Trevor Cooper to act on her behalf, with help and assistance from the Fury Defence Fund.

She was subsequently charged under Section 3 of the DDA for an aggravated offence in a public place”, despite the fact that the incident occurred on her own property. At the pre-trial review hearing in January 2001, the police and CPS realised their mistake over the charge and had the charge changed to a similar charge under the less draconian 1871 Dogs Act.

Incarcerated

Major was returned to Mrs Allen in February 2001, but she noted that he was very underweight after being incarcerated at secret kennels.

The case was eventually heard on Wednesday, July 18th at Reading Magistrates’ Court before a Bench of three magistrates. Mr Shiraz Ruston was the instructed Defence barrister.

The CPS were not seeking Major’s destruction, but a Control Order and costs.

Defence evidence was given by Mike Mullan, Life President of the United Kingdom Registry of Canine Behaviourists. He had been engaged by Trevor Cooper to examine and assess Major, which he duly did. His detailed report concluded:
“Major is a normal German Shepherd Dog. Not a fear biter, not dominant, not of a dominant disposition. I do not consider him to be a danger to the public.”

Mr Mullan was in court to give verbal evidence if required, but the Bench decided to simply read his report. Mr Ruston made a short speech about the facts of the case, and added that a six-foot high gate was now in situ at Mrs Allen’s property, fastened by two strong bolts.

The Bench deliberated for a short while and then gave their judgement, the Chairman of the Bench telling Mrs Allen:
“We understand that you are prepared to accept an Order and I am pleased to agree that the German Shepherd Dog called Major be kept under proper control at all times. We understand that you have already taken measures and there is now a 6ft gate with two bolts.... and we are happy to make this order.” He added: “Make sure the gate is shut.”

There was no order for costs and the Chairman made a point of thanking Mr Mullan for his report.

Helen Allen thanked the FDF team for their help and support and fore being with her on the day in court.

Juliette Glass of the FDF told OUR DOGS: “Obviously, we are pleased that Major was let off with an Order. Helen Allen was very distressed that a child was bitten and acted responsibly by notifying the police. However, it is unfortunate that even now, after ten years of this ridiculous Act, many police officers and CPS officials still have little idea of how the DDA should be interpreted. It is clear that the incident happened on Mrs Allen’s own property, yet she was still charged for an offence in a public place.

“I just hope that some lessons have been learnt from this case.”