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(Updated 29/03/01)

Bosco the biting police dog wins awards

BOSCO, THE Middlesbrough police dog said to have bitten 54 people in the last four years swept the board at a recent police dog awards ceremony, writes Nick Mays.

At a court hearing last month, one of his victims was awarded 16,500 in damages against Cleveland police and the dog's future with the force was said to be 'in doubt'. Despite this, however, Bosco and his handler PC Mark Robson, emerged with all four titles in the Cleveland Police Forces' annual dog awards.

Heaping praise upon Bosco and PC Robson, Inspector Ross Sibley, head of the dog section said: "For one dog and handler to sweep the board in this way is an unprecedented achievement."

Bosco won the Obedience, Criminal Chase, Searching and Overall Champion classes.

During the court hearing last month, it emerged that no less than nine other people are in the process of suing Cleveland Police in Middlesbrough, claiming they were victims of "The Best of Boro". Four victims were other police officers.

Telephone Engineer Laurie Agar, 36, sued after he was left with gaping wounds in his leg, inflicted by Bosco, following his arrest on Boxing Day 1997.

Father-of-three Mr Agar was leaving a pub arm-in-arm with his girlfriend Maxine Pursey when police officers arrived to deal with a disturbance. When Mr Agar asked dog handler PC Mark Robson what was going on, the officer let Bosco off his leash and the dog promptly bit Mr Agar on his right leg.

The court heard that as police officers forced Mr Agar to the ground and handcuffed him, Bosco continued to bite him in "a feeding frenzy", leaving Mr Agar with six gaping wounds.

Mr Agar suffered multiple bite wounds, and his girlfriend Maxine Pursey, who also received compensation for wrongful arrest, still suffers mental trauma as a result of what she witnessed.

Mr Agar said after the court hearing, "I feel Bosco should be taken off the streets, because clearly he is a danger. I don't actually blame the dog, it is down to police training and the handler."

Despite this, Bosco is still carrying out his duties. Inspector Sibley said: "I would never criticise a jury and we are looking at what was said in the court case to see if any action is necessary. Bosco and his handler reach the very high standards required by the Home Office. Bosco can apprehend criminals but can also mix quite safely with children, for example during a school visit.

"We deploy dogs on about 7,000 occasions a year and in just five per cent of these occasions it is necessary for the dog to bite.

"Bosco is a highly trained dog and would not be deployed if we were not 100 per cent confident of his ability."