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Updated 14/9/01

Farmer cleared of bludgeoning dog
Dog's owner claims mistaken identity

A FARMER was cleared by a court last week of bludgeoning a dog to death after the RSPCA were forced to admit that a vet had made an inaccurate post mortem examination which they had used in evidence, writes Nick Mays.

The charity had claimed that farmer James Stewart of Godmersham, Kent had beaten a German Shepherd to death with a blunt instrument after it had savaged his lambs.

Mr Stewart who owns a pet Chihuahua angrily denounced the RSPCA for "dragging his name through the mud".

"I love dogs and I did everything I could to avoid shooting the German Shepherd," he told magistrates in Canterbury, "But it had killed six ewes and eight lambs - there was no way I could chase it off."

The RSPCA relied on the findings of vet George Tribe that the dog had been beaten to death over a twenty minute period. However, Richard Knight, defending Mr Stewart said: "We are very concerned as to how he reached those conclusions."

Mr Knight added that a second examination was carried out by vet Professor John Cooper that proved without doubt that the dog had, indeed, been shot.

"Professor Cooper couldn't see how another vet or even a layman could have reached a different conclusion," added Mr Knight, "Shotgun pellets were literally falling from the carcass as it was thawing."

In a classic piece of understatement Estelle Culligan, prosecuting for the RSPCA admitted that Mr Tribe had made a mistake, saying. "We believe he got it wrong."

Apology

Magistrates ordered the charity to pay Mr Stewart's costs and dismissed all charges against him.

Mr Stewart said he wanted an apology form the RSPCA, a call echoed by the National Farmers Union. A spokesman for the NFU denounced the charity for pursuing the case, saying, "It appears that this was a case driven by the RSPCA's wish to attract publicity, irrespective of the facts.

"It was disgraceful and wrong-headed for the charity to bring this case to court and the NFU is delighted that it was so robustly thrown out by magistrates."

A spokesman for the RSPCA defended their stance, saying. "We acted in good faith on very strong post mortem results and when the second post mortem came through and showed the pellets we had to drip the case - we had no choice."

The GSD's owner, Dennis Buggins of Chilham accepted that the original post mortem result was inaccurate, but said that he still does not believe that it was his dog, two year-old Trudy, who savaged Mr Stewart's sheep.

"For a start, the farmer said he saw a giant black dog and Trudy was quite small for a German Shepherd and was mainly gold in colour," he said.

Mr Buggins also pointed out that the post mortem showed no evidence of the dog having eaten the lambs as was alleged.

"Her stomach was empty apart from a wisp of wool which she could have picked up anywhere," added Mr Buggins.

Vet George Tribe was unavailable for comment on his inaccurate post mortem findings earlier this week.