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DDA St Bernard set for trial by jury


YOGIE, the St. Bernard seized under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act by Sussex police after biting an officer who ignored a ‘Beware of the dog’ sign on the owner’s property and a warning from the owner is currently being held in police kennels after his owner opted for trial by jury, following a magistrates court appearance last week.

As reported in last week’s OUR DOGS, Steve Prestage was putting some tools away in his garage at his home in Copthorne, near Crawley, West Sussex on the morning of March 22nd when he saw a police van pull up in the lane near his home. A sergeant got out of the van and walked up Mr Prestage’s drive, apparently ignoring a prominent ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign fastened to the gate, to ask directions to a nearby cottage.

Mr Prestage’s six-year-old St Bernard Yogie started barking at the officer, whom he saw as an intruder on his territory. Mr Prestage called out to the officer to stay where he was and that he would get Yogie indoors, but the officer ignored him and continued to march towards the dog. Yogie lunged at the officer and bit him in the arm, leaving a puncture wound. The officer is said to have spent two nights in hospital receiving treatment for the injury.

Sussex police later seized Yogie under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, for being ‘dangerously out of control in a public place’.

Mr Prestage’s solicitor has been advised by well-know DDA solicitor Trevor Cooper, and experts have been called in to assess Yogie’s temperament.

Embarrassment

At last Thursday’s hearing at Crawley Magistrates’ Court, Mr Prestage’s solicitor opted for trial by jury at Crown Court - a move which undoubtedly cause great embarrassment to Sussex Police, who are continuing to prosecute the case under the DDA, insisting that the attack took place in a public area, rather than on Mr Prestage’s private property. The date for the trial has been set for May 30th.

In the meantime, Animal Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford will be examining Yogie to prepare a temperament assessment on the dog, after which Mr Prestage’s solicitor is seeking a court hearing to have Yogie released into Mr Prestage’s care up to the time of the Crown Court trial.

“We’re hopeful that Yogie will be freed and eventually found not guilty,” Mr Prestage told OUR DOGS this week. “He was only defending his home from the police officer who continued to march towards him despite my shouted warnings and a clear written warning on the gate.

We’re certainly not giving up on Yogie and will fight all the way to the House of Lords and the European Courts if necessary to see him freed.”

* In 1997/98, Sussex police seized half a dozen dogs under Section 1 of the DDA as alleged illegal pit bull ‘type’ dogs, However, after three of these cases were roundly defeated in court in a very public and humiliating way for the force, charges against the remaining dogs were dropped and they were released back to their owners.

* It is, oddly enough, extremely unusual for a dog to be seized and taken in custody in Section 3 DDA cases, despite the fact that dogs are being charged with alleged ‘aggressive’ behaviour. However, a dog accused of being an unregistered pit bull ‘type’ under Section 1 of the Act will be seized and held in custody, irrespective of its behavioural tendencies.