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Staffie cross ruled to be pit bull-type

A STAFFORDSHIRE BULL Terrier/Rhodesian Ridgeback cross seized by Council Officers as a pit bull ‘type’ dog under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act was found ‘guilty’ last week by magistrates who accepted prosecution evidence that the dog was ‘of the type.’

Eighteen month-old crossbreed Al is owned by Eileen Thornhill, 23 and has never been in any kind of trouble before. The dog escaped, along with Miss Thornhill’s other dog during an attempted break-in on July 3rd when burglars smashed a lock on the garden gate, unaware that the two dogs were on the other side. The burglars escaped and a neighbour, hearing he commotion, managed to grab the other dog, but Al, who was not wearing a collar escaped, and was later captured by a Nottingham City Council dog warden.

The dog warden decided that Al was an unregistered, illegal pit bull ‘type’ dog and refused to release him to Miss Thornhill, telling Miss Thornhill that she would be charged under the DDA.

Miss Thornhill alleges that a Council official also told her that Al would be destroyed if he was found to be a pit bull ‘type’ by the court.

Vet Alison Jane Morris Robson, who regularly appears for the prosecution in DDA cases, examined Al and pronounced the dog to be a pit bull type. Miss Morris Robson had recently featured in a BBC documentary on dangerous dogs, bemoaning the fact that the police make very few DDA prosecutions nowadays due to lack of resources.

Miss Thornhill sought help via the Fury Defence Fund, who arranged for solicitor Trevor Cooper to advise her solicitor and also to arrange to have Al examined by her own expert witness.

Despite several requests, Miss Thornhill was not allowed to see her dog, although she was offered the chance to sit in a car and watch the dog be walked past her.

The case was eventually heard at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, November 14th 2002, scheduled for one day only. The defence called KC Championship Judges Mike Mullan and Alec Waters, whilst the Prosecution called regular DDA prosecution vet Peter Maxwell Olsen, just two weeks before the trial, to appear along with Miss Robson.

Juliette Glass of the FDF attended the hearing, noting that four council employees, including two dog wardens, attended court for the whole day as observers.

Miss Morris Robson gave evidence first, claiming that she had handled "two and a half thousand of these dogs". She admitted in her report that Al had a ridge of fur running down his back which is a characteristic of the Rhodesian Ridgeback but stated that:
"…nevertheless in my opinion, he is substantially of the type of dog known as a Pit Bull Terrier."

Under cross-examination, Ms Morris Robson stated that she did not believe that the dog had any Staffordshire Bull Terrier in its make up, claiming that it was a cross between a pit bull and a Rhodesian Ridgeback. When asked whether a judge of Staffordshire Bull Terriers would be better able to judge that type of dog, she replied: "Not necessarily."

Peter Maxwell Olsen broadly agreed with Ms Morris Robson’s evidence, stating that Al was "so far removed form the SBT breed standard that it was unreasonable to study the breed standard."

For the defence, Staffordshire Bull Terrier judge Alec Waters described his examination of Al that took place on September 10th. He pointed out that his first impression was that Al had some Staffordshire Bull Terrier in him and recognised the SBT expression on the dog’s face as soon as he saw it. He concluded that Al was a "crossbred SBT and Rhodesian Ridgeback with SBT temperament."

Under cross examination, the Prosecutor challenged Mr Waters several times that Al had a scissor bite, like a pit bull. Mr Waters reiterated that over 160 breeds have scissor bites and that the prosecution’s assertion that Al was a PBT because he has a scissor bite was "absolutely ludicrous."

Mike Mullan gave evidence next, explaining his examination of Al and his behavioural assessment of the dog, whom he found to be "so laid back and easy to handle." Mr Mullan agreed with Mr Waters that Al was a "very poor specimen SBT crossed with a Rhodesian Ridgeback."

Eileen Thornhill gave evidence herself, explaining how Al escaped and was seized by the council. She explained that she had offered to have the dog placed in the Index of Exempted Breeds to start with, simply to avoid the court case and to get her pet home, although the Council official she spoke to had refused this, allegedly saying that a pit bull would be put down, thus misinterpreting the amended DDA.


The bench, having heard all the evidence, declined to give a judgement on the day, but delivered it a week later on Thursday, November 21st, after hearing final submissions from the prosecution and defence.

After two hours’ deliberation, the bench stated that they accepted the evidence of the prosecution witnesses that Al was a pit bull ‘type’. They ordered that the dog be placed on the register and be neutered, tattooed and microchipped, part of the cost of which must be made by Miss Thornhill. She was also ordered to pay £250 costs at £10 per week.

The FDF agreed to pay the dog’s insurance and registration fees.

Juliette Glass of the FDF told OUR DOGS: "Eileen Thornhill and her family are bitterly disappointed at the decision. This as the first Section One DDA case for a considerable time and we at the FDF feel that the defence experts put their arguments superbly with great knowledge and conviction. Obviously the Bench weren’t prepared to listen.

"The fact that Eileen offered to have Al registered at the outset would have saved the Council from spending a great deal of taxpayer’s money on bringing he case to court, and prevented a lot of heartache for Eileen and Al by holding him for so many months. It seemed that they were determined to bring the case to court."