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Woman charged under DDA

A WIDOW found herself on the wrong side of the law after her dog allegedly nipped a child. Despite the lack of physical evidence, and the age of both owner and dog, Pamela Sawlewicz, 84, found herself charged under Section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

Mrs Sawlewicz from north London owns a rescued Dobermann named ‘Sammy’ aged approximately 8 years. Sammy is described as a “lovely friendly dog” who has never displayed any aggression towards people or other dogs. He is often taken to the local park by Mrs Sawlewicz along with a younger friend, who often ‘dog walks’ Sammy.

In August 2001, Sammy had only been living with Mrs Sawlewicz for a few weeks, who had taken him to the park with a friend. The two ladies sat on a park bench chatting, whilst Sammy sniffed around and played nearby.

Suddenly a child playing on a bicycle nearby, one Jake Thomas aged 10, screamed “He’s bitten me!” Mrs Sawlewicz did not see Sammy bite the child. She called Jake over so that she could see the bite. She alleged that she did not see any bite on the child. The boy’s parents made a complaint to the police and officers from Colindale police station were subsequently called.

‘Not guilty’

Mrs Sawlewicz was charged under Section 3 of the DDA for “allowing” her dog to be “dangerously out of control in a public place.” She sought legal assistance and was assisted by animal welfare activist peter Wise. She contacted the Fury Defence Fund, who acted for her throughout, and engaged solicitor Trevor Cooper to act for her. Jake was not seized and remained in his owner’s care.

There were several appearances at magistrates’ court, but Mrs Sawlewicz entered a plea of Not Guilty and opted for trial by jury.

Trevor Cooper meanwhile engaged Crufts chief vet Trevor Turner to examine Sammy and assess his temperament, thus to prepare a report in the dog’s defence.

The case was eventually heard, nearly 11 months after the incident, on June 26th 2002 at Harrow Crown Court before His Honour Judge Black. Mrs Sawlewicz was represented by defence counsel Shiraz Ruston, who is very experienced in cases of this nature.

Mrs Sawlewicz was, due to her age and total inexperience of being in such a position, extremely nervous and felt unwell at the hearing. Due to the anti-dog reporting in the national press at the time, due to recent biting incidents, she decided not to go ahead with Trial by Jury, and changed her plea to ‘Guilty’, even though she did not see Sammy bite the child.
The prosecution counsel claimed that Jake had walked towards Sammy and that Mrs Sawlewicz had called the dog back, but it had run around Jake and had bitten him in the leg. He later attended hospital where his skin was fond to be broken, and was given antibiotics.

Mr Ruston then spoke, submitting Trevor Turner’s report, which concluded that the dog was of sound temperament, and pointed out that the prosecution accepted the defence’s contention that the dog did not constitute a danger to public safety.”

Mr Ruston added that Sammy was usually walked by Mrs Sawlewicz’s friend Juan Pasada, and that she undertook never to walk the dog on her own again.

Judge Black asked some pertinent questions then asked for Jake Thomas, who was in court, to be brought in. He asked Jake if he was fine now, to which the child replied ‘yes’.

Judge Black did not retire but went straight into his judgement, taking a very sympathetic view of the dog’s position, suggesting that perhaps he was overwrought at seeing the bicycle on which Jake was cycling, adding that Jake did not seriously bite the boy, but gave him “more of a nip”.

Concerned

Judge Black continued: “Mrs Sawlewicz wishes to retain her friendship with Sam. I will make it perfectly clear that I am NOT prepared to make any Destruction Order, provided safeguards are taken when Sam is taken out so that the situation doesn’t occur again. I would have been a little concerned that Mrs Sawlewicz is taking Sam out. I am given an assurance that Sam will be taken out by a much younger male person and that he will be kept on a lead.”

Judge Black ordered Mrs Sawlewicz to pay £400 costs, plus a nominal fine of £100 and £200 compensation to Jake.

Pamela Sawlewicz was greatly relieved and happy that her beloved pet was not going to be destroyed. She profusely thanked her legal team and praised the FDF for their support throughout.

Juliette Glass of the FDF commented: “It is heartening to see a case where the matter has been resolved with commonsense by the court. Obviously, the original charge need not have been brought under the DDA; the 1871 Dogs Act would have sufficed. However, this is a good end result for all parties.”