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Appeal court upholds dog death sentence

AN ENGLIsh Bull Terrier faces destruction after an appeal against a destruction order for biting a child was dismissed, even though there was clear evidence that the dog had been tormented prior to biting the child.

“Rickson” a two year-old Bull terrier is owned by Elizabeth Holland of Norris Green, Liverpool. Mrs Holland has eight grandchildren, all of whom have played happily with Rickson with no fear of attack. Mrs Holland, 63, is an experienced dog owner, having owned many dogs - mainly rescues - over the years, and would never take chances where children and dogs are concerned.

There had been various disputes between Mrs Holland and the Ambrose family next door, including several disputes over the fencing dividing the two properties. Mrs Holland described the Ambrose family as “neighbours from hell” and alleges that they were responsible for the break in the fencing which enabled Rickson to wander into their garden on March 4th 2001, when eight year-old Kathryn Ambrose was playing in the back garden, being there to visit her grandparents.

It is alleged that the dog grabbed Kathryn’s ankle and lunged for her leg and chest. The child received treatment at hospital for a four-inch wound to her knee and is now scarred for life. According to evidenced submitted in the subsequent court hearing, the child now has a phobia about dogs.

Police investigated the incident and Mrs Holland was subsequently charged under Sectiopn 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, and Rickson was seized and taken to council kennels.

Mrs Holland initially engaged a firm of local solicitors to represent her, pleading ‘not guilty’ at a preliminary magistrates’ Court hearing and opting for trial at Crown Court. However, due to pressure form her Barrister, she was persuaded to change her plea to ‘guilty’ at Liverpool Crown Court last November. The solicitors were ill-prepared for the case and had not sought an expert assessment of Rickson’s temperament.

Defence evidence that the dog was being “teased and beaten with sticks” before the incident occurred was not accepted by the Recorder at the Court, who fined Mrs Holland £250 with £250 costs, imposed a destruction order on the dog and a ten year ban from owning dogs on Mrs Holland. The Recorder pointed out that this was not a reflection on Mrs Holland’s character but to protect the child, Kathryn Ambrose, even though the family had since left the property and to “give her time to grow up”. A doctor’s report presented in evidence stated that “the child may develop a fear of dogs.”

Shortly afterwards, Mrs Holland made contact with Sandra Rowlands, herself a victim of the injustices of the DDA, whose own dog Buster had been incarcerated for three years. Ms Rowlands put Mrs Holland in touch with the Fury Defence Fund who advised her to contact solicitor Trevor Cooper immediately. Mrs Holland had, in the meantime, lodged her own appeal. Legal Aid was granted, but only for the services of a Barrister, not a Solicitor. Mr Cooper’s work was pro bono (free of charge). Mr Cooper then instructed barrister Pamela Rose, who has extensive experience in presenting DDA defence cases.

Mrs Holland had been given no access to visit Rickson at the kennels where he was being held. As her worries as to his welfare were increasing, the FDF, together with Bull terrier Judge John Branch made contact with local Bull terrier breeder Kenneth Fogg, who made a welfare visit to the Council’s Holding Kennels. He found Rickson to be in reasonably good health, but lacking in stimulation in the kennels, which were not designed to hold dogs for long periods of time.

Mrs Holland’s own health had deteriorated due to the stress of the case and she was under treatment from her doctor.

The Appeal against the sentence was heard at the Court of Appeal in London’s High Court on Tuesday, June 18th, 2002, before Lord Justice Kennedy, Mr Justice Pitchford and His Honour Judge Rant.

Miss Rose outlined the appeal case. She stated that the injury to the child did not take place until the dog was hit with sticks by the family. “The dog took the child’s ankle, but there was injury to the ankle,” said Ms Rose. “They hit the dog with sticks and then it bit the child.”

Miss Rose showed the justices photographs of Mrs Holland’s garden, her other family dogs and also a photograph of Rickson. She argued that the Ambrose family had moved away, so Kathryn would not have to see Rickson.

Miss Rose then asked for an adjournment, pointing out that she had spoken on the telephone to Kenneth Fogg who had carried out his assessment on the dog and deemed it to have no behavioural problems.

The adjournment was, however, refused. The Justices retired for a brief adjournment and then delivered their verdict. Although the justices expressed sympathy with Mrs Holland over her ten year ban and the destruction order on Rickson, and being mindful of the fact that Kathryn Ambrose’s grandparents had since moved away, they stated that “A balance must be struck.... we consider that the (Crown) Court was right that the risk of emotional or physical risk (to the child) was a serious one.”

As regards the disqualification order, the justices ruled that Mrs Holland could make an application to the Crown Court in November to review the matter, depending on what breed of dog she proposed to keep.

The appeal, however, was dismissed and the destruction order against Rickson stood.
Elizabeth Holland is devastated at this decision and is hoping for a legal way to take the case to the House of Lords. She thanked her defence team, the FDF and also the NCDL, who offered help and advice.

“I can’t give up on Rickson. He was goaded and set up,” she said. “I owe it to him to keep on fighting and save his life.”

Juliette Glass of the FDF told OUR DOGS: “We feel that justice has not been seen to be done and that Rickson did not get a fair hearing. We will continue to help Elizabeth Holland in her fight for justice in any way we can.”

On Friday last week, a Daily Mail article claimed that Mrs Holland had secured £25,000 in Legal Aid to save the life of her dog that had “savaged” Kathryn Ambrose. The article quoted Dee Warner of the campaign group Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, who stated that such a high sum of Legal Aid made a mockery of the system when the mother of one of the Moors Murder victims could not secure Legal Aid to fight Myra Hindley and Ian Brady over the murder of her son. It also quoted Birkenhead MP Frank Field who is reported to have said: “Legal Aid was meant to defend people’s fundamental rights, not their hobbies or pets.” A similar report appeared in The Sun newspaper.

In fact, Mr Field is incorrect in his assertion, as Legal Aid has been granted in many DDA cases and concerns a point of law for the defendant to appeal against a criminal conviction, and is not granted for their dog.

Trevor Cooper told OUR DOGS “The newspaper reports are somewhat exaggerated. Mrs Holland was granted Legal Aid by the Court of Appeal, based on whether the case is in the interests of justice... As the court granted Legal Aid, they obviously felt that the case fulfilled the criteria. The Legal Aid was limited to Counsel only, so my fees were not covered, and I worked pro bono. In any case, Pamela Rose’s fee is unlikely to have exceeded £750.

Quite where this figure of £25,000 has been plucked from, I am at a loss to speculate.”