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Destruction order in 1871 Dogs Act case quashed

What’s it all about, Alfie? Charged under the 1871 Dogs Act the Beagle which came home

A BEAGLE that was sentenced to death in an extraordinary ruling by magistrates after an isolated biting incident was reprieved on appeal last week by Crown Court justices.

Whilst appeals at which destruction orders are quashed are not unusual where cases have been brought under the draconian Dangerous Dogs Act, the notable factor in the case of ‘Alfie’ was that the charges were brought under the 1871 Dogs Act, under which all minor dog control incidents should be tried.

Also in this case, the prosecution had made it clear that they were not seeking the dog’s destruction.

Three year-old Alfie’s ordeal began on July 6th 2002 when he accompanied his owner, John Count of Tickhill, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire to a local gala. As usual, Alfie was held on a lead and behaved without any problems as he always did when with Mr Count and his wife and daughter.

After the gala, the family were sitting in the beer garden of the Scarborough Arms pub.
Nine-year-old Rebecca Lister had been sitting with her family at an adjacent table and, together with some other children, approached Mr Count and asked if they could stroke Alfie. Mr Count gave them permission to do so and Alfie enjoyed the attention from the children, responding happily. Mr Count also gave Rebecca permission to walk Alfie on the lead round the beer garden, which she did, again without incident

The children returned to the Count’s table with Alfie and continued to pet the dog that then rolled on his back

According to what was observed by Mr Count at the time, Rebecca pulled her hand back to scratch an itch on her face at which point Alfie jumped up and snapped at her, biting her lip
Rebecca was taken to hospital for attention to the bite, which was minor. Mr Count apologised profusely to Rebecca’s family, gave them his contact details and then immediately took Alfie home.

The very next day, Sunday, July 7th, Mr Count took Alfie to his vet, Mr John Hammill of Beechwood Veterinary Hospital to be examined, to ascertain whether he had any problems that may have caused him to bite. Mr Count asked the vet whether he considered Alfie to be any threat to his own daughter Charlotte, then aged six. Mr Hammill stated that he felt the incident was isolated and that Alfie posed no threat, but may perhaps have been inadvertently hurt at the time.

A couple of days later, a police officer called on Mr Count to take a statement about the incident. At the time, the officer opined that the matter would "probably come to nothing", although Mt Count was later summonsed under the 1871 Dogs Act.

He employed a local form of solicitors to act for him and entered a ‘guilty’ plea when the case was heard at Doncaster magistrates Court on December 11th.

The prosecution and defence teams had agreed that a destruction order would not be sought against the dog and indicated this to the bench.

However, in an extraordinary judgement, the magistrates rejected this agreement and imposed a destruction order on Alfie –an extremely rare course of action in an 1871 case.

Mr Count lodged an appeal against the destruction order and sought assistance with specialist legal help via the National Canine Defence League. The NCDL referred him to well known dog law solicitor Trevor Cooper, who agreed to act for Mr Count. Mr Cooper put him in touch with the Fury Defence Fund who helped wit support and advice.

Mr Cooper arranged for animal behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford to examine Alfie and prepare a report on his behaviour and temperament. Dr Mugford’s examination took place in late January 2003, in which he stated that Alfie displayed "exuberant friendliness" and declared him to be a dog "well used to children", adding that the biting should be looked at "in the context of how the incident occurred".

Alfie’s appeal was heard last Friday, February 21st at Doncaster Crown Court, before Mr Recorder Brodwell and Justices Mr R Andrews and Mr J N Pearson.

Defence barrister Nigel Sleight outlined the case and pointed out to the bench that it was "extremely rare for the [magistrates] court to make a destruction order in a case of this nature." He added that Rebecca’s family had written to John County, thanking him for his concern for their daughter, adding that they did not oppose the appeal or wish to see the dog destroyed and that Rebecca’s injuries had healed, whilst the mater of compensation was being dealt with by civil insurance proceedings between the parties.

Recorder Brodwell gave a gentle rebuke to Mr Sleight, pointing out that the lower court was quite entitled to impose a destruction order if they deemed it necessary sand that the psychological effects of the bite to Rebecca Lister should not be understated.

The Prosecution counsel outlined the broad facts of the case and added that they were not seeking a destruction order on the dog, but would be happy with a Control Order based on the recommendations of Dr Mugford in his report.

John Count gave evidence briefly, stating that his daughter Charlotte was no longer allowed to hold Alfie on the lead on her own, although there were two leads attached to Alfie’s collar, so that the dog would be under the control of Mr Count or his wife Maggie, whilst still allowing Charlotte to ‘walk the dog’.

Since the incident, they had dissuaded strangers – especially children – from patting Alfie.
Mr Brodwell asked Mr Count to expand on what his vet, Mr Hammill, had said about why Alfie reacted as he did on the day in question.

Mr Count replied that they could offer no explanation, although possibly Alfie had felt hemmed in and restricted at the time, as is back was against the rear of the pub and may have felt he could not escape.

It was revealed that the vet had examined Alfie again in January 2003 and had found an area of pain in his lower spine. Further tests had revealed no injury, and the dog had been treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. No other "focus of pain" had since been found.

The bench retired to consider their verdict for ten minutes and returned to deliver the good news that they were allowing the appeal and quashing the destruction order. Recorder Brodwell stated that they had "been impressed by Mr Count’s evidence and Dr Mugford’s report", adding that they were satisfied that Mr Count was a responsible dog owner and that Alfie posed no danger to the public.

They accepted all of Dr Mugford’s recommendations, namely that Alfie be kept on a lad of not more than 1 metre ion length in public, under the control of an adult at times and that he should be kept away from pubs or play areas and that Mr Count should continue to take advice on Alfie’s behaviour and training as appropriate.

Mr Count expressed his relief after the case, telling OUR DOGS: "I am very grateful to Mr Cooper and Mr Sleight for their excellent legal services. I’d also like to say a public ‘Thank You’ to the Fury Defence Fund and the NCDL for helping me at such a worrying time, and of course to Dr Mugford for his work with Alfie and for his excellent report."

Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund commented: "It is extremely unusual for magistrates to issue a destruction order in an 1871 case, especially when the prosecution are not seeking such an order. In Alfie’s case, the family of the child who was bitten were not seeking retribution, so this makes the Magistrate’s decision all the more extraordinary.

However, commonsense prevailed at Crown Court and the bench are to be commended for taking note of Dr Roger Mugford’s expertise, reflected in his report on Alfie’s good character.
This has been a good result for justice and for a well-behaved family pet."