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Conflicting statements lead to dog’s reprieve

A WELL-behaved Rottweiler sentenced to death under the Dangerous Dogs Act for an alleged aggravated attack on a passer-by was reprieved on appeal after Crown Court justices ruled that conflicting eyewitness statements were not reliable.

The dog, six year-old ‘Henry’ is owned by Peter and Valerie Raffan of Thorpe Bay, Essex.
Henry is a well-behaved dog, trained by a retired police inspector and is regularly walked by a professional dog walker, Judith Forde-Hatton. Henry had never displayed any aggression towards humans or other dogs prior to his brush with the law on May 31st 2002.

Judith Forde-Hatton was walking Henry on a lead, and then met a friend, so the two sat talking in the street – but unfortunately on a blind corner. A man carrying a tennis racquet and bag and walking very quickly came round the corner, almost bumping into the two women. Henry was startled and jumped up at the man – David Hancock. Mr Hancock stated that the dog had bitten him and torn his tracksuit jacket. Other witnesses present made statements to the police, but these later turned out to be conflicting.

Even so, the CPS brought a charge against Judith Forde-Hatton under Section 3 of the DDA for an ‘aggravated attack’. She appeared at Southend Magistrates’ Court on November 29th 2002 having entered a not guilty plea. Despite the conflicting evidence of the witnesses, the bench of three magistrates found her guilty, handing down a conditional discharge for 12 months, a £135 fine and ordered her to pay £180 compensation to Mr Hancock for the damage to his tracksuit. In a display of particular hardness, they imposed a destruction order on Henry.

Mr Raffan – Henry’s owner – contacted DDA solicitor Trevor Cooper via the Fury Defence Fund and lodged an appeal against the destruction order in his own name. Mr Cooper immediately instructed animal behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford to examine and assess Henry’s behaviour and submit a report, which was done.

The Appeal hearing was heard at Basildon Crown Court on Thursday, February 20th 2003 before Judge Clegg, sitting with two magistrates. Judge Clegg pointed out that he had not tried a DDA case before and there was some debate between him and both counsels regarding the Act and the various sections of subsections, which the Judge said were confusing. The hearing then proceeded.

Defence Barrister Alison Hunt pointed out that Henry had a clean character and that he had not launched a sustained attack on Mr Hancock. Testimonials from friends of the Raffans were handed to the Judge, many stating that Henry was a "particularly affable dog". A report from the retired Police Inspector who trained Henry was also presented, along with Dr Mugford’s expert report on Henry’s behaviour. Photographs of the Raffans’ home, showing the secure fencing in the garden, were also submitted as evidence of Henry’s good control.

Dr Mugford showed a video of his assessment of Henry in court. Henry was shown wearing a muzzle and Dr Mugford pointed out that the dog would be wearing a muzzle at all times in public in the future.

Ms Hunt pointed out to the court that Henry’s good nature and training were evident in the video. She added that Mrs Forde-Hatton had been walking him without incident for three years. She also referred the bench to the case of Princess Anne’s dog ‘Dottie’, heard in November 2002, where a Control Order was imposed, despite children having been bitten. She added that Dr Mugford was the expert called by the defence in that case.

Judge Clegg discussed the matter with his fellow justices, saying: "It is not a trifling injury, but on the other hand it is not a sustained attack. This you say is a ‘one-off’." The judge also picked up on the fact that the victim, David Hancock had said in his statement that he was frightened of dogs. Judge Clegg added: "I am fully aware that this Act [DDA] was passed in a terrible hurry. When legislation is passed in a hurry, it tends to get muddled."

The bench retired twice, considering the conflicting statements made by Mr Hancock, Mrs Forde-Hatton and two other witnesses to the incident, particularly the point made by David Hancock that Mrs Forde-Hatton is alleged to have said that Henry "doesn’t like men carrying things", and thus being provoked by Mr Hancock carrying a tennis racquet.

When the bench returned for the second time, Judge Clegg made a lengthy judgement, in which he stated pointedly that Mr Hancock’s evidence was at variance with all the other witnesses and that Mr Hancock had walked between Mrs Forde-Hatton and Mr Timothy Quinlan, to whom she was speaking on the street, which was "a threatening act to a dog" there was no evidence. Judge Clegg added: "There is no evidence that Henry doesn’t like men carrying things."

Judge Clegg quashed the original destruction order, issuing a "Contingency Destruction Order" with measures that Henry must bee muzzled and leashed at all times in public, including inside a car. He was also barred form entering the premises of the Thorpe Bay Tennis Club, from whence Mr Hancock had hastened.

Juliette Glass of the FDF told OUR DOGS: "Valerie and Peter Raffan are greatly relieved at the decision. It has been a trying and stressful time for them and also for Judith Forde-Hatton. We at the FDF are delighted that the destruction order has been lifted on Henry, who is a lovely, friendly dog."