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KC rejects swearing complaint
K.C. Rule A42 Case Report
Mrs John Haddock -v- Ms Michelle Elder

A female exhibitor, who admitted to The Kennel Club that she had used "inappropriate language" at an agility club show last July, following an incident with her dog and a tyre obstacle, during a round in wet weather, appeared before the KC Disciplinary Sub Committee last week to answer a complaint brought by the judge on the day, Mr John Haddock.

The complaint alleged that Ms Michelle Elder, of Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham, had "behaved discreditably or prejudicially to the interests of the canine world, in that she used verbal Abuse at the Wyre (Lancs) Agility Club Show, at the Cartmel Racecourse, Cartmel, Cumbria on 20th July 2002". After a hearing which lasted all the morning, the Disciplinary Sub Committee reached the decision that the complaint should not be upheld in the circumstances, as an apology was offered at the time and subsequently, which they felt should have been accepted by the complaint.

Ms Elder was not legally represented but was "assisted" during the hearing by fellow agility competitor Mr Stephen Carey. Mr Haddock's case was put to the Sub Committee by Mr Darren Morley not a solicitor, but a person connected with the Wyre Agility Club. Also in attendance, in addition to witnesses and the five members of the Disciplinary Sub Committee, were Mrs Linda Branwhite, the KC Disciplinary co-ordinator and members of the Canine Press.

Mr Morley opened the proceedings by stating that what was not it question was that an incident occurred at the Wyre Show, where Miss Elder verbally abused the judge for the day, Mr John Haddock. He also stated that "we don't accept that a formal apology was made at the time and the apology that was in the statement that was issued since, although it's welcome, the other points in that statement are not true and we will attempt to show that today." Mr Morley told the hearing that Mr Haddock was judging correctly on the day in question and that there was no excuse for the incident that occurred.

The first witness to be called was Pat Lawler, the ring manager for Ring 6 on the day. She explained that she was mainly during the day, at the scoring table under the gazebo, which was approximately in the middle of the ring, tight up to the rope and was there to oversee the ring and assist competitors and ensure the smooth running of the ring. Whilst she was there, a severe downpour occurred, which lasted about five minutes and the running of the class was suspended. After the rain had subsided a little, the judge Mr Haddock asked the competitors if they wanted to continue after the downpour had finished and most of the competitors said that yes, they wanted to continue. There had been several showers during the day, but this one was particularly severe.

There had been 179 dogs entered in the class (Intermediate Jumping Part 1) which was about half way through at the time of the rain. After the rain had more or less stopped, several competitors had run their dogs before Ms Elder and there had been no problems. As Ms Elder had started her round Mrs Lawler had turned away to attend to something and then heard a noise, which turned out to be Ms Elder's dog hitting the tyre obstacle, she did not see the actual impact. The witness then stated that she turned around and saw Ms Elder examining her dog which was obviously stunned. Mr Morley asked if the dog "was stood" to which the witness confirmed that it was. "In the statement (Ms Elder says) that the dog was on the floor with the tyre on its back?" "No, at no point did I see the dog on the floor with a tyre on its back - the tyres are pegged down, so they would be quite difficult to move". In reply to a query from the chairman, the witness confirmed the nature of the "tyre" obstacle. The tyre is suspended within an aluminium frame with poles provided within that frame, with four holes on the approach side and on the outer side for pegging out.

The witness continued that Mr Haddock was approaching the competitor to ask if the dog was OK and it was at this point that Ms Elder's mother entered the ring and both began shouting what was described as "a tirade of abuse at the judge". "Can you be more specific please" asked the Chairman, "well - the "F" word was said - and it is absolutely ‘effing’ ridiculous, the course is shite." "And to who were those words addressed" "Mainly to the Judge." Mr Morley - "How long did this go on for?" Mrs Lawler "I honestly don't know - probably about 30 seconds, no more than a minute, but it seems longer when something like that happens." Mrs Lawler stated that she had been involved in agility for about 12 year and during that time had seen no similar incidents.

Mr Carey then had an opportunity to ask the witness questions and at this point it became obvious that one on the main points of disagreement between the parties involved in the hearing is whether or not the tyre obstacle had actually collapsed. The complaint and his witnesses would maintain that the "tyre" remained upright at all times, but Ms Elder and her mother would dispute this and alleged that in fact the tyre had collapsed and fallen on to the dog's back and that the dog had to be carried from the ring. This same theme would be returned to several times during the hearing, with one side stating that the
obstacle had remained upright and that the dog was stunned but able to walk out under its own steam, whilst the other side would dispute this claiming that not only did the equipment collapse and fall on to the dog but that the dog had to be carried from the ring.

In reply to a question from Mr Banbury, the witness confirmed that at no time did she witness the dog lying on its back, "it was obviously stunned - because Michelle's dogs are very fast and it would have hit (the tyre) with some force, but it was standing when I saw it on the approach side of the tyre." Mr Banbury continued "The allegation is that Ms Elder was abusive and we have heard very little of exactly what was said - what was the abuse?" Mrs Lawler was obviously uncomfortable with repeating some of the language used. "Do you want me to say exactly what I heard?" "Yes please if you can remember" replied the Chairman. "Em - that's it's f***ing ridiculous and er - your course is a shite, there was a lot more of the same, but I can't recall it exactly."

Mrs Terry enquired as to if it would be difficult to dislodge the tyre. "Very - very. You could not dislodge the tyre itself from the frame and it is pegged out by four pegs into the ground."

Mr Smethurst asked if Mrs Lawler was present when the competitors walked the course, she confirmed that she was and that there had been no complaints.

Moral support

The next witness to be called was Mrs Margaret Nicholls of Wirral who was acting as a "scrimer" on the day. A "scrimer" is a corruption of two words, "scriber" and timer", which describes accurately the duties involved. She described the "cloud burst" and everyone sheltering under the gazebo and that when the rain had subsided, but not completely stopped, the judged stated "If anyone wants to run, I will judge you." Some said they preferred to wait, but others said that yes, they were willing to run, one of these was Ms Elder. She continued that she was watching the judge during Ms Elders run, so did not see the actual incident but heard a bang when the dog hit the tyre and heard the "OOs'" from onlookers. The judge waited to see if the dog was going to continue, but after he eliminated her from the competition, he approached Ms Elder. This witness also stated that she was not aware of the tyre falling over. "When I looked over, it looked like Michelle and her mum were having a go at John, I could hear raised voices, so I thought I am not having this, so I went over just to give him a bit of moral support." "I just asked if the dog was all right and Michelle said I am sorry for swearing - but it is just f***ing ridiculous."

The next witness to be called was Mr Dave Andreassen from Wigan, a fellow competitor on the day. He was queuing with his dog in order to take part in the Intermediate Jumping when it started to rain, which turned into a torrential downpour and many people were sheltering under the gazebo. After a few minutes, the judge gave competitors the choice of comparing or waiting for the rain to stop completely. Some competitors opted to continue and the judge returned to the ring. He was standing in the gazebo during Ms Elder's run and heard the impact of her dog hitting the tyre. Looking across he saw the dog laying at the base of the tyre with Ms Elder attending to the dog. "At that point" continued the witness, "a certain amount of swearing was released, Michelle's mother entered the ring shouting and swearing at the judge and between the two of them they were shouting and swearing at the judge, then Michelle retired."

"Did you hear any of the words used?" asked Mr Morley. "Well I heard the word "bloody" and I heard the word "f**k" used - it wasn't very pleasant". Mr Andreassen also confirmed that he did not see the tyre fall over at any time and that he was about 15 yards away of the tyre.

A statement was then read out to the hearing from Judith A Thompson another competitor at the show, whose version of events loosely coincided with everything so far heard during the morning.

The final person to be called for the complaint was indeed Mr Haddock himself, who stated that he was happy with the course and that to his knowledge no other dog had any problem with the tyre. He also confirmed that during the entire day, the tyre had not been knocked over or moved at all. After the rain he had noticed that the course had got a little slippery so he gave the competitors the choice of competing or not as the ground conditions had changed during the day. During Ms Elder’s run her dog then hit the tyre very hard and hit it on the side, it went down.

According to the judge Ms Elder did not immediately go to her dog but went to pull back a little then went to the dog, at this time he felt that he should not approach the dog but just access the situation, then according to Mr Haddock Mrs Elder then entered the ring, "shouting about the tyre and about me turning my back on competitors, not taking any notice - it just became a shambles with two sides going at me, |I just stood there - to be honest I froze as I had never seen or heard anything like that before, I have been doing this for 20 years and never ever had this experience, so I thought the best thing was to watch what was happening, make sure the dog was all right, without getting too involved." "Then they left the ring and carried on, which surprised me really, for a person to swear like that, in the ring, an outburst like that, with families standing around, listening to this, it really shocked me." Mr Haddock then returned to the middle of the ring, tried to compose him self, went back checked the tyre, which was fine and returned to the middle of the ring.

Mr Carey then had a chance to ask questions of Mr Haddock. He stated that he was a competitor in the same class and that his own dog had earlier hit the same tyre so hard that he had to retire it for the weekend, Mr Haddock said he had no knowledge of that incident.

Mr Carey then queried why, if Mrs Elder had been so abusive, was her name not also included on the complaint lodged with the KC. His reply was that he assumed that if they were not competitors they did not come under the rules as bystanders. Mr Carey asked if he could be sure who swore at him. "I can assure you that it came from both sides, it was so intense, most of the language was pretty much the same."

There followed several questions from the sub committee, regarding the tyre, had it been knocked down? Was possible to knock over a tyre and had this tyre been over during the day. Yes it was possible to knock over a tyre, but that had not happened this day came the replies.

That completed the case for the complaint and Mr Carey then called Mrs Michelle Elder who gave her version of events on the day.. "I had walked the course in the morning, could see nothing wrong with the course at the time, I did actually run other dogs on this course and everything was all right, the ground was fine, not slippy, it wasn't dangerous." "I took the dog round and once I got to the tyre, it wasn't in the position it was in the morning, it was angled, but my dog was too fast and my dog actually took the tyre out with his shoulder, which bashed up it's back but the dog was still going for the next jump." "I shouted at my dog to lie down, I was trying to stop my dog from taking the next obstacle." "When I got to my dog, I took the tyre off his back and pushed it to one side." She continued that Mr Haddock then approached, picked up the tyre and walked back to where it was pinned.

She wondered why the judge did not ask how her dog was, she was concerned with it's shoulder and it's back. At this point she was eliminated and Mrs Elder entered the ring with the dog's lead, she was trying to get the dogs lead on and see what he was like on his legs. She then pointed out to Mr Haddock that he was breaching KC rules by turning his back on competitors, he wasn't taking note of what was happening in the ring. She then alleged that Mr Haddock's only reply was "Point taken". She continued, "So he knew he was in the wrong, he was breaching KC rules so I said I am sorry for swearing, but this is f***ing ridiculous and I walked out of the ring and that was it." "I know I was wrong for swearing, but I only swore once, but my dog was in stress, I was in stress."

Mr Carey asked: "Do you consider that you verbally abused the judge?" "I was upset, it was the heat of the moment, my dog was lying there injured and hurt, I was trying to help my dog, but that course was not the same as I walked in the morning."

The chairman then asked, as every witness so far had stated that the tyre had not fallen over, what part of the tyre had fallen on the dog. "The whole lot, the frame as well, it landed on his back and the dog was still trying to run with his two front feet." "You are absolutely sure of that?", "Yes I am". "Why do you think all these other people are saying it didn't fall?" "Because they are friends with Mr Haddock." "I should have tried to get witnesses, but I only heard about this (hearing) a week before Christmas."

In cross examination, Mr Morley asked how Ms Elder would describe her relationship with Mr Haddock before the incident, to which the reply was that she didn't know Mr Haddock. There followed a long exchange about the tyre, if it had moved, if so how this could have happened and why and if it really did actually fall over.

Following questions from the sub committee many about the tyre equipment and it's stability during the incident then Mr Smethurst finally asked "Irrespective of what happened to the jump, irrespective of what happened at the time, what we are talking about here is your abuse of the judge. Did I hear you agree that you had used the language which was referred to earlier?" "Yes I did and I apologised before and I apologised after."

The final witness to be called was Mrs Joan Elder, Michele's mother from the same address. She stated that she had seen her daughter start her run and she saw the dog hit the tyre and she heard speculation among spectators as to how badly injured the dog was. She stated that Michelle was in a terrible condition, the dog was struggling to get up, Michelle lifted the tyre off him. "Mr Haddock was walking from the gazebo and he never asked how the dog was of if she was all right." "Michelle just put her hands to her head and she said what she said." "It was an awful thing to witness and at the end of the day it is Michele's fault."

"It was just her concern for the dog and when Mr Haddock walked past the dog and didn't ask about the dog, it was a spur of the moment thing and she deeply regrets it, I know she does."

The Chairman then stated that all the other witnesses had stated that the tyre had remained upright. The only person to say that it had come down was Michelle. "Did it come down?" "Oh yes, it bounced on his back, everything, it came out the ground altogether, it was out, Michelle picked it up."

This more or less finished the case for Ms Elder but a number of character witness statements were drawn to the attention of the sub committee. These included one from Mrs V Robinson and one from Anni Telfors all stating that in their opinions Ms Elder was a lady of excellent character.

Not upheld

The hearing then adjourned for lunch and on re-assembling both parties summed up their cases and the sub committee retired to consider their decision. When all parties were called back into the board room, the decision was given that the complaint would not be upheld, much to the delight of the Elders whilst the complaint and his people appeared a little shocked and remained still for several seconds as if taking in the fact that they had been unsuccessful with their complaint. Before leaving Mr Carey shook hands with Mr Morley as if to say "no hard feelings".

The full statement issued by the KC reads as follows:

"The complaint before this committee was brought by Mr John Haddock under Kennel Club Rule A42 a (1) (b) against Ms Michelle Elder namely that she behaved discreditably or prejudicially to the interests of the canine world, in that she used verbal abuse at the Wyre (Lancs) Agility Club Show, at the Cartmel Racecourse, Cartmel, Cumbria on 20th July 2002"
"The Committee have given serious consideration to the evidence presented here today and the statements summarising the events."

"Ms Elder has admitted using language which we find is not acceptable at dog-related events. However we are not satisfied that the complaint should be upheld."

"It is felt by the committee that in the circumstances the apology offered at the time and subsequently should have been accepted."

The Disciplinary Sub-Committee was made up of Mr Bernard Hall as Chairman, Miss Jean Lanning, Mr John Banbury, Mrs Irene Terry and Mr Eric Smethurst.

l After a number of years as Chairman, Mr Bernard Hall is now to retire from the Disciplinary Sub Committee. During the years, the writer has attended a large number of hearings chaired by Mr Hall and feel that his fairness, sensitivity and impartiality have been a huge asset to The Kennel Club Disciplinary Sub Committee. He will be a hard act to follow.