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Rickson – another stay of execution


THE ONGOING case of ‘Rickson’, the Bull Terrier sentenced to death under the Dangerous Dogs Act an ‘aggravated attack’ on a child has been for review accepted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission – just days after a further appeal was rejected by the Crown Court.

‘Rickson’, owned by Elizabeth Holland of Norris Green, Liverpool has been languishing in solitary confinement at Liverpool City Kennels since being seized by police in March 2001.

Until August 2002, Mrs Holland was consistently refused permission to visit him by the police officer in charge of the case, WPC Wheeler.

However, after intervention from the Fury Defence Fund – who have assisted Mrs Holland in this case – a senior police officer, Inspector Bacon overrode PC Wheeler’s edict and granted permission for Mrs Holland to visit Rickson at the city kennels.

New evidence relating to Rickson’s case has been gathered, including an in-depth report by Animal Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford on Rickson’s temperament. Although leave to appeal to the House of Lords was refused, leave to appeal to Liverpool Crown Court was authorised and the appeal was duly lodged in late August 2002.

Other key evidence relates to Mrs Holland’s health caused by the stress of the dog’s seizure, together with several points of order relating to the mishandling of the case by the police during the initial stages of interviewing Mrs Holland and gathering evidence.

Elizabeth Holland has eight grandchildren, all of whom have played happily with Rickson with no fear of attack. Mrs Holland, 64, 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.

Disputes

There had been various arguments 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 8 year-old Kathryn Ambrose was playing in the back garden, being there to visit her grandparents.

It was alleged by the Ambrose family that the dog grabbed Kathryn’s ankle and lunged for her leg and chest. The child received treatment at hospital for a 5-centimetre 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.

According to Mrs Holland, however, the dog was enticed under the damaged fence and was being beaten by various members of the family with sticks, at which time the dog bit Kathryn in self-defence.

Police investigated the incident and Mrs Holland was subsequently charged under Section 3.3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (which covers ‘aggravated’ attacks in non-public places) and Rickson was seized and taken to council kennels.

Mrs Holland pleaded guilty on the advice of her solicitor at Liverpool Crown Court last November, and was fined £250 with £250 costs, by the magistrates, who also imposed a destruction order on the dog and a ten year ban from owning dogs on Mrs Holland.

Shortly afterwards, Mrs Holland made contact 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 (i.e. free of charge). Mr Cooper then instructed barrister Pamela Rose, who has extensive experience in presenting DDA defence cases.

Attitude

Complaints were lodged against PC Wheeler, the officer in charge of the case, for her handling of the matter and for her attitude towards both Mrs Holland and FDF officer Janet Payne. However, no action was taken by Liverpool police against PC Wheeler.

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 Hon. Judge Rant.

The Justices heard the evidence then retired for a brief adjournment before dismissing the appeal, however, was dismissed, thus allowing the destruction order against Rickson to stand.

Mrs Holland then sought to appeal to the House of Lords against the Appeal Court decision, and with the help of Mr Cooper and the FDF, been gathering evidence to present her case to the Appeals Committee.

Leave to appeal to the Lords was denied in September 2002, although permission to appeal to Liverpool Crown Court was allowed. This new appeal was lodged by the FDF on Mrs Holland’s behalf in October 2002. Copies of Dr Mugford’s report, together with medical certificates relating to Mrs Holland’s health since the commencement of the case was hand delivered to Liverpool Crown Court.

However, Leave to Appeal against conviction was refused on April 10th 2003 by Mr Justice Poole who stated: "*Inadequate reason has been given for the long delay in submitting the application. But in event I have read the papers and am satisfied that the application for Leave to Appeal against Conviction… is without merit.

Mrs Holland was bitterly disappointed by this decision, as more than adequate reasons were given for the delays and for the equivocal plea, Juliette Glass commented that she was once again let down by the Judicial system which was stacked against her.

In the meantime, Janet Payne had perused the Internet to obtain information about The Criminal Cases Review Commission (an official body set up by Act of Parliament), and made contact Mr John Wagstaff of the CCRC, who was most helpful.

Following the conversation, Janet Payne prepared a comprehensive bundle of documentation relating to the case and an appointment was duly made by the FDF to meet with Mr Wagstaff at the CCRC’s office in Birmingham.

Productive

On April 28th, Elizabeth Holland accompanied by Juliette Glass and Janet Payne met with Mr Wagstaff to discuss Rickson’s case. The meeting lasted one and a half hours and was, according to Juliette Glass, "very productive". Mr Wagstaff decided that there were aspects of the case and its handling by the prosecuting authorities that bear further investigation and the CCRC will conduct an inquiry accordingly. This is the first DDA case accepted by the CCRC.

Rickson is still being held at Liverpool City Council’s kennels pending the resolution of the case. The FDF advised both the kennels and the Chief Constable of Liverpool Police of the CCRC’s investigations, in order that the destruction order against Rickson will not be carried out.

Elizabeth Holland told OUR DOGS: "I’ve had my hopes raised and dashed by the legal system, but I feel that through the CCRC, I have another chance to get real justice for Rickson. I am so very grateful to the Fury Defence Fund for all their hard work and help in trying to free Rickson. I am also very grateful to OUR DOGS who have faithfully and accurately reported Rickson’s story, rather than replying on inaccurate reports in certain national newspapers. If it weren’t for OUR DOGS’ intervention last year, Rickson would have been destroyed long ago.

"For now, he has another stay of execution whilst the CCRC conduct their enquiries. I’m hopeful that justice will prevail and he’ll be released back to me one day."