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Legal flaw gets Stafford off the hook


A STAFFORDSHIRE Bull Terrier named Tyler escaped death after a Crown Court quashed a destruction order issue against the dog by magistrates for a minor biting incident, thanks to a legal flaw in the way the case was brought by police.

The nightmare began for Susan Rich of Leighton Buzzard, Beds last December when her daughter and baby granddaughter were staying with her temporarily. Her daughter owned Tyler, aged 5, described as a well-behaved family pet with no history of aggressiveness.

One evening, a young boy named Craig, known to the family, knocked on Susan’s door. Tyler was sitting on the stairs and ran to the door to greet Craig, who knew the dog. For some inexplicable reason, the boy started screaming, causing Tyler to bark and jump up at him. It appears that Tyler nipped the boy on the arm in all the excitement, causing Craig to continue screaming until he was taken to hospital. A 1.5 cm mark was found on his arm and Craig’s parents informed the police.

A full six months later, in June 2003, Susan Rich received a summons to appear at Luton Magistrates Court to answer charged under the 1871 Dogs Act, even though she was not the dog’s owner.

Court

In court, testimonials as to Tyler’s good nature were produced, along with photographs of the dog with Susan grandchild. However, after deliberation, the magistrates imposed a destruction order upon Tyler. Although empowered to do so under the 1871 Act, magistrates seldom impose destruction orders, usually opting for control orders, Neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service had sought a destruction order on the dog and were just as taken aback as Susan and her defence solicitor Pamela Pritchard.

Ms Pritchard lodged an immediate appeal against the destruction order. Susan subsequently contacted the anti-BSL support group the Fury Defence Fund and spoke to founder Juliette Glass, who in turned liased with Ms Pritchard, additionally ending a cheque to assist with Susan’s costs.

Appeal

The Appeal Hearing was heard on 24th September 2003 at Bedford Magistrates Court, sitting as a Crown Court. Barrister Robert English represented Susan, the solicitors now acting pro bono (free of charge) for Susan. Juliette Glass of the FDF was in court to offer Susan support.

Pet Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford also appeared for the defence and had examined Tyler prior to the appeal. His extensive report concluded: "No indication of any unwanted or disorderly behaviour was seen in the dog. Tyler is a much-loved family pet. In my view, it is sufficient that she be ordered to keep her dog under control in future without any specific conditions. In my view, a muzzle order is unnecessary."

However, Barrister Robert English put forward a legal argument saying that the police proceeded by way of information about the alleged attack, whereas proceedings should have been issued under a Complaint. He argued that the proceedings were therefore invalid and should be nullified and the Destruction Order quashed.

There was a brief adjournment, during which time the Prosecution barrister telephoned Luton Magistrates Court for clarification on how the proceedings were brought before the lower court. He the confirmed to the justices in the Crown Court that the proceedings were, indeed, invalid.

The judge then quashed the destruction order. He did not look upon matters kindly when Mr English sought costs for the Defence, pointing out that if the CPS brings proceedings, it was their responsibility to ensure that the proceedings were properly brought. "The starter point is that the Prosecution got it wrong," said Mr English. "Work has been done and the Appeal has been presented. The Court in its discretion ought to order costs subject to taxation."

Expert

The Judge noted that the 1871 Dogs Act was Civil, not Criminal proceedings, but awarded the small sum of £70 to the Barrister. No costs were made for the expert, Dr Mugford.

Despite this, Susan Rich and her family were delighted that the conviction was quashed and that Tyler had been saved. She paid tribute to her solicitors who had prepared the Appeal Pro Bono, and to her barrister Mr English. She also effusively thanked the Fury Defence Fund for their help and thanked Juliette Glass for all her advice and support and for attending court.