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Access anger leads to DDA charge

A LONG-STANDING feud over the right of access to an alleyway led to a disabled dog owner finding herself facing two charges under the Dangerous Dogs Act for an alleged ‘attack’.

Karen Kirk, 46 has lived in Hounslow, Middlesex since 1999. She owns a three-year-old Labrador/Spaniel cross named ‘Celt’ and regularly looks after his litter brother ‘Mach’ who belongs to a friend.

Karen, who uses an electric scooter to get about, has been caught up in a long-running dispute with a neighbour, Gary Bradley, a mechanic who has a workshop in the vicinity of her home. She alleges that Bradley has often blocked access to the entrance of an alleyway running alongside her property and that of other residents, and has endured harassment, abuse, threats and actual violence when she has complained. Other neighbours are allegedly too afraid to confront Bradley or make any sort of complaint.

After a series of abuse and threats, Karen took Gary Bradley to court, where he was bound over to keep the peace, although he has re-offended on a number of occasions. Complaints from Karen to Hounslow police resulted in no action whatsoever… until Mr Bradley claimed that Celt and Mach had bitten him.

The alleged incident took place on November 28th 2002. Karen claims that Bradley was in the alleyway acting in a threatening manner when Karen and the dogs tried to gain access to her property via the alley. Bradley is alleged to have run at the dogs and kicked Mach hard enough to lift him off the ground and then landed a kick in Celt’s face. Karen was distressed and telephoned the police, who did not come out. Luckily the dogs were not badly hurt.

However, in January 2003, she was visited by PC Peter Jordan regarding a complaint made by Bradley, who had alleged that one or both of the dogs had bitten him, saying that his jeans were torn and that a dog had bitten through his boots. According to Karen, PC Jordan read out a caution and did not listen to her side of events.

Nearly eight months after the incident on June 2nd, 2003, a summons arrived at Karen’s home ordering her to attend at Feltham Magistrates Court on two charges relating to the Dangerous Dogs Act, specifically Sections 3(1) and 4. Karen immediately made a counter claim, although nothing was followed up on this.

Karen contacted the Fury Defence Fund who referred them to solicitors Keppe Shaw, who are experienced in cases of this nature. There followed innumerable appearances at Feltham Magistrates Court. At one stage the Crown Prosecution Service introduced a Road Traffic Act charge against Karen, stating that her dogs were off the lead in public and were a danger to traffic. They eventually amended the "aggravated" dog attack charge to a "Summary" offence.

The District Judge hearing the case asked whether either side had established whether the alleyway was private or public land. Nobody had established this, which led to further delays.

It was not until February 2004 (following another brief appearance at the court in November 2003) where the local council confirmed that the alleyway is, in fact, private land, and NOT a ‘public place’ under which the DDA would apply. Despite this, the CPS would not drop the Road Traffic Act charge. Meanwhile, Karen’s defence team had obtained CCTV footage of Bradley kicking the dogs. At this stage, Karen again raised the matter of Bradley’s threatening behaviour in the alleyway with the police. Incredibly, they said that as the incident occurred on private land, it was a civil matter – yet they and the CPS were pursuing the DDA charge!

The case was due for a final, one-day hearing in May 2004, to be heard by a bench of three magistrates. Karen took Celt with her, in case the magistrates wanted to see him. Upon arrival at the court it transpired that the CPS had not subpoenaed their witnesses and withdrew from the case. Although the magistrates had very little to say other than to discharge her, Karen states that the CPS Prosecutor informally apologised to her and opined that the case should not have come to court.

Karen made the following statement via the Fury Defence Fund for OUR DOGS: "The police and CPS in Hounslow chose to believe the aggressor and turn a victim into an offender and go all out for animals who are well trained and expect them to act with greater courtesy and understanding than they would expect from a man who ran down the road, kicking and abusing and threatening to kill the dogs. Should the dogs even bark, then the law is on the side of the abuser.

"The DDA is a cruel Act and the cost to bring this unnecessary case has been phenomenal, thousands and thousands have been squandered. I have felt oppressed and frightened for the safety of my dogs."

Karen personally thanked Juliette Glass of the FDF for help and advice, along with Karen’s legal team.

Juliette Glass commented: ‘The behaviour of the authorities has been disgraceful in this case and we are horrified that a disabled lady was victimised, abused and threatened for years whilst the police stood by and did nothing. Karen is a very brave lady.’