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Prison dog handler in court to get dogs back

A PRISON dog handler who claims that a senior officer "spitefully" removed his two dogs after he resigned from the service is suing the Prison Service for constructive dismissal.

Danny Broderick, who was awarded the Imperial Service Medal for 30 years of meritorious service by the Queen in August, has spent £9,000 in legal costs fighting a campaign to keep his dogs.

Toby, a six-year-old springer spaniel, and Harley, a four-year-old Cocker Spaniel, whose job was to detect drugs at Chelmsford Prison in Essex, were taken from his home after he retired – a move contrary to normal working practice for animals of that age when their handler retires. Mr Broderick, 57, a former Irish Guardsman, said: "I miss them dreadfully. I’d had them since they were a year old and trained them. They were part of my life at home and work, 24 hours a day.

"They were working dogs but they were also family pets and I fully expected to keep them. That’s what normally happens except when a dog is exceptionally young. The same applies to police and Customs’ dogs. A special bond is acknowledged. It’s not normal for a dog to be rehandled. It’s not fair to the dog."

Police were sent to the house Mr Broderick shares with his wife, Lorna, in Boreham, near Chelmsford, in June when he refused to hand them over. Ian West, the prison’s head of security, virtually accused him of theft, insisting that the animals were not pets, but working dogs purchased with public funds.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided that no criminal offence had occurred and dropped any charges, but the Prison Service, in what was described as an act of spite, then won a county court injunction and the dogs were taken away in August.

Their case has caused local uproar. Jack Penson, a former governor of the prison, said: "I am appalled at the treatment of Danny Broderick and his two dogs. Never in the whole of my experience have I seen or heard of working dogs and their handlers being treated in such a manner."

The dogs, who were devoted to each other, have been separated. Toby, who is a year from retirement, has been sent to Norwich Prison and Harley to Blundeston in Suffolk.

Mr Broderick has made offers through his solicitors to pay for the animals or buy a replacement and sponsor it, but the prison failed to respond.

Mr Broderick, one of the first prison dog handlers in the country when appointed nearly ten years ago, attributes his loss to a meeting in April convened by Mr West. At the meeting, attended by the jail’s other dog handler and a Prison Officers’ Association representative, Mr West tried to introduce a new shift pattern.

Mr Broderick told him it was unworkable and was later told by a principal officer: "You are off dogs and back into uniform." Already a year past normal retirement age, he felt compelled to resign and retired on May 19.

A witness, who will give evidence in the constructive dismissal case, alleges in a statement that Mr West said after the meeting: "Danny will never work with dogs again. I’m going to advertise his job tomorrow."

In an exchange of letters, Mrs Broderick explained to Mr West in May that her husband had taken the dogs away to stay with friends. Mr West described what had happened as "tantamount to theft".

Mr Broderick said: "Mr West is a bully boy. This has been done for spite because I said his proposals were unworkable. He knows nothing about dogs."

After a hearing before Judge John Holt at Chelmsford County Court on October 27, Mr Broderick faces a £5,000 Prison Service legal costs bill, plus his own costs of £4,000.

A 5,000-name petition for the dogs’ return has been handed in at the jail but the governor, Steve Brodford, has declined to accept it.

The petition organiser, Jackie Jackson, secretary of a local dog club, said: "The behaviour of the Prison Service has been cruel and insensitive."

Mr West declined to comment, saying that as there was a constructive dismissal case pending he did not want to prejudice that..