Dino - free after three years in legal limbo. A large team of legal expertise and expert witnesses - including Kennel Club members - were behind his eventual ‘release’.
A FAMILY’S devotion to Dino, their GSD resulted in legal history being made last Friday. Dino’s case was the longest running Section 3 DDA case to date, and the first to be referred back to the courts by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
The case was described by presiding judge Mr Patrick Eccles QC as being unique, although he made it clear that it did not set a precedent for other DDA cases.
Seven and a half year-old Dino, belonging to Bryan and Carol Lamont, was under sentence of death from a destruction order made by Northampton magistrates under Section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act in July 2001, following an altercation with a Jack Russell Terrier, whose owner was bitten – allegedly by Dino – in the resulting melee. Dino should have been destroyed in twenty-one days of the order, however no warrant was made to arrest the dog and enforce the ruling.
Following the magistrates’ court case where the destruction order was made, the Lamonts engaged the services of solicitor Trevor Cooper and an appeal was launched. The appeal failed but determined not to give up, Mr Lamont took the case to the High Court, then to the House of Lords, all of who rejected any appeal. Determined to fight on, the Lamonts finally appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, only to hear that the case could not be heard. In the meantime Dino was still living at the Lamonts’ home in Northampton.
Trevor Cooper commented, "Having the appeal turned down by the European Court, I went back to the books, and discovered that Dino’s case might be suitable for a review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. This organisation was set up in 1995 and has so far reviewed cases from the sixties and earlier, where the accused is no longer living and the appeal has been held posthumously. Not only was Dino’s case uniquely made on behalf of a dog, but also, it was the first case of a retrial, being held for an accused that was
still alive". Since 1997 the Commission has heard 6,292 cases and allowed re-trials for 194 cases, which is just 3% of the total reviewed.
On Friday, October 15th 2004, an anxious Bryan Lamont sat in Northampton Crown Court alongside Trevor Cooper, behind them the three expert witnesses, Trevor Turner, former Chief Veterinary Surgeon for Crufts, Championship Show Judge and behaviourist Mike Mullan, and Canine Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford, who had each handed in reports to the court testifying to their belief that Dino posed no real threat to the public. Barrister Shiraz Ruston then rose to present the defence case.
A video was played in court showing that Mr Lamont had undertaken to secure his property as the experts had advised. This included two metre high fencing with a wire extension on the top of that, and padlocks on the access gate. As the video played, those present in the court had the opportunity to view Dino with Bessie, a small dog belonging to Dr Roger Mugford, walking along a footpath and passing other pedestrians including a woman accompanied by a Cavalier spaniel and small child. Dino paid no real interest in those he met, just calmly walking by. The video ended with Dr Mugford’s dog and Dino both off the lead, in the Lamonts’ garden; again Dino paid no attention to Bessie.
Mr Lamont was called to the stand to answer questions and confirm he had properly undertaken securing his property, including placing a box to catch post on the front door, so that Dino had no access to the postman’s fingers. Dr Mugford was also called to answer questions put by the magistrates, about Dino’s character and state of health, and confirm that the measures taken to secure the house and garden were sufficient. After this and closing submissions, Judge Eccles and the two magistrates sitting with him retired to consider the evidence.
Every dog has his day
On their return Mr Eccles QC said that due to the considerable interest the case had attracted he would like to read out a statement before pronouncing the decision on Dino’s future. In the statement he referred to Mr Lamont’s efforts on behalf of his dog, saying, " ‘Every dog will have his day’ the bard said – and Mr Lamont’s devotion to his certainly allowed Dino his day in court. If a Scotsman with deep pockets and spirit takes on the judiciary to vindicate his dog, the contest is likely to be vigorous and prolonged. Dino had spent half his life on canine death row, happily without consciousness of the awful fate that might await him". As soon as Mr Patrick Eccles announced the destruction order had been lifted a happy Mr Lamont looked across the court room, smiled and winked at his daughter Carly, sitting in the public gallery.
The proceedings then turned to the restrictions to be placed on Dino and the undertakings that would need to be met by the Lamonts, to prevent another incident happening in the future. Here the experts were able to advise the magistrates via Trevor Cooper and Shiraz Ruston, on matters pertaining to the safety of the public and the welfare of Dino.
After some discussion a proposal for a new Control Order on Dino was put forward which the magistrates accepted and the Lamonts agreed to undertake. The magistrates made provision on the Control Order, for a variation of the order, as Dino ages or the Lamonts need to move house. Speaking afterwards Trevor Turner said that although the restrictions placed on Dino were there for the public safety, he had been concerned that the restrictions should have consideration for the welfare of Dino, especially as he ages. Mike Mullen agreed with these sentiments adding that it was an excellent result.
There was extensive media coverage of the event, with many TV companies, radio stations and almost all the national daily papers covering the case. Bryan Lamont told OUR DOGS that he was surprised by the amount of interest the case generated. "The amount of coverage totally blew me away," he said. He first became aware of the media interest when, on arrival, he was asked to walk into the building twice for the cameras stationed outside. On leaving court he and daughter Carly were faced with a wall of cameras, journalists and photographers.
A figure of £60,000 costs has been mentioned in many newspaper articles about the case, but Mr Lamont assured OUR DOGS that this figure is exaggerated. Without the help and support of The Dogs Trust, who raised money to help fund the challenges through the courts, initial help from the Fury Defence Fund and donations from the Scottish public and dog lovers across the UK it would not have been possible and he would like to thank everyone for the support the family have received. Praising the hard work put in by Mr Trevor Cooper and Mike Mullan, Mr Lamont said, "Trevor Cooper has been an absolute stalwart over the years, he and Mike Mullan have been a great support, and have worked very hard for Dino".
Carol Lamont did not attend the court; she stayed at home with Dino waiting for the phone call with the decision. Carol said she didn’t like courts and just couldn’t face being there on Friday, but she really appreciated the help of the experts who helped save Dino. Mr Lamont added that he thought, before the case started, that they only had a 50% chance of having the destruction order lifted, but as soon as the video made by Trevor Turner, Roger Mugford and Mike Mullan was played in court he thought Dino might be reprieved, and, happily, after three and a half long years, this proved to be the case.
Dino is now free to go about his life without the unwarranted sentence of death hanging over him.