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Staffie escapes death sentence on appeal

A STAFFORDSHIRE BULL Terrier was sentenced to death by magistrates after it accidentally hurt a child whilst playing. However, thanks to the testimony of experts as to the dog’s good character, the death sentence was overturned on appeal.

University student Carianne Simcock, 19, lives with her family on Swansea. The family own two Staffordshire Bull terriers, both of which are well behaved, much loved family pets. However, one of the dogs named Bruiser found himself facing a death sentence following an incident last summer.

Carianne and her boyfriend were walking Bruiser along the beach in Gower on August 2nd 2003 when a family with a toddler approached them. The toddler started patting and stroking Bruiser who became excited at the attention and jumped up, accidentally catching the child’s cheek with one of his teeth. As the child cried out and turned around, Bruiser’s tooth caught her on the back of her head, which resulted in a small tear to the skin on the head. The child was taken to hospital where a skin graft was taken from her leg to repair the skin damage to her head. The police were informed but Bruiser was not taken into custody.

A summons duly arrived, naming both Carianne and her boyfriend, who were charged under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. A local solicitor was engaged to defend them. The case came to Magistrates court in the early autumn of 2003. The boyfriend pleased not guilty, as he was not the dog’s owner and was not in charge of it. The court accepted this and dismissed the charge against him. On her solicitor’s advice, Carianne pleaded guilty.

At a subsequent hearing, she was stunned when magistrates ordered that Bruiser be destroyed. The family, although upset that a small child had been injured were, nevertheless devastated at this decision, s the whole incident had been a tragic accident. An appeal was duly lodged.

Carianne’s mother Gayle contacted John Holle at a local Staffordshire Bull Terrier club and he prepared a brief report on Bruiser’s temperament. The family vet also prepared a report, describing Bruiser as "a very relaxed and good natured dog". Gayle then contacted vet Rachel Casey, who has a practice in Bristol and who has defended many dogs under the DDA. Ms Casey examined Bruiser and produced a very comprehensive report on his temperament. In the meantime, Gayle collected numerous testimonials from friends and neighbours attesting to Bruiser’s friendly disposition.

The original legal team were still in charge of the case when the appeal was heard on Friday April 30th 2004 at Swansea Crown Court. Expert Rachel Casey was in court with the family, ready to give evidence. However, the Crown Prosecution Service objected to the case being heard, as they had not been given this evidence in advance. The judge appeared quite annoyed and queried why the court had not been given prior notice of the evidence and the witnesses, with the result that more time would have to be allocated to hearing the case. The appeal was adjourned. The family were, needless to say, extremely dissatisfied at their legal team’s blunder.

Gayle Simcock then contacted the Fury Defence Fund for help and advice, and on the FDF’s advice she contacted well-known DDA solicitor Trevor Cooper, who was duly engaged to handle the case.

Good temperament

On Wednesday, October 20th 2004 – almost 15 months after the original incident, the appeal hearing was heard at Swansea Crown Court before Judge Beal. Rachel Casey gave evidence first and spoke eloquently as to Bruiser’s good temperament, answering the Judge’s query as to whether Bruiser would be a danger to the public that his actions had been "part of play". She suggested that a Control Order would be a more appropriate ruling than a Destruction Order.

The CPS’s expert had examined Bruiser for over an hour and was in court to give evidence. His report stated that he "could not find any aggression in the dog, it displayed friendliness and enthusiasm." He too, recommended a Control Order with certain stipulations.

The Defence Barrister, Patricia Lloyd handed the testimonials to the Judge and a similar number of excellent testimonials as to Carianne’s impeccable character and her studying at University and her "tender years".

Judge Beal then gave his judgement, stating that "other people would have had their dog destroyed [after such an incident] but this hadn’t happened here." He accepted "that Carianne had not set out to harm anyone and that it was a one-off incident, but letting the dog off the lead led to the terrible injury to the child, He had, however, taken into account the expert evidence and testimonials. He duly quashed the Destruction Order and instituted a Control Order on Bruiser, whereby he should be on a lead and muzzle at all times when in a public place and under the control of someone aged 18 or over.

Judge Beal also noted that the family were covered by an insurance policy and that if a claim was made there would be some compensation made to the child. However, he mentioned that the family had taken it upon themselves to pay for a Barrister and an expert, so he awarded costs against them – as asked for by the CPS – in the sum of £3,000.

However, the Simcock family were delighted that Bruiser had been reprieved. Gayle and Carianne thanked Trevor Cooper for his superb handling of the case, Barrister Patricia Lloyd for her "brilliant" work, expert Rachel Casey and Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund for her kindness and support during a very difficult and stressful time. The family were so relieved that Bruiser, their much-loved pet had been reprieved.