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Saxon ‘still under threat’

Temporary reprieve ‘window dressing’ claim supporters

A POLICE dog who faces destruction due to a decision by Gwent Police Authority not to renew the dog’s operating licence was granted a temporary reprieve earlier this week – but critics dismissed the move as ‘window dressing’ and as OUR DOGS went to press, it was revealed that the dog still faces destruction at the hands of the police.

As reported previously, ‘Saxon’ is five year-old German Shepherd who has been partnered with handler PC Mike Townley of Gwent Police for the past three years and has proved exemplary in his duties. PC Townley has been a police officer for 18 years and has worked as a dog handler for 9 years, being a Home Office approved police dog instructor.

Just a few weeks ago PC Townley, 47, was informed that Saxon was not to be re-licensed as a police dog and senior officers were to make a decision as to his future. Saxon was shortly afterwards classified as a ‘dangerous’ dog and, as such, is unsuitable for re-homing and was due to be put to sleep. For the past three months Saxon has been housed at the police kennels at Glascoed whilst PC Townley has been assigned to other duties. However, PC Townley has been on sick leave for several weeks due to the stress of the situation surrounding Saxon’s fate.

It is understood that the matter of Saxon’s destruction has been taken on the opinion of Sergeant Richard Bull of the police dog section, who is believed to have indicated that the issue is of one of ‘safety around Saxon’. This refers to two incidents that took place during Saxon’s training over three years ago in 2003, when he bit PC Townley, an incident that PC Townley freely admits was his own fault. However, after that incident – which was logged at the time, something ‘clicked’ between them and they bonded perfectly, going from strength to strength.

Saxon apparently fails to reach the required Home Office standard for police work in just one respect – namely that if a dog seizes a suspect in a stand-off situation, it must ‘give up’ and let go of the suspect when ordered to my its handler.

As a serving police officer, Mike Townley is not allowed to comment to the press, but his wife Caroline, who has launched a campaign to Saxon’s life is free to comment.

Caroline told OUR DOGS: ‘The official reason that’s been give for this decision is that Saxon ‘bit his handler’, but that was in training three years ago! Just a few months back, the Chief Constable went on night patrol with the dog handlers, and Mike and Saxon were assigned to him. If there were any concerns about Saxon’s behaviour or people being safe around him, why was the Chief Constable partnered with them? In fact, the Chief Constable sent a letter of commendation about them both.’

PC Townley appealed against the decision and stated his case, making representations on Saxon’s behalf, offering him a retirement home with his family for the rest of his life. PC Townley was told by his senior officers to attend a meeting at Pontypool police station at 3pm on Monday of this week, where he would be told Saxon’s fate.

It seemed clear that Gwent police had been facing with a potential PR disaster of epic proportions, and following an e-mail campaign launched by PC Townley’s wife Caroline to save Saxon’s life, which resulted in newspaper articles – including OUR DOGS – senior officers had been trying to find a way to resolve the situation. Following the issue going into the public domain Gwent Police made various statements regarding Saxon, including one on their website which stated:

‘Saxon has been denied a license on the grounds that he is unsafe to work with and his future is currently under consideration.

However an independent assessment of whether or not he presents an unacceptable risk is being arranged and will be completed before any decision is taken.’

This official statement seems somewhat at odds with the facts, as the decision had already been made prior to 14th July when PC Townley was told that Saxon was to be destroyed.

Caroline Townley told OUR DOGS: ‘As far as we are aware NO independent assessment was done as promised.

‘Mike had been dreading the meeting, he was already ill due to the stress of it all and just could not face hearing Saxon’s fate. Therefore he made a written declaration authorising me, as his wife, to represent him at this meeting and be told the decision that had now been made, so that I in turn could tell Mike at home.

‘I had information from a trusted source that Gwent Police intended to sell Saxon to the Prison Service and this information was released on various e-mails and forums across the Internet. This information was also common knowledge within the Force, however the ploy to get Mike to this meeting was in their words ‘ to make sure he is the first to know what the decision on Saxon is’.’

At the appointed time, Caroline went to the meeting location at the Federation Office at Pontypool with some friends for support, where she met Chief Inspector Parfitt who had with him a female official from the Gwent Police press office. But she was unprepared for what happened next, as she explains:

‘’I informed the Chief Inspector that I was here as my husband’s representative and showed him and the press officer his written letter giving me his permission to be told the decision on Saxon.

Neither the Chief Inspector nor the Press officer would divulge any information to myself regarding Saxon’s fate. Unbelievably I and other members of my family were asked to leave the premises by Chief Inspector Parfitt. We did so and were followed out by the Inspector who then got into his car and drove off!

‘I then went to Police Headquarters where a meeting was held with the same press officer and another male press officer. This meeting was tape recorded by myself and during the meeting no information was given as to Saxon’s future. Strangely no senior police officer was available to speak with us as was requested at the time.’

During this meeting, representatives for Saxon made an offer to purchase the dog privately, and other key issues revolving around his future were raised. Although the officers listened to everything that was said they reportedly declined to divulge any information as to Saxon’s future.

Caroline left the police HQ none the wiser, but upon reaching home, she and Mike discovered from a reliable source that Gwent police had decided to sell Saxon the Prison Service. A press release had been placed on Gwent police’s website at midday, some three hours before the scheduled meeting where Mike Townley was to have been told of Saxon’s fate, which Caroline says clearly indicated that the decision had already been made and that the meeting was merely a formality.
The Gwent police website statement said:

‘A great deal of public interest has been shown in the future of the police dog, Saxon, which has recently been withdrawn from operational duties as a result of concerns about its temperament.

Saxon will be assessed tomorrow, Tuesday 8th August, by HM Prison Service with a view to his working with them in the future. Such a move would enable Saxon to continue to use training and skills acquired as a police dog in a more closely controlled environment where access to the general public is restricted. This would be a positive outcome since our priority has always been to ensure the safety of the public.’

The most worrying fact in Saxon’s potential transferral to the prison service is that the same Home Office criteria are used to assess dogs. If Saxon was deemed to be ‘unsuitable’ for police duty, his assessment may well be conducted in the same way by the Prison Service, which could lead to his eventual destruction. Gwent police had, it seems, passed the ‘problem’ on to somebody else.

Just before OUR DOGS went to press on Tuesday afternoon, we received an e-mail sent to campaigner Lina Van Der Wal by Steve Allen Governor of HM Prison Dogs who confirmed unequivocally that Saxon had indeed been assessed that very day and had been deemed unsuitable for work as a prison dog (see box). Saxon therefore remained in the ‘care’ of Gwent police and, presumably, remained under the threat of destruction.

Many of the campaign team had offered to buy Saxon from Gwent police for up to £1,500, whilst dog trainer Bryn Wayt suggested that the matter be referred to arbitration and that the final decision on Saxon’s fate be decided by an independent tribunal; meantime the latest developments in the case were derided as ‘window dressing’ and ‘dirty tricks’ by many campaigners on a new ‘Save Saxon’ Internet Forum.

David Payne of Videx GSDs who has been a key player in the Townleys’ campaign to save Saxon greeted the Gwent police statement with disgust and issued a response which appears on his own website and raises a number of apparently pertinent questions about the whole case, claiming:

‘There has been no independent assessment of Saxon.

Saxon has NOT failed any required assessment by the Home Office

Saxon has 4 years excellent service with Gwent Police (human equivalent is 30 years)

Gwent Police have failed to adopt reasonable and responsible procedures regarding Saxon

There is no evidence that Saxon presents any danger to the Public, either now or in the last 4 years

The possible move of Saxon to H M Prison Service is premature considering all the above.
Gwent Police have clearly illustrated serious management failures in their Dog Section.

There should be a Public Enquiry into the Gwent Police Dog Section to determine if it is ‘FIT FOR PURPOSE’ and particularly its management of Police Dog Saxon.

Until such an enquiry is complete, and has reported, NO action should be taken with regard to Saxon.’

Caroline Townley summed up the situation simply: ‘It’s an absolute travesty. We’re not giving up though. The fight to save Saxon goes on.’

OUR DOGS contacted Gwent Police Authority for a statement on this latest development. At the time of going to press, Gwent Police Authority had not issued a further statement regarding Saxon.

To register your views on the fate of Saxon and the handling of this situation, please e-mail Gwent Police Authority at: policeauthority@gwent.pnn.police.uk

===============================================================

HM Prison Dogs Assessment of Saxon:

A copy of the e-mail sent from Steve Allen, Governor of HM Prison Dogs to campaigner Lina Van Der Wa on Tuesday, August 8th:

‘Thank you for your enquiry to the Prison Service website that has been passed to me to respond.
‘I have deliberately delayed responding to you till today when I have had a report on the dog in question.

‘With us having over 750 dogs you can imagine that we get offered dogs from many different homes and backgrounds and therefore have to be careful on assessing the different offers to see if they would be suitable and safe for our work.

‘One of my trainers has been to look at the German Shepherd Dog Saxon to assess if he would be suitable for us to train and use as a prison patrol dog, the assessment normally would take into account the dog’s physical condition, temperament and abilities as well as considering any legal or Health and Safety implications.

‘After the assessment of this dog my trainer has reported that Saxon is not suitable as a potential prison patrol dog and of no use to us, but as Saxon was under threat of being humanely destroyed I believe it was worth us looking at him to see if we could use him.

‘I am aware of the campaign in respect of Saxon but I am afraid I cannot comment on police decisions, I strongly believe in what is said, in the article you quote, about the unconditional love or bond between most handlers and their dogs, sometimes however decisions have to be made that consider other more down to earth matters which may or may not be the situation in this case.

‘Yours sincerely

‘Steve Allen (SJK Allen)
‘Governor, HM Prison Dogs’