‘The fact was that Simpson’s dog was already dead, shot down that fateful night by a police marksman and that Simpson… was sentenced to a mere eight weeks imprisonment, whilst the owners waiting in Victoria Street faced losing their dogs, not because of their behaviour but because of their looks’
ANOTHER GROUP of dogs seized as illegal pit bull ‘types’ under the ill-conceived Merseyside ‘Dangerous Dogs Amnesty’ had their day in court last month– and all but three were allowed to be released after being registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs.
The amnesty and the subsequent prosecutions had been instigated following the mauling to death of five year-old Ellie Lawrenson by a Pit Bull Terrier belonging to her uncle, Kiel Simpson, in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
Several owners were scheduled in court to have their cases heard at the same time. Many of the owners had only been told of the court date two or three days beforehand, and at least three of the fifteen present that day had not been told that the cases were to be heard at the smaller, Victoria Street court building, rather than the main Magistrates’ Court in the city.
Ironically, the action had been shifted to the smaller court building due to Kiel Simpson appearing at the main court for sentencing on charges of owning an unregistered illegal Pit Bull. Whether the shift of venue for the amnesty cases was borne out of sensitivity or mere expediency to keep the media away from the responsible dog owners wronged by Simpson’s irresponsibility was not known; those present could draw their own conclusions. The fact was that Simpson’s dog was already dead, shot down that fateful night by a police marksman and that Simpson, in recognition of his earlier ‘guilty’ plea was sentenced to a mere eight weeks imprisonment, whilst the owners waiting in Victoria Street faced losing their dogs, not because of their behaviour but because of their looks.
Mel Page and Diane Robinson of the anti-BSL group Deed Not Breed once again assisted well-known canine solicitor Trevor Cooper in preparing his defence for each dog. The women, assisted by Mel Rushmore of Fireside Rescue marshalled the bewildered owners as they arrived, provided them with forms to fill out about their dogs and the circumstances of their seizure and then directing them to an ante room where Trevor Cooper, assisted by Holly Lee of the Kennel Club, spoke to them, gleaned the facts about their individual cases from their paperwork and planning his defence strategy.
The court were generous with their time and, as Mel Page observed, even though they were working frantically to meet and help the owners, things weren’t as manic and chaotic as in the earlier hearings.
Eventually, the court was ready to sit and District Judge Andrew Jebb, who had presided over the second hearing spoke to Trevor Cooper, agreeing amicably to split the 11 cases into ‘blocks’, so as not to overcrowd the court with defendants and their families.
The prosecution side was represented by solicitor Jim Clarke and Inspector Neil Davies, the head of Merseyside Police’s Dog Section who, for most of the dogs on trial, was quite happy to push for registration, rather than destruction.
Typical of the dogs on trial was the case of ‘Blade’, owned by Charlene Barrett. On January 26th, just before the ‘amnesty’ came into effect, a police constable Roberts was called to a public order disturbance in a street in Kirby. He reported in his statement that there were some twenty young males and females fighting each other with golf clubs, so he called for back up to break up the disturbance. As the protagonists were rounded up, Charlene Barrett went out to see what was going on and the dog escaped through then open gate purely by accident. Shortly afterwards, the police received a report that several pit bulls had been seen on the street and Blade was seized by police as being of the pit bull ‘type’ and Barrett was charged.
Judge Jebb obviously took rather a dim view of Blade’s seizure, saying to Neil Davies: ‘Charlene Barrett’s only involvement was that of an innocent bystander. You – the police – cannot say that she was involved with the fighting.’ Davies agreed with this point, whilst Cooper pointed out that when Barrett had walked out to see what was going on, Blade had followed and escaped through the broken gate by accident. The gate had since been fixed.
Examination evidence had shown that the dog was ‘cautious’ but handleable. Judge Jebb queried the statement referring to ‘uncertain behaviour’, to which Cooper responded 'the dog was in a strange situation, being examined by a strange person. Most dogs are very ‘cagey’ during examination by a vet, but this dog allowed the officer to look in his mouth without any aggression.’
Having heard each block of cases, Judge Jebb ruled that he was satisfied that the dogs did not constitute a danger to public safety and directed that these should be placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs, registered as pit bull types, subject to them being neutered, where appropriate, tattooed and microchipped for identification purposes, with a period of two months.
As on previous occasions, the police applied for costs, but the judge turned these down.
Three dogs’ cases were adjourned until the following month, pending ‘concerns’ over their behaviour since seizure. The dogs – ‘Red’ owned by Lynne Kenny, ‘Rio’ owned by Scott McEvoy and ‘Kiko’ owned by Denzil Estridge had been said to be perfectly well behaved and of good temperament when seized from their owners, but that their temperament was causing concern when examined some time later in police kennels.
Most of the owners present were naturally delighted that their dogs had been saved from destruction and expressed their gratitude to Trevor Cooper, Deed Not Breed and also to the Kennel Club and the charity Animals In Need, who were financing major aspects of the defence.
Mel Page of Deed Not Breed told me after the hearings: ‘Well done to Trevor Cooper again for a brilliant defence and to Judge Jebb for his intelligent and sensitive handling of the cases. Of course, it’s a great shame that these innocent dogs are on trial at all, as their only crime is the way they look.
‘However, these further registrations and effective acquittals prove conclusively, once again, that the ‘amnesty’ was a total waste of public money and police time and has done nothing to protect the public from genuinely dangerous dogs.
‘Deed Not Breed’ will continue to fight for all dogs seized under this amnesty and will continue to campaign for sensible laws which will punish irresponsible dog owners rather than the dogs.’
l Both Red and Rio were allowed to be registered following their cases. The report on Red’s case appeared in last weeks’ OUR DOGS and the report in Rio’s case appears in this week’s issue