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Amnesty dogs go on trial

MOST OF the dogs seized or given up during the Merseyside ‘dangerous dogs hand in’ earlier this month went on trial under the Dangerous Dogs Act at Liverpool Magistrates Court last Tuesday. As OUR DOGS went to press, five of the cases had been ‘part heard’ before the court broke for lunch, but whether all 15 cases would be heard was looking increasingly unlikely.

None of the owners facing the charges had brought their own solicitor, but all were being represented by well-known dog barrister Pam Rose, who was acting for them on a pro-bono basis. Officials from the anti-breed specific legislation groups Endangered Dogs Defence and Rescue (EDDR) and Deed Not Breed (BND) had organised legal assistance for the owners and were in court to help them in whatever way they could.

The dogs had all been charged with being unregistered pit bull ‘types’, but the charges had been brought under Section 4(b) of the DDA, whereby dogs can be charged as being of a proscribed breed on the identification of a recognised official, which includes police officers. This section of the Act was originally devised for cases where no ownership could be proved, so the owners of dogs charged under Section 4(b) are not eligible for legal aid, hence the owners not being able to afford their own solicitors.

All the defendants sat in court as the cases were heard ‘en masse’ in front of a judge.
An identification Expert for the police spoke in the court, running through the case of each dog, only briefly, prior to the defendants being able to have their points put by Pam Rose.

Mel Rushmore of Deed Not Breed told OUR DOGS by telephone from the court: ‘He is outlining the case for each dog, he is being very fair, saying friendly, very friendly, playful, but nothing bad. He said that one dog didn't like his teeth examined. When he has finished, we think the defendants will be able to read out their statements, but it's all very confusing, there is no set routine for the day.

‘Pam Rose has questioned the ID expert a few times, once about 'type' and is pointing out if a dog is already neutered etc.

‘There are a lot of people in court. Two of the original 15 cases are not being heard today but there are new people there too; two owners have turned up with nothing, they are very upset, one has ‘kicked off’ and Richard, another owner had to run over to try calm him down. He’s upset - he didn't know what was going on, has not got anything on his dog that now may be ordered destroyed.

‘Another owner has brought in a letter about her dog, I think from a nephew, and burst into tears with it. It’s all very emotional.

‘They all went in together this morning, The prosecution counsel has just made his opening statement which was quite fair, though he did bring up that a 5 year old had been killed by ‘one of these types of dog’.

‘We have adjourned now for lunch. We have has no idea if they'll be all going back in together this afternoon or as individuals but if that’s the case, there’s no way they'll see all 15 today.’

The DDA cases were being heard in Court 4, but by a grim coincidence, Court 5 next door was where one Kiel Simpson was on trial on an unrelated matter. Simpson was the owner of the pit bull-type dog that savaged his niece, 5 year-old Ellie Lawrenson to death on New Year’s Day and prompted the outcry and subsequent ‘crackdown’ on pit bull-type dogs in the Merseyside area.

As OUR DOGS went to press, court proceedings were about to resume. Whether the hearings would be concluded that day and whether the judge would recommend registration or destruction for any of the dogs found ‘guilty’ of resembling the pit bull’ type’ was unclear.

* A full report of proceedings will appear in next week’s OUR DOGS.