THE newly-resurgent Dangerous Dogs Act, revived in no small part as a result of media response to the tragic death of five year old Ellie Lawrenson on New Year’s Day, made itself felt further afield than Merseyside recently following the seizure from his Middlesex home of a two-and-a-half-year old Stafford/Labrador cross.
The media furore following reports January’s tragedy, in which five year old Ellie was mauled to death by her uncle’s ‘pit bull type’ dog, led in due course to the so-called ‘Dangerous Dogs Amnesty’ in Liverpool which, earlier this month, saw 16 family pet dogs on trial under the DDA at Liverpool Crown Court, their only crime being that they were of the ‘pit bull type’. Most of the dogs were Staffordshire Bull Terrier crosses and all were spared destruction thanks to the Judge opening the Index of Exempted Breeds to allow them to be registered as being ‘of the type’, following the necessary neutering, tattooing and microchipping, as required by the law.
However, the influence of the DDA and the call by Chief Constable of Merseyside Bernard Hogan-Howe for members of the public to ‘shop’ illegal pit bull ‘type’ dogs has spread further afield than Merseyside, as Rashed Khan of West Drayton, Middlesex found when police officers visited his home on February 2nd this year and seized his Stafford/Labrador cross ‘Zeus’ as a prohibited pit bull ‘type’ dog.
The officers had been alerted by a call to Crimestoppers by a member of the public who claimed that two-and-a-half-year-old Zeus was a Pit Bull. The officers arrested Mr Khan and he was taken to West Drayton police station where his fingerprints and DNA were taken. He was subsequently charged with owning a prohibited dog under Section 1 of the DDA. Zeus was taken to secret kennels to await trial to determine his fate.
Mr Khan, 40, is employed as an AA Patrol Officer and is a law-abiding family man. Mr Khan bought Zeus as a puppy, and the whole family fell in love with him. He obedience trained the dog himself.
Zeus is an extremely friendly dog towards adults, children and other dogs, many of which he plays with when Mr Khan takes him for walks in the local park. The dog had never displayed any aggressive tendencies and was well liked by Mr Khan’s neighbours.
Mr Khan applied for legal aid to fight his case, but his application was denied. In desperation, he contacted Juliette and John Glass of the Fury Defence Fund, which assists owners caught up under the DDA. Juliette Glass advised a very depressed Mr Khan to obtain letters of support for Zeus from friends, family and neighbours, also his veterinary surgeon and prepare a portfolio with photographs of the dog for presentation to the court when a hearing date was arranged.
Mr Khan’s 11 year-old son Rowan, who was missing Zeus terribly, also wrote a letter pleading for Zeus’ life. Mr Khan’s employers, the Automobile Association, also provided a glowing reference. A petition was organised locally to save Zeus and the Khans obtained dozens of signatures.
After an initial court hearing, a trial date was set for Monday, March 19th at Uxbridge Magistrates Court. John and Juliette lass accompanied Mr Khan to court. Mrs Glass acted on Mr Khan’s behalf in the role of ‘McKenzie’s Friend’, whereby a third party other than a lawyer can conduct a defence for the accused. Mrs Glass had acted in this capacity some years previously in another DDA case.
Neither the judge nor the prosecutor had dealt with a DDA case before, which led to the surreal situation of Mrs Glass advising them on usual procedure! The prosecution submitted that Zeus was an illegal American Pit Bull Terrier, contrary to Section 1 of the DDA. Mr Khan entered a Guilty plea, but stressed via Mrs Glass that he owned a family pet crossbred, not a dangerous dog.
There was a short recess to allow the prosecution’s expert witness, police dog handler Nicola Day to arrive at court. During the recess, Juliette Glass spoke with the prosecution counsel to ensure that he was conversant with the 1997 DDA Amendment Act, which allowed ‘guilty’ dogs to be registered rather than face mandatory destruction. The counsel confirmed that he had obtained a copy of the Amendment and stressed that he would not be seeking a destruction order on Zeus.
He stated this in court after Ms Day’s examination report on Zeus was read out. Ms Day’s report concluded that ‘The dog’s temperament was excellent throughout my examination and he was happy to be handled.’
Juliette Glass presented Mr Khan’s defence, along with the portfolio, letters and petition. She emphasised that Zeus was a much-loved family pet who had never presented a problem to anyone.
The evidence heard, the prosecutor summed up and thanked Mrs Glass for her submissions.
The judge took a lenient view and accepted Mr Khan’s ‘guilty’ plea, and accepted that he had not known that Zeus should have been registered as being ‘of the type’. He agreed that Zeus could be added to the Index of Exempted Breeds and ordered that he be duly neutered, tattooed and microchipped, after which time he would be returned to Mr Khan. Zeus would also need to be leashed and muzzled in public. The judge also fined Mr Khan £100. Mr Khan agreed to pay £50 on the day with the remaining £50 in seven days’ time. The Fury Defence Fund donated £50 towards Mr Khan’s fine.
Juliette Glass told OUR DOGS: ‘After the hearing, we all spoke with Nicola Day, the police officer who gave evidence for the prosecution and she was most amendable, stressing that she would do all she could to expedite the return of the dog after the neutering etc. had been carried out.
‘We are absolutely delighted at this outcome and look forward to hearing from Rashed Khan that Zeus will have come home.’
Rashed Khan paid tribute to Juliette Glass for her role as McKenzie’s Friend and thanked the FDF for their help, including travelling down from Devon for the hearing.
l On Monday of this week, the Fury Defence Fund confirmed that three of the dogs put on trial in Merseyside had returned home. ‘Simba’, owned by Joe Azzopardi and ‘Bodie’, owned by Denise Evans had both been neutered, tattooed and microchipped as directed by the court. The third dog, ‘Owen’, owned by Pauline Lundon had been returned without charge, having been deemed by a police expert to not be ‘of the type.’
A number of other dogs currently await trial at a date yet to be set.