Outrage over police dog bite payout
THREE YEARS after a police dog was destroyed for biting a teenager involved in a street brawl, Sussex Police have been forced to make the highest compensation payout in the country for the injury to the youth.
A media storm followed after Bruce the police dog was given a death sentence in 2004 for attacking the youngster, who was fleeing the police.
Bruce’s case was championed by readers of the Brighton Argus newspaper and hundreds of readers complained that the dog was only doing his job and should have been retired. More than £600 was raised for a special plaque in Bruce’s memory. It was placed near his ashes in the garden of grieving handler PC Pete Tattum.
Now a record £42,500 has been dished out in legal fees and compensation to the youth after a lengthy court case.
It is believed to be the largest sum given out by any force in the UK as a result of a police dog bite in the last financial year.
A spokesman for Sussex police said the way dogs are monitored has also been transformed since Bruce chased the youngster at a brawl involving 20 people, many armed with bottles and knives in Brighton in 2002.
He said dogs are trained to sink teeth into assailants' arms if they flee from or attack coppers but even routine bites, which happen about 40 times a year, are now subject to a rigorous system of checks called 'Operation Dog Bite'. Officers have to fill in a five-page report after every incident, which gets passed on to supervisors to decide whether the dog poses any danger to the public. If it does and then fails further safety checks it is retired.
A watchdog panel was also set up to keep an eye on the force's dogs. The Police Dog Welfare and Lay Visitors Panel ensured the care of police dogs is given a high priority and their handling is effective and ethical.
The spokesman said: ‘We did a full, comprehensive review after the incident and introduced a completely new process of how to handle the dogs. The case of Bruce was unprecedented - very unusual. Dogs will react to a situation such as if its handler is assaulted but it is very rare for it to stray from its training.’
Nigel Yeo, the Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex Police caused outrage at the time by likening Bruce to a ‘faulty piece of equipment’ and dealing with his destruction in the same manner.
Yeo said: ‘At the end of the day, a police dog is not trained to do what it did,’ he said. ‘A police dog is not a pet, it is a piece of equipment. If we had a car that did not work or had faulty brakes then we would get rid of it. We have to be as bloody-minded as that for the sake of public safety.’
Ironically, Yeo has since left the force after he landed a top job as Regional Director in the RSPCA and said that he ‘regretted’ his words at the time which he ‘accepted were insensitive’.
Chairman of the Sussex Police Federation, Inspector Brian Stockham, said: ‘It seems dreadful we are paying out such sums of public money to someone involved in a street disturbance.’