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Rottweiler spared destruction on appeal

A ROTTWEILER that was sentenced to death for injuring a child was dramatically freed after a successful appeal to Crown Court.

‘Bully’ the Rottweiler is owned by former police officer Lee Pearson from South Anston, South Yorkshire. The dog was a friendly family pet and had never displayed any aggression previously. However, Bully found himself on the wrong side of the law following an incident at a party at the family home on New Year’s Eve 2007.

There were around 16 adults and 4 children at the party and Bully was wandering around with a guest’s dog, a Labrador. The daughter of two guests, nine year-old Chloe Grayson was in the kitchen when Bully jumped up to say hello to her. Chloe sustained an injury to her face, claiming that Bully had bitten her.

Although mortified by the accident and doing all they could to help Chloe and her parents, Lee and his wife disbelieved that Bully would have bitten a child, but suggested that he may have jumped up and accidentally scratched her face with a claw.

Chloe was treated at hospital but her parents informed the police who brought charges against Mr Pearson under the 1871 Dogs Act, as the incident had taken place on private property.
Mr Pearson sought advice and duly contacted well-known dog judge and behaviourist Mike Mullen, who examined Bully and subjected him to extremely rigorous behavioural tests at the kennels where he was being held. Mr Mullen found Bully to be completely non-aggressive and well behaved. He compiled a report for Mr Pearson to use in the resultant trial which took place at Rotherham Magistrates Court on April 15th 2008.

Mr Pearson had no legal representation but represented himself, and submitted Mr Mullen’s report to the bench. Mr Mullen was not asked to attend court and give evidence in person. However, the magistrates preferred to believe that Bully had bitten Chloe and imposed a destruction order on the dog. Mr Pearson lodged an immediate appeal and engaged the services of solicitor Lara Smith of Fielding Porters solicitors. Miss Smith has represented many dog owners in similar cases.

Miss Smith arranged for a second behavioural assessment on Bully to be prepared by veterinary surgeon and behaviourist Kendal Shepherd. Ms Shepherd’s report agreed with the earlier report prepared by Mr Mullen and she also found, after a rigorous assessment that Bully was a well-behaved and passive dog.

The appeal was heard at Sheffield Crown Court on Friday, July 4th and was heard by a judge and two lay magistrates. Mr Mullen and Ms Shepherd attended court to give evidence as expert witnesses for the defence, and Mr Pearson was represented by well-known barrister Pamela Rose.

The prosecution brought forward expert witness April Fearne, a dog warden for the London Borough of Newham. Ms Fearne had prepared a report based on information about Bully, but she had not actually physically examined the dog. Her report was not submitted in evidence, but she gave evidence in person.

Ryan O’Meara, Editor of K9 Magazine and himself a behaviourist was poised to give further defence evidence, as he believed that no witness should advocate for or against a dog’s character without having first examined the dog in person. In the event, Mr O’Meara was not called upon to give evidence.

Ms Rose drew the court’s attention to the reports by Mr Mullen and Ms Shepherd attesting to the dog’s good character, whilst the Bench had previously read medical notes provided by the hospital on Chloe’s injuries, which did not clearly indicate that the injury was caused by a bite, but could equally have been caused by a claw. Halfway through proceedings, Ms Rose suggested that there was no prosecution case to answer.

The Bench considered matters and agreed with Ms Rose, preferring to believe that the injuries were consistent with a claw injury. They made it clear that they held no criticism of Chloe’s parents for believing the injuries to have been caused by biting. However, the Bench did not feel that the Prosecution had proved that Bully was out of control or that he was a dangerous dog and ruled that the injury was not a vicious attack but a tragic accident.

They quashed the destruction order and ordered that Bully be returned to Mr Pearson and his family. The case was dismissed.

Mr and Mrs Pearson were delighted to have Bully home, but issued a statement expressing their deep concern for Chloe’s injury. The statement read: ‘…The injury was severe and the trauma and pain that this child went through was awful, Bully is a large and very heavy dog and his full weight was obviously on his front end as he came down after jumping up.

‘Comprehensive behavioural assessments were carried out on Bully by eminent behaviourists during which he behaved impeccably.

‘We understand that this poor child’s fears are real and that she may never be comfortable around dogs again and that is tragic. We are now aware that accidents can and do happen and cannot be predicted, that is why they occur. The lives of all parties have been affected by this awful incident.

‘We are however happy to have Bully home and are grateful to Fieldings Porter Solicitors and Ms Pam Rose for their assistance and the Courts for their decision.’