Photo by Juliette Glass
Montse Christian with Lacey at a brief, tearful reunion.
THE white Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross seized by police
in 1993 as an illegal, unregistered pit bull type
dog and held at secret kennels for just under nine years until
her death on February 24th this year has finally been laid
to rest. She spent a total of 3,252 days in custody, the longest
period any dog has been incarcerated under the Dangerous Dogs
Act. However, many anti-DDA campaigners have pointed out that
she need not have remained imprisoned for the past four years
at least, and only remained so due to the refusal of her owner
to register as a Pit Bull type dog and thus secure
Even the Home Office and Scotland Yard were prepared to make great concessions to allow Lacey her freedom, including the fact that her neutering, tattooing and microchipping would have been paid for by the Metropolitan Police.
Lacey was owned by Spanish-born artist Montserrat Monste Christian, who, in early 1993 was undergoing a divorce from her British-born husband, Clem. Mrs Christian was living elsewhere, whilst her dogs, Lacey and Maite, were being looked after by Mr Christian.
Laceys ordeal began on March 30th 1993. At 11.30pm that evening, her husband answered a loud knocking at the door to be confronted by several police officers in body armour and at least one RSPCA Inspector who informed him that they had come to seize two unregistered Pit Bull Terriers known to be on the premises. They duly seized both dogs and took them to secret kennels. As their owner, Mrs Christian was eventually charged under Section 1 of the DDA. with her.
Some time after the dogs were seized, the police officer in charge of the case contacted Mrs Christian and tried to broker a deal with her. If she signed a disclaimer that one dog was a pit bull type and allowed it to be destroyed, then the police would return the other dog to her. The officer made it clear that he didnt care which dog she chose. Mrs Christian refused to make a choice, but even so, nine months later, Maite was returned to her without charge, but Lacey remained in custody.
It is pertinent to note at this point that no court hearing ever took place and the dogs type was never legally determined. Over a year later in May 1994, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued proceedings, but the police re-seized the dog under Section 5(4) of the DDA (now Section 4(b)). This section was originally intended for use in cases where the ownership of a pit bull could not be proven. This necessitates the owner taking the police to court for the return of their dog but becomes a civil, rather than criminal, hearing and, as such, not subject to assistance under legal aid.
Mrs Christian was allowed a brief reunion with Lacey at a London police station soon after she was re-seized. It was to be their last meeting.
Laceys case was taken on by solicitor Trevor Cooper, working for the Fury Defence Fund. An abortive attempt was made by the Metropolitan police to secure a destruction order on Lacey at Richmond Magistrates Court in November 1994, which was dismissed by magistrates.
Mr Cooper tried to secure Laceys release in Match 1995 by making an application for her release under the Unlawful Interference of Goods Act, at which time a summons was also issued against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The matter was heard at Croydon County Court, before Judge Goodman. Mr Copper instructed International Defence Barrister Anthony Pickford to present the case to the court. The application was rejected by Judge Goodman, although he was critical of the Act and called for clarification of [the] confused legislation arising from the DDA.
next attempt to free the hapless dog came in November 1997.
The DDA had been amended earlier that year, with the mandatory
death sentence removed. This allowed owners with dogs accused
of being pit bull types to have their dogs registered
as such, neutered, tattooed, insured and then released. However,
arrangements for this fell through, as Mrs Christian was persuaded
by others that this was not the best course of action.
Somewhat disillusioned, Montse Christian then dispensed with Mr Coopers services and in March 2000 appointed solicitors JR Jones and Co, hoping to secure the services of top barrister Imran Khan. By this time, Mrs Christian had left the UK and was working overseas, which made it difficult for all parties involved to liaise effectively on the case.
A further hearing took place at Croydon County Court in July 2000 to secure Laceys release under the Unlawful Interference of Goods Act. Once again, the case was dismissed and costs of £250 were awarded against Mrs Christian. This sum was met by the Fury Defence Fund.
Mrs Christians summons against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police remained dormant and was never progressed further.
That same month, in a bid to get the matter resolved in court by determining if Lacey was a pit bull type she was examined by Forensic Vet Trevor Turner and Staffordshire Bull Terrier Championship Show Judge James Beaufoy. Both concluded that Lacey was not a pit bull type. Mr Turner stated that she was substantially a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, whilst Mr Beaufoy described her as a loveable mongrel, only wants to please, in good condition and with a superb temperament. Both experts gave their services free of charge. However, the matter never came to court as Mrs Christian subsequently dismissed JR Jones solicitors and appointed Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund as Laceys guardian in the legal fight. All papers on the case were then released to Mrs Glass.
Trevor Turner told OUR DOGS: Nicola Thatcher who was then dealing with first Trevor Cooper and then JR Jones & co. had tried to move whole thing forward. She said that if Mrs Christian would simply concede that Lacey was a pit bull type and had dog microchipped and so on, the dog would have been released and no costs pursued. I believe that the police were even prepared to pay for this to be done, as the whole case had become an embarrassment to them. In fact, the police officer then on the case, PC Pinner, indicated to me that he was prepared to tell the court that the dog was not a danger to public safety to secure her release. At this point the police had withdrawn any allegation of Lacey being dangerous, which she plainly was not. They also said that they would be happy to release her for export to Spain if needs be.
James Beaufoy and I agreed that Lacey was not substantially
of the type known as a Pit Bull Terrier. She shared a few
characteristics of the breed as she would do, being predominantly
of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed.
In the summer of 2001, Ann Harpwood of the canine charity Justice For Dogs, on the approval of Juliette Glass, contacted the Home Office and Scotland Yard in an attempt to secure the dogs release. Nicola Thatcher of Scotland Yards Solicitors Department was most helpful, but pointed out that unless Mrs Christian fully transferred ownership of Lacey to another party, the registration and release of the dog could not proceed. However, the Metropolitan Police indicated that if Mrs Christian agreed to have Lacey registered as a pit bull type then they would meet all costs involved in neutering, tattooing and microchipping the dog. However, Mrs Christian had slipped out of contact.
In early 2002, Lacey suffered a stroke whilst at the kennels where she was held and, although she received medication and rallied slightly, she died peacefully in her sleep on February 24th.
Trevor Turner said that the owner of the kennels where Lacey was held had been very kind to the elderly dog, especially when her health began to deteriorate.
He said hed keep a close eye on her, added Mr Turner. I felt that if she was neutered as part of the identification process, then this would be an asset and stave off any threat of pyometra.
Turner concluded: It is a shame that Lacey has now died,
when, if Mrs Christian had agreed to having her registered,
the dog could have been released in very short time. I didnt
consider that Laceys welfare was being put first by
Mrs Christian. People were bending over backwards to help
her and this did not appear to be appreciated.
Ann Harpwood of Justice For Dogs commented: I worked very hard in 1997 on Montse Christians instructions to get Lacey released, But unfortunately, Mrs Christian listened to somebody else and those instructions were subsequently withdrawn. At the same time I worked on the release of Gary Dunnes Judd and Sandra Rowlands Buster and those dogs were, of course, returned to their owners. What a pity Mrs Christian did not agree to do what was right for Lacey. At least Lacey is now at peace.
Juliette Glass added: It is a tragedy that this poor dog was seized in the first place, but this was how the DDA operated in those days. It was tragic enough that Lacey was incarcerated for so many years, but I am confident that she would have been released some years ago after the DDA had been amended, were it not for the interference of other parties. Ann Harpwood was working very hard to secure Laceys release more recently, but sadly, this was not to be. Rest in peace, Lacey.
Montse Christian has been abroad for some considerable time now and was last reported to be living and working in Cuba. OUR DOGS attempted to secure comments from Mrs Christian following Laceys death, however all messages left for Mrs Christian on her last known telephone number were not returned.
the years, however, Montse Christian has made many comments
regarding Laceys seizure and her battle to secure justice.
Lacey was a young dog when she was seized, now shes old, most of her life has been spent away from me, in secret kennels where she has no social contact with people or other dogs, Mrs Christian said in 2000. I was devastated when Maite and Lacey were taken, and I felt sick when the police suggested that I should agree to have one of them killed so they could say theyd done their job and I could have the other back.
I always thought that the British were admired for being the worlds greatest animal lovers, but its obvious that theres some people who dont love animals at all if they allow laws like this to happen and for pets to be locked up just because of the way they look.
I also thought that British justice was the best there was, but wheres the justice in what has happened to Lacey? How can one policeman say I believe that dog is a Pit Bull and then shes seized, Im guilty and its down to me to have to prove that my dog is not a Pit Bull? Its ridiculous!
Mrs Christian was aware that she had been criticised by some anti-DDA campaigners for not biting the bullet and simply admitting that Lacey is a pit bull type dog, so she can be registered and freed by the courts. Such a move would have satisfied the law, although Mrs Christian would have been morally right in her assertion that Lacey was not of the type., as have many other dog owners placed in similar positions by the DDA.
I dont see why I should have to register Lacey as a Pit Bull even if the case is remitted back to court, she said. She is not a Pit Bull, she should not have been seized in the first place. The DDA is a cruel law, a stupid law. It has nothing to do with justice.