SOMERSET POLICE ended up with egg on their faces after a court rebuked them for arranging a bizarre identity parade of Border Collies after one of them had been accused of biting a delivery woman.
The court heard that the dogs were surely the most unusual suspects ever to appear in a police identity parade.
The polices case rested on the identification of one of the dogs - 11-year-old Ben who had bitten a delivery woman who disturbed him as he slept on a farmhouse doorstep.
The canine identity parade was perhaps the most bizarre feature of a year-long police investigation that ended this week when magistrates dismissed the case against Andrew Melrose for not keeping a dog under control.
The bench in Wells, Somerset, also ordered Avon and Somerset police to pay Melrose's defence costs of £752.62.
The "nip-and-run" incident occurred in July last year when Valerie Pow arrived at Melrose's farm in Stoke St Michael, Somerset, to deliver a package.
Ben was asleep in a basket in the porch and as Mrs Pow, 61, leaned over to set the parcel down, the dog was startled and bit her.
"It bit me on the chest quite badly leaving six teeth marks," said Mrs Pow, of Saltford, near Bristol. "When I went up to the door to complain to the owner, he just shut it in my face."
Pow reported the matter to police and in September Melrose
was interviewed by officers. They returned in November to
ask him to make a written statement.
Then in January 2002 an officer brought Mrs Pow back to the farm and asked her to identify which of Melrose's four sheepdogs had attacked her.
"They lined the dogs up and the lady had to pick the right one out," said Melrose, who keeps 250 sheep.
"The identity parade had to be anonymous and it was quite hard for me to control the dogs without calling them by name.
"We put them in the kennel but she didn't have a clue which was which. It was an absolute farce. All four dogs are border collies and all look alike."
Although Mrs Pow was unable to identify the culprit, Melrose was taken to court under the 1871 Dogs Act, which allows magistrates to order that an animal that is the subject of a complaint be subjected to a Control Order or, in extreme cases, be put down.
Melrose, speaking after the case was thrown out, said Ben had bitten Mrs Pow because she had surprised the dog as it slept.
He said: "He obviously thought this person posed a threat. It was unfortunate, but it was the way you would expect a dog to react. If I had been found guilty there was a threat of Ben being destroyed.
"They must be barking mad to have even brought it to court. I have had a year of this saga and it's been quite disturbing. Ben is the most friendly, helpful dog. He likes people and his reaction is always to play - I have never had any trouble with him."
Pow said she was disappointed the court had not taken some
action against Melrose.
She said: "I would have liked to have seen him get fined and at least told to keep the dogs under control for other people's safety. I was in pain for quite some time and was forced to take two and a half weeks off work."
A police spokesman said: "An animal identity parade is not something I have personally heard of before. But if the victim made a complaint it is our duty to investigate thoroughly. The officer will always take the victim back to the scene of an incident."