A Bull Terrier facing destruction after the Appeal Court upheld a destruction order imposed on the dog for biting a child was due to be destroyed last Friday but was saved at the eleventh hour after a dramatic intervention by OUR DOGS newspaper.
As reported previously, "Rickson" is a two year-old Bull terrier, owned by Elizabeth Holland of Norris Green, Liverpool. Mrs Holland has eight grandchildren, all of whom have played happily with Rickson with no fear of attack. Mrs Holland, 63, is an experienced dog owner, having owned many dogs mainly rescues over the years, and would never take chances where children and dogs are concerned.
There had been various disputes between Mrs Holland and the Ambrose family next door, including several disputes over the fencing dividing the two properties. Mrs Holland described the Ambrose family as "neighbours from hell" and alleges that they were responsible for the break in the fencing which enabled Rickson to wander into their garden on March 4th 2001, when eight year-old Kathryn Ambrose was playing in the back garden, being there to visit her grandparents.
It is alleged that the dog grabbed Kathryns ankle and lunged for her leg and chest. The child received treatment at hospital for a four-inch wound to her knee and is now scarred for life.
According to evidenced submitted in the subsequent court hearing, the child now has a phobia about dogs.
Police investigated the incident and Mrs Holland was subsequently charged under Section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, and Rickson was seized and taken to council kennels.
Mrs Holland initially engaged a firm of local solicitors to represent her, pleading Not Guilty at a preliminary magistrates court hearing and opting for trial at Crown Court. However, due to pressure from her Barrister, she was persuaded to change her plea to Guilty at Liverpool Crown Court last November. The solicitors were ill prepared for the case and had not sought an expert assessment of Ricksons temperament. Defence evidence that the dog was being "teased and beaten with sticks" before the incident occurred was not accepted by the Recorder at the Court, who fined Mrs Holland £250 with £250 costs, imposed a destruction order on the dog and a ten year ban from owning dogs on Mrs Holland. The Recorder pointed out that this was not a reflection on Mrs Hollands character but to protect the child, Kathryn Ambrose, even though the family had since left the property and to "give her time to grow up". A doctors report presented in evidence stated, "The child may develop a fear of dogs."
Shortly afterwards, Mrs Holland made contact with the Fury Defence Fund who advised her to contact solicitor Trevor Cooper immediately. Mrs Holland had, in the meantime, lodged her own appeal. Legal Aid was granted, but only for the services of a Barrister, not a Solicitor.
Mr Coopers work was pro bono. Mr Cooper then instructed barrister Pamela Rose, who has extensive experience in presenting DDA defence cases.
The Appeal against the sentence was heard at the Court of Appeal in Londons High Court on Tuesday, June 18th, 2002, before Lord Justice Kennedy, Mr Justice Pitchford and His Hon. Judge Rant.
Justices heard the evidence then retired for a brief adjournment
before delivering their verdict. Although the justices expressed
sympathy with Mrs Holland over her ten-year ban and the destruction
order on Rickson, and being mindful of the fact that Kathryn
Ambroses grandparents had since moved away, they stated
that "A balance must be struck
. WE consider that
the (Crown) Court was right that the risk of emotional or
physical risk (to the child) was a serious one."
As regards the disqualification order, the justices ruled that Mrs Holland could make an application to the Crown Court in November to review the matter, depending on what breed of dog she proposed to keep.
The appeal, however, was dismissed and the destruction order against Rickson stood.
Mrs Holland had sought to appeal to the House of Lords against the Appeal Court decision, and had, with the help of Mr Cooper and the FDF, been gathering evidence to present her case to the Appeals Committee.
However, the paperwork took a long time to organise and the appointed time for Ricksons destruction 21 days after the court hearing drew near. This time was due to elapse on Thursday last week, although John Dixon, Line Manager at the council dog kennels where Rickson was being held waited a day to seek clarification form the Crown Prosecution Service to proceed with the destruction.
Mrs Holland frantically faxed all the relevant appeal paperwork to the kennels last Friday morning as proof that her appeal was ongoing, and telephoned to advise the staff that this was underway.
"One man I spoke to said he hadnt seen any paperwork and that Rickson was going to be killed that morning," said Mrs Holland. "I was distraught and he wasnt prepared to go and check if my fax had arrived. I called Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund in a panic and said shed get help from a journalist she knew at OUR DOGS newspaper."
Glass immediately contacted Nick Mays, OUR DOGS Chief Reporter
and told him of Mrs Hollands plight. Mays made contact
with John Dixon, Line Manager at the kennels who located Mrs
Hollands fax and, in turn, contacted the CPS to tell
them that the appeal had been lodged and Rickson was not to
Mr Dixon told OUR DOGS: "We could have had Rickson put down the day before, but I wanted clarification before I did that. The dog would e better housed elsewhere, to be honest, as our kennels arent designed for long-term accommodation. But we will continue to care for him to the best of our ability whilst he is here and I give my categorical assurance that he will not be put down whilst the appeal is in process and until we are otherwise legally instructed."
Mrs Holland praised Nick Mays for his timely intervention, as did Juliette Glass.
"I cant thank Nick enough, he saved my dogs life," she said. "Ill always be grateful to Nick and Juliette and to OUR DOGS for publicising Ricksons case. Ive got new heart to fight on, and Ill take this appeal to Europe if needs be."
Juliette Glass commented: "Nick Mays and OUR DOGS are true friends to dogs in need, dogs under threat from the DDA.
Mays, meanwhile, maintained a modest stance on his part in the affair, simply commenting: "Im just a reporter who loves dogs and hates injustice. Id do the same to help any dog and owner in the same position. Luckily, this time its been successful. Lets hope Ricksons appeal is also successful."