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It’s lucky thirteen as ‘pit bulls’ go free

THIRTEEN DOGS held by Merseyside police force as ‘pit bull types’, prohibited under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act are to be returned to their owners following a successful court challenge last Friday at Merseyside Magistrates’ Court.

District Judge Andrew Jebb ruled that all thirteen pets may be added to the Index of Exempted dogs and returned home once procedures including neutering, micro chipping and tattooing are met, bringing months of anxiety and concern to a conclusion for their owners.

The owners were represented by defence solicitor Trevor Cooper, now back from his ‘retirement’ and thrust back into the media spotlight once again, under the latest round of prosecutions.
The result was welcomed by anti-BSL campaigners including DeedNOTBreed (DNB), the Kennel Club, concerned dog lovers across the UK and, most importantly, by the thirteen families who had endured many weeks fearing for their friendly pets’ lives.

DNB had appealed for donations to provide legal representation, so that innocent owners could be helped as no legal aid was possible under section 4b of the DDA, upon which the charges were questionably brought. In total , 17 dogs’ cases were to be heard, of which Mr Cooper was representing 13.

Mel Page, Chairperson of DNB commented: ‘Thanks to the many kind donations received from individuals and canine welfare groups including Animals In Need and APDT trainer Lyn Fleet based in Merseyside combined with numerous fund raising activities over the past weeks so that the services of solicitor Trevor Cooper the canine law specialist could be secured.’

Twenty cases were originally expected in court, several owners had contacted the telephone helplines prior to the hearing following appeals to locate them. Following communications with the Merseyside Police, the Police agreed to inform owners that help had previously been given by DNB. Alison Green and Melanie Rushmore had liaised with Trevor Cooper to help those owners to prepare their cases.

Juliette and John Glass of the Fury Defence Fund had also assisted Mr Cooper by liaising with some of the owners and advising them of their position.

As owners arrived in court, some baffled by the proceedings and some not knowing what was happening, Trevor Cooper took them in hand and agreed to defend the 13 together. Assisting him in court were Melanie Rushmore, Melanie Page and Diane Robinson of DNB who had all travelled to Liverpool to support the owners.

Dog owners finally got to find out if 13 was indeed unlucky for some, as they had the chance to plead their case in order to save the lives of their family pet. Summoned to appear before the court, many had gathered, not knowing what to expect or indeed what would happen regarding the lives of their dogs.

At 11.25am the District Judge began proceedings and commenced to swiftly read out each owner’s case in turn, summarising the notes made on each dog and giving a brief comment on his thoughts for each of the cases. Welcome comments included ‘this dog was happy and playful during his examination’ and ‘no concerns about temperament during assessment’ gave hope that the Judge had seen past the tag of 'pit bull type' and was acknowledging that these dogs were all, indeed, responsibly owned family pets, In just over one hour, the Judge was satisfied he had all the information required to make his decisions and called a short recess to prepare his verdict and summary. A most pleasing and thoughtful gesture was that he chose to tell the owners before he left the court that he would be happy to place all the dogs on the register rather than proceed with any destruction order, bringing great relief to the owners.

After just 20 minutes, the case resumed and the Judge summarised that each and every owner had demonstrated his or her ability to be a responsible owner. He made everyone aware that the decision to open the register to each of these dogs was entirely at his discretion and he was satisfied that none of these dogs were of any danger to the public or other animals.

The Judge gave each owner instructions to see both police representatives and Trevor Cooper to proceed with the correct paperwork in order to get their pets back home as quickly as possible. He confirmed that each owner would now receive valuable information as to the process ahead of them, and that Animals In Need would work with the Dogs Trust to issue vouchers to help with the neutering costs of these pets.

Merseyside police then applied for costs to be awarded to them, but ended up being hoist by their own petard. Trevor Cooper pointed out that under the Act, costs could be awarded against the offender for the destruction of dogs and the kennelling of a dog until this could take place. However, as the dogs were being registered and not destroyed and that this case was a civil not criminal case (due to the police bringing charges under Section 4(b), for which no legal aid was available to the defendants), there were no offenders.

It was, however, established that the Judge did have discretion over costs but Judge Jebb ruled that he would not be awarding costs to the police, as the owners, having complied with police requests to hand in their dogs would now incur considerable personal costs in order to register them.

Mel Page added: ‘All round, a welcome victory for both owners and dogs who, once eventually released from police custody will begin to rebuild their lives together all over again. There was nothing unlucky about this 13 on this Friday.

‘Information packages were distributed by DNB representatives to all the owners, the Endangered Dogs’ Defence & Rescue working alongside a behavioural team led by consultant Julie Pett has already helped several owners whose dogs have been returned and is offering free help and assistance for all dogs on their return home from a stressful kennel environment. Help with the costs of registration or any other welfare concerns is also available.’

The Kennel Club welcomed the decision reached by a presiding judge at Merseyside Magistrates’ Court to allow a further thirteen Pit Bull Terrier ‘type’ dogs, which were seized as part of the recent Merseyside Police ‘amnesty’, to be returned to their owners. The verdict echoes a previous decision in February, which saw the release of fifteen dogs also seized under the amnesty.
The dogs and their owners were expertly defended by solicitor Trevor Cooper, well known for his knowledge in such cases. Having listened to the prosecution evidence, the presiding District Judge concluded that although they were aware that an uncontrolled Pit Bull can cause harm, they were satisfied that the owners of these dogs were all responsible and could not be categorised. The judge added that the Index of Exempted Dogs would be opened for these dogs to be registered on it, provided that the requirements of registration were met, such as neutering, microchipping, muzzling and that the dogs were kept on a lead in public.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said, ‘This is another important victory both for the dogs involved and in proving that breed specific legislation does not work. The amnesty did nothing to address the primary issues of irresponsible dog ownership and ‘dealing with the deed, not the breed’ as it only affected responsible owners and their much loved pet dogs, who have been persecuted simply for how they look.

‘The Kennel Club believes that it is the temperament and behaviour of the dog which should be examined, and assessment should not be based on the dogs appearance. We will be lobbying the Government to open up the register and will continue our work on the flawed 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act to make owners more liable for the actions of their dogs.’

Mel Page sounded a note of caution, saying that the positive result begs a very serious question: ‘This is the second set of DDA cases to be heard en masse by the Magistrates’ Court as a result of Merseyside Police’s recent initiatives to target the problem of so-called dangerous dogs,’ she said. ‘Every case has so far been deemed of no danger to the public. Surely, these decisions raise serious questions about both Merseyside Police’s approach and current Breed Specific Legislation.
‘Given that this is the second set of cases deemed of no danger to the public, DNB call for the immediate release of dogs currently in police custody, and for the re-opening of Index of Exempt Dogs to allow for owner-led registration. This would enable owners the option to register their dogs and comply with the restrictions of exemption. It may also lead to registration of dogs currently kept out of the public eye.

’Though these cases are clearly a second victory, DNB sees this result as a small success in what will be a long campaign: the campaign to target the dangerous end of the lead. Instead of legislation which targets dogs like the friendly family pets released, the group calls for consultation between all interested parties to see the creation – and introduction – of a new, considered, workable solution to target the real issue: problem owners.’

Fellow DNB Spokesperson Ray Morrow added: ‘We couldn’t have hoped for a better result, but the right decision for thirteen families doesn’t change the fact that the logic behind Breed Specific Legislation is fundamentally flawed. Just think about it: what sense does it make that a dog deemed by a court to pose no danger to the public must wear a muzzle and be on-lead at all times, whilst owners who abuse their pets and encourage dangerous behaviour walk free?’
The main Liverpool newspapers remained curiously silent on last Friday’s verdict, a far cry from the triumphalism of headlines surrounding the so-called ‘Pit Bull Amnesty’, when they gleefully reported that nearly 100 ‘pit bulls’ had been seized and faced possible destruction.

However, the Liverpool Echo reported that four of the dogs that faced charges last week would be destroyed.

Only one of the owners of the dogs facing destruction, Khalid Fawadi, from Bootle, appeared at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court to plead for his pet, Barney, a 14-month-old chocolate brown pit bull-type dog. Mr Fawadi had not sought representation from Trevor Cooper but had chosen to defend himself.

But pleas to take into account the animal’s good character failed and a destruction order was made by Judge Jebb.

Merseyside police said that the decision was ‘regrettable’ for the owner, but believed the Merseyside police defended their amnesty after owners complained the force had taken too long to return animals declared safe at the first court hearing back in February.
One owner described the amnesty as ‘a shambles that achieved nothing’ after waiting more than a month to get his dogs back.

Merseyside Police Superintendent Ian Pilling said: ‘We understand that people who contacted us during the hand-in had a difficult decision to make and acted in a responsible manner.

‘A further 13 dogs were placed on the Index last week but the court ordered the destruction of four others.

‘Of these four, only one owner applied for the dog to go on to the Index. In the remaining cases, the owner either could not be traced or did not wish to retain the dog.

‘Obviously the court’s decision is regrettable for the owner of this animal, but we are confident the court made its decision in the interests of public safety.’

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With thanks to Mel Page, DeedNOTBreed