Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Make Up Your Minds, Will You?

Southend:
The traumatised dog lover said she reported the incident to the police, but they said they couldn’t take any action.
Southend:
The incident, at 1.45pm last Thursday, is not being probed by police because it is classed as a dog on dog attack.
Brighton:
Police seized seven-year-old bull mastiff Mace after it launched a vicious unprovoked attack on another dog.
What gives? Surely police procedures are centrally-driven? I'm pretty sure I've seen complaints to that effect on police blogs, particularly on diversity grounds. Yet this discrepancy seems to indicate otherwise.

So, either Essex Police aren't doing their job very well, or Brighton Police are super-efficient and going further than their remit allows.

Which is it, I wonder?

10 comments:

Clarissa said...

Perhaps Southend police are too busy following up on that death threat to Anna Waite?

ranter said...

'Dog on Dog Attack'? sounds like a special squad is required like Operation Trident, something like Operation Tyson?

woman on a raft said...

I think the Southend police have read the law correctly, distinguishing between property crime (i.e. civil law) and criminal law, but there is a little bit of wiggle-room in the Dangerous Dogs Act which they could use.

Brighton police appear to have relied on the repeated complaints about the mastiff to show there was a risk to persons. One incident of a dog-on-dog attack would not be enough to make the charge stick.

This is because the Dangerous Dogs Act (s.3) requires that the dog is dangerously out of control in a public place AND that it has attacked a person. Dogs are not persons no matter how their owners feel about them. However, down in the intepretation section:

For the purposes of this Act a dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control on any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person, whether or not it actually does so...

The Southend police can use the DD Act, but they've got to check those conditions first.

Applying this to the two Southend cases: the greyhound, a hunting dog, was on the leash when an irresponsible fool let something identified as 'prey' run in front of it. The greyhound must have thought its birthday had come.

There are no grounds to argue that the greyhound was dangerously out of control, nor that it would attack a person. I doubt if the puppy owner would even have a civil case as they were the one who negligently offered Rover the tasty titbit and then complained when Rover ate it.

In the case of the injured guide dog, it appears to have been agreed at the time that the owner apologised, that the dog was ordinarily under control, and that it attacked a dog, not a person. However, the police could stretch that interpretation of the act to help trace the owner and establish whether or not there is are "grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person" . It sounds like it may be a one-off attack, but you can't tell from the story.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points made by woman on a raft. Surely a "dog on dog attack" could fall foul of criminal damage to property charges?

Generally, there is enough law around to make anything criminal if the police put the effort in.

Hogday said...

Re anon above, who poses a logical point; Yes, a dog can be `criminally damaged` as it is classed as property, but the offence can only be committed by a person. Therefore, the police would have to prove that the human intended to cause the damage, or was reckless as to damage being caused and used the dog with such intent. As you suggest, there is clearly a path to pursue, after all, setting a dog on a person is an assault (committed by the person of course). I would guess that in difficult to prove cases the advice to a victim would probably be to use the civil courts, with their lower standard of proof, to pursue damages rather than a criminal sanction, but of course there's cost of lawyers and even if you win, would the villain have the means to cough up any compensation? It's always easier when the victim is a human and believe it or not a "Dog Bite" was always one of the practical lessons at the police training school at Hendon during my day (early 70`s) and during my service I prosecuted a few people whose dogs bit people. They were pretty straightforward jobs.

woman on a raft said...

There's a peach of a precedent for recklessness in Booth v. Crown Prosecution Service (2006).

Mr Booth was slightly intoxicated and ran out in the road. He was hit by a car driven by a Mrs Chilton, and she was driving properly. The car had £500 worth of damage where he jumped on the bonnet. Mr Booth was charged with criminal damage (by running in to a car), and the magistrates took legal advice, then agreed, it was criminal damage caused by recklessness, not just monumental stupidity.

He appealled in the High Court and Lady Justice Hallet repeated the analysis, showing why the magistrates were entitled to reach that conclusion and that they had applied the test for recklessness correctly in this case, including updates.

The test of recklessness is now: a person has acted recklessly within the meaning of section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act Act if:
(i) he is aware of a risk of damage to property that exists or will exist;
(ii) and it is, in the circumstances known to him, unreasonable to take the risk.

In the dog cases it's not going to be easy, though, to establish both awareness of the risk and that it was unreasonable to run it. These are debateable terms, you have to prove both parts. For instance, the owner might be aware of the risk but thought they were in a deserted place with no other dogs, so it was reasonable to let Spike off the leash.

Also, you have to keep checking the current definition of 'reckless' as it tends to move around.

So all in all, doggy issues are better handled by making tailored laws, which is what the Dangerous Dogs Act tried to do.

I don't know why it so complicated; liability ought to boil down to "who let this dog out?" But then, I'm still gasping from the idea of a nitwit who lets Tricksy-wu off the lead and still thinks they are the victim when the little dog gets eaten. What is wrong with people?

Joe Public said...

Simples.

The Southend police had already achieved their 'dog-arrest target' for the month; the Brighton cops hadn't.

English Viking said...

Is it just me, or does Woman on a raft need to get out more?

I have a very strict policy on stray dogs on my property, which is perfectly in line with all current UK law; I shoot them.

JuliaM said...

"Perhaps Southend police are too busy following up on that death threat to Anna Waite?"

Heh! Another Tory was in the 'Echo' a few days ago bleating that her unpopularity might cost HIM votes...

"...something like Operation Tyson?"

Indeed!

"...but there is a little bit of wiggle-room in the Dangerous Dogs Act which they could use."

I can see them rtaking that approach in the greyhound case - as you point out it was at least 60% the puppy owner's fault, though the actions of the owner of the greyhound were not what you'd expect from any reasonable pet owner - but you'd think the guide dog attack would be classed as a bit more worthy of a response?

"Surely a "dog on dog attack" could fall foul of criminal damage to property charges? "

Indeed. But as WoaR points out, in the first case, any compensation is likely to be reduced by 'contributory negligence'...

JuliaM said...

"...believe it or not a "Dog Bite" was always one of the practical lessons at the police training school at Hendon during my day (early 70`s)..."

I wonder if it figures in modern training?

It does seem as though the cases are getting more severe. I never - when I was growing up - heard of deaths caused by dogs unless very, very small children.

In fact, although dog-on-0dog attacks were known, they too seemed less severe - a bit of snarling and scrapping, then either one dog would submit or the owner would intervene and apoliogies or recriminations would be passed.

A lot of these attacks are far, far more severe and prolonged. And not all from 'fighting' dogs, as you might expect.

"I have a very strict policy on stray dogs on my property, which is perfectly in line with all current UK law; I shoot them."

OK for farmers. Not very practical for ordinary dog walkers in town!