When is A Dog Attack a Criminal Offence?


Dogs / Saturday, November 19th, 2016
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When is A Dog Attack a Criminal Offence?

In recent weeks, two young children have died as a result of dog attacks. One incident is being treated by the police as a criminal offence but the other is not. Why?

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The Police Officer’s Dog

Baby Archie Darby died when he was attacked by what is thought to be a Staffordshire bull terrier. The dog has now been destroyed. Archie’s brother was also injured in the attack as was his mother. The dog belonged to a police officer who is the victim’s aunt. No charges are being brought in this case.

A Criminal Inquiry

Just a few miles down the road from this incident, toddler Dexter Neale was fatally attacked and his death is the subject of a criminal investigation. How can that be? Naturally many people suspected that the police officer in the first incident was benefitting from special treatment but this has not been the
case.

The Law

Having a dog which is out of control and causes a death is a criminal offence. Even if any such event occurs on your own property. The maximum penalty if you are found guilty is a custodial sentence of 14 years. But there are defences under the law and one of these is not being present during the attack. If you have left your dog in the hands of a responsible person, then you may not be held liable for its behaviour whilst you are absent.

In the case of poor baby Archie, the police officer who owned the dog had left it with her sister and this is why she is not being held responsible. A dog walker could also be considered to be an appropriate person to leave your dog with. If your dog attacks someone when they are with the dog walker, you may not be liable for its behaviour but the dog walker could be. Each case would be judged on its own merits.

Another situation in which you might not be held criminally liable for your dog’s aggression is if they attack an intruder in your home.

Possible Changes to the Law

There are now calls for changes to the law as it does not appear to prevent dog attacks, it simply ensures that people are punished after an event has occurred. Perhaps it is time to look at the Scottish system as in Scotland, local councils are able to take action regarding nuisance dogs before they have actually attacked anyone.

In Scotland, under the Control of Dogs Act 2011, an authorised officer of a local authority can issue a Dog Control Notice (DCN) when a dog has been seen to be out of control on at least one occasion. This requires the recipient to keep the dog under control, to advise the local authority of any change of address and to have the animal microchipped.

The dog must be walked by a responsible adult and special conditions may also be specified including muzzling and exclusion from certain places. If the authorised officer of a local authority deems that a dog is too dangerous they can apply for an order that the dog be destroyed, even if it hasn’t yet hurt anyone.

What do you think? Would changes to the law reduce the number of attacks by dangerous dogs?