Serious dog attacks – CWU criticises lenient court sentences

“Are the Courts and police going soft on dog attack crimes?” Asks CWU national health, safety and environment officer Dave Joyce, after a number of lenient court sentences and failures to prosecute owners of dogs that have injured postal workers.

Liverpool postman Steve Kelly lost a finger after being bitten through the letter box while delivering mail in February, as did Gavin Murrell, in Ipswich a couple of months later.

Cornwall postwoman Claire Stayner was seriously injured in Newquay, and Sharron Singer was mauled by two dogs while on duty in Boston, Lincolnshire in July.

“But in each of these cases, the dogs remained with the owners and either a lenient sentence or no sentence at all was passed,” Dave says, adding: “In none of these cases was there any sanction as to future dog ownership.”

In the case of Mr Kelly, the prosecution collapsed altogether when the judge directed the jury to a ‘not guilty’ verdict – a decision described by the national officer as both “bizarre” and “most “unsatisfactory” – while Suffolk Police decided not to bring to court the owner of the dog that attacked Mr Murrell and closed the matter with a ‘community resolution’.

Complaints about what was widely perceived as a “too lenient” sentence in the Ms Singer case were reported in the last edition of The Voice and an appeal to the Crown Prosecution Service is being pursued in response to that verdict – which is also under consideration with regard to Ms Stayner’s ordeal.

“The cases may even go to a judicial review if the courts refuse to review the unduly lenient sentences which fail to meet mandatory sentencing guidelines,” said Dave.

“Of course every case before the courts is different and it would be wrong to single just one instance, but this is now starting to look like a developing trend – it’s very worrying and it makes me wonder if the law is going soft on dog attacks suddenly at a time when attacks, including fatalities, are on the increase.”

“It’s good to win compensation payments for our members and it’s also good that we now have the law on our side in regard to attacks that take place on private property – but our concern is that if lenient sentencing of owners becomes the norm, then a body of case law could build up that might make more police forces reluctant to institute proceedings.

“That’s why we’re determined to pursue case reviews and to keep the pressure on the relevant authorities to reconsider lenient sentences – there must be a clear deterrent in order to improve the behaviour of this small minority of irresponsible owners,” he said.

“In cases like Gavin Murrell and Adam Burrows, who also had a finger bitten off in Bury St Edmunds, we will not accept a police caution as a resolution and the cases are being raised with senior police commanders to get it changed and failing that Royal Mail lawyers have agreed to take private prosecutions against the dog owners.” Dave concluded.

Dave Joyce is also due to meet Scottish Government Ministers and officials in Edinburgh over the misinterpretation of the Dangerous Dogs Act in Scotland by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Office (COPFS) which has led to state prosecutors failing to take cases to court after referrals by the police.

Dave will also be meeting Wales Government Ministers in Cardiff to discuss options to strengthen the dog control laws ‎in Wales – the union, backed by Assembly Members, Cardiff councillors and victims.