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Recent Changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 Mean Cardiff Attack Dog’s Owners Cannot Escape Responsibility

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The full details of the tragic incident which happened in Cardiff on Friday 20 March at around 10pm and resulted in the death of Rhona Greave, 64, as a result of a dog attack are not yet known.  However thanks to recent changes in the law, the dog’s owner faces criminal action which just a year ago would not have been possible in the circumstances of this incident.

 

Indications are that this horrific attack took place in the victim’s home and not in a public place.  The Dangerous Dogs Act was hastily brought in as a result of a spate of high-profile dog biting incidents in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  While the act made it an offence to be the owner of a dog which is out of control, nevertheless the act has been subject to much criticism over the years, with many seeing it as poorly drafted and ill-thought out. 

 

One such criticism was that until the recent changes brought in with the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, the act only applied to dogs out of control in a public place or somewhere it was not allowed to be.  Incidents on private property – no matter the severity – were not covered by the act.  However the changes rectified this and now it is an offence to be the owner of a dog out of control anywhere.  The maximum sentence of 2 years has also been increased.

 

The reports confirm that a 23-year-old man – presumably the dog’s owner - will appear in court today charged with 2 offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act.  A 17-year old male was also arrested but bailed. So what offence(s) are the owner(s) of the dog which killed in Cardiff likely to face and what are the potential punishments?  Well, as above, the dog was clearly out of control and the owner will almost certainly be charged with this offence.  Where the out of control dog causes injury, the maximum sentence is now 5 years’ imprisonment; but this increases to 14 years where the dog kills.

 

Newspaper reports state that the dog was a Bullmastiff – and whilst this is a large and intimidating breed of dog, it is not one of the dogs listed under the 1991 Act as a so-called dangerous dog which is illegal to own.  I would therefore not expect that there will be any charges relating to the breed of the dog.  

 

With the circumstances of the incident not fully known, it is not clear what the second offence is that the owner has been charged with.  If the owner has been convicted of an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act before, he could have been subject to a ban of owning a dog.  If this is the case he would be guilty of an offence for failing to comply with the ban.  However the maximum sentence for this offence is a fine only and not a jail sentence.

 As a dog owner myself I will be interested to see how the courts deal with this case.  At this stage we do not know whether this is merely a tragic and unforeseeable accident where an otherwise well-behaved dog has ‘snapped’ or whether this is an instance where the owner is more culpable.  If it is the latter, one would hope that the courts deal with the owner sternly – as was not possible 2 years ago in the horrific case of 14-year-old Jade Anderson.

 

Jade was killed by 4 dogs which had been badly mistreated by their owner, Beverley Concannon.  This case came before the magistrates’ court before the changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act were brought in and as the incident was not in public, no charges could be brought against Ms Concannon under the act.  She was convicted of causing suffering to the four animals but walked free after receiving just a 16-week suspended sentence.

 

While the changes to the law are welcome, they still do not go far enough as they deal with the effect of irresponsible dog ownership without dealing with the causes.  As I have alluded to in an earlier blog click here, I believe that responsible dog ownership should be encouraged through a system of compulsory licensing and insurance for owners.