DANGEROUS DOGS: 1,500 out-of-control dogs reported to Northants police

An American pit bull terrier. File picture.
An American pit bull terrier. File picture.

There have been 1,557 reports of dogs dangerously out of control to police this year - but only one successful court case.

Officers also reported that they have also seized 10 suspected pit bull terriers in 2016, with three eventually destroyed.

The figures, obtained by our reporter under the Freedom of Information Act, come a day after a serious case review into the death of Molly-Mae Wotherspoon said Northants Police did not act on RSPCA concerns over the dog that killed her.

The force yesterday said it overhauled its response policy to dangerous dogs following the case, which saw the six-month-old killed by an American pit bull at her home in Daventry. Her mother and grandmother are serving jail sentences in connection with the death.

We asked the force for statistics relating to dangerous dogs.

The results showed that:

- There were 10 seizures of dogs suspected of being pit bull terriers in 2016, but no reports of the other three banned breeds; Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino, fila Braziliero

- There were 1,557 dogs said to be dangerously out of control, with 567 of these in Northampton borough.

- One person was prosecuted so far this year for having a banned breed that caused injury to someone. That person is awaiting sentencing.

- Nobody has been successfully sentenced for having a dog dangerously out of control, although one person has recently pleaded guilty.

Since Molly-Mae’s death, the force has employed a full-time dog legislation officer to investigate reported cases. This year, he has carried out 57 assessments of suspected pit bulls. Ten were investigated but only six were found to be pit bull-type breeds.

Two that were brought in by local authorities as strays were destroyed, one pit bull had been legalised the previous year but its owners could no longer cope with it so it was destroyed. Four dogs seized were found not to be pit bulls and immediately returned to their owners and three were seized under warrant but then exempted through the courts.

A Northants Police spokesman explained the procedure for assessing whether a seized dog is a pit bull: “The dog will need to be settled into a kennel prior to being checked to reduce any stress that the animal may experience. This can take a few days and will enable the police and any other assessors such as vets to have a better view of their temperament and behaviour.

“A conformation assessment needs to be undertaken. The assessment is a physical examination and cannot be undertaken using DNA analysis. The pit bull is essentially a mixed breed, the basic makeup of which should be a Staffordshire Bull terrier. The dog must have a substantial number of the characteristics listed to be typed as a pit pull type.”

If the dog is found to be a banned breed, a court can decide that it is not a danger and issue legal exemption of the dog providing it is micro-chipped, muzzled and on a lead at all times in public, has insurance against biting, is not walked by a child and is not bred or given away.

Although there were 1,557 dogs reported to be out of control, only one case has gone through the courts.

A Northants Police spokesman said: “We receive numerous reports from members of the public that their dogs having been attacked or killed by another dog. This is a civil matter only, not criminal - so though these are recorded in order that we have a record in case of further issues with the dog but take no further action. We still record these incidents, even though they are civil and not criminal matters.

Since the death of Molly-Mae Wotherspoon, the force said that it has changed the way if deals with cases involving dogs.

A force spokesman said: “One full time Dog Legislation Officer has been appointed, previously there were two officers who undertook this work along with their other force duties.

“A force policy on how to deal with Dangerous Dogs Incidents have now been put in place where none existed before. This was written by an experienced dog legislation officer.

“A dangerous dogs van has now been obtained and equipped with the ability to contain and seize dogs. The equipment is still under review and looking to be improved.

“A dangerous dog handling course has been agreed and the dog section will be sent to do the training. Police have also invited dog wardens, kennel staff and vets on the course to encourage safe handling of dogs for animal working professionals. This is in the interest in reducing risk and promotes public safeguarding.

“A Dogs Register has been set up by the new DLO to keep accurate records of ALL dogs seized by the Police. This is a restricted record for which any DLO can access from across the four counties. No records were kept prior to the new DLO being appointed in November 2015.

“Any dog that has been examined, under a breed assessment, has been recorded onto the force intelligence system to log that the dog has been assessed.”

Educational programmes have also been given to front-line staff at Corby Council and Daventry District Council.

If you believe someone is keeping a banned breeed, you should phone police on 101.