Pit bulls win reprieve from destruction

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Magistrates are to be given the power to save savage dogs from destruction in a change to the Dangerous Dogs Act ordered by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary.

The change came after criticism by a committee of MPs, but was seen at Westminster as an attempt by the Government to appeal to the pet-owning voters who have campaigned for dogs to be reprieved from destruction under the Act.

Magistrates were given the powers to seize and destroy dangerous dogs in 1991 after a wave of reported attacks on children by pit bull terriers, a type of fighting dog, which had been imported to Britain from the United States.

It cleared the streets of pit bull terriers, but it led to a series of embarrassing cases for the Government, in which magistrates found difficulty in identifying the breeds.

The change will depend on the passage of a Private Members' Bill by Roger Gale, the Tory MP for North Thanet, which is due for its second reading in the Commons tomorrow. This would provide more flexibility in implementing the Act.

Tom Sackville, the Home Office minister, defended the decision by Kenneth Baker, then Home Secretary, to introduce the law. Mr Sackville said: "The Act was deliberately draconian, designed to deal quickly with a deeply unpleasant problem. Too many children's' lives have been blighted by dangerous dogs. The Home Secretary of the day was totally justified."

The amendments would allow a court limited discretion to order a mandatory destruction of a dog unless it was satisfied that it would be safe not to do so. It would also allow the reopening of the index of exempted dogs in "rare cases where owners have legitimate reasons for not having registered their dogs".

During the five years of its existence, dog groups have criticised the Act as rushed, too harsh and ill-conceived; it was complicated by the fact that the pit-bull is not a pure breed.