Politics: Clark's dog gets its day in court

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The Independent Online
When a BBC television cameraman alleged that Alan Clark's rottweiler dog had bitten him, the Tory MP wrote to John Birt, the BBC director-general to have the case dropped. But as Ian Burrell reports, when the case was heard, Mr Clark and his wife Jane were cleared of keeping a dangerous dog.

The cameraman Peter Powell failed to prove his case because of the almost identical appearance of Mr Clark's two rottweilers, Hannah and Leni.

Although he named Hannah as the biter in a civil charge brought under the 1871 Dogs Act, the MP argued vehemently that the real culprit was Leni.

Magistrates in Folkestone, Kent, ruled that although the cameraman may have been bitten, they could not be sure which dog was responsible.

The Chairman of the bench, Kenneth London, said: "There is reasonable doubt that the dog Hannah caused the offending bite. The complaint against the dog does not stand and we therefore dismiss the complaint."

But Mr Powell had earlier told the court: "I recalled the name of the dog because it was actually called while it was hanging off my right arm. It pulled the skin and was hanging down.

"She leapt at my throat and my hand came up to protect myself."

Mr Powell, 54, a cameraman with 30 years experience who has worked in Bosnia, Iran and Iraq, said that after he had launched a claim for civil damages Mr Clark made moves to have the case dropped.

"It was to invite me to drop the case for a sum of money and asking members of the BBC to ask me to drop the case."

However, Mr Clark, his wife and their housekeeper all testified that it had been Leni - reportedly named after Hitler's film director Leni Riefenstahl - who had bitten the cameraman. They said Hannah - said to have been named after the German dictator's test pilot Hannah Reich - sat several yards away.

Mr Clark denied that he offered money to have the case dropped but admitted writing to John Birt, the BBC director- general in an attempt to have the charge dropped and vowing never to work for the Corporation again.

Mr Clark told the court: "I expected Mr Birt should not allow this kind of thing to happen. I hoped that he would drop the case, of course. At that time, I was working under contract for the BBC and I said I would discharge that contract and then not do anything else for them.

"If they were going to behave like that, I felt it perfectly fair to say that I wasn't going to maintain a commercial relationship with them."

The attack happened when Mr Powell and his television crew waited inside the grounds of Mr Clark's home, Saltwood Castle, in Kent, in January after being allowed in to interview him.