Down in Dorset they just can't let non-existent dogs lie

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The Independent Online
THERE is a fascinating case going on in the High Court at the moment which, if successful, will change the entire working of the Trade Descriptions Act. The plaintiff, Jeb Morton, took the stand yesterday for questioning.

Counsel: You are Jeb Morton?

Morton: Yep.

Counsel: Unusual name, Jeb.

Morton: Yep.

Counsel: You are a man of few words, Mr Morton.

Morton: Yep.

Counsel: Mr Morton, there is an estate near your home in Dorset called Oddsleigh, is there not?

Morton: Yep.

Counsel: Where the locals were wont to walk when it was owned by old Mr Bascombe?

Morton: Yep.

Counsel: Until five years ago, after his death, it was bought by Offshore Estates, which planned to turn it into a golf course, even though it has recently run into financial difficulties?

Morton: Yep.

Counsel: And which put up fierce notices telling the public to keep out?

Morton: Yep.

Counsel: Which you ignored?

Morton: Nope.

Counsel: You didn't ignore them?

Morton: I ignored the ones that said 'Keep Out'. I ignored the ones that asked us to send off for a prospectus for the golf club membership. But I didn't ignore the ones that said: 'This Estate is Guarded by Security Dogs that Roam Free Day and Night'. Ah, I thought, I'm not a-going in there and getting torn to pieces by fierce alsatians. So I didn't.

Counsel: So did you go for your walks elsewhere?

Morton: Yep. I went down the lane and back up the other lane. It weren't nearly so nice as the walk in Oddsleigh. In fact, it were bloody boring. And there was the smell of the sewage farm. Still, at least there weren't the danger of being torn to bits by savage dogs.

Counsel: And then what happened on 15 July last?

Morton: I don't know. What did happen on 15 July last?

Counsel: You met someone coming out of Oddsleigh estate.

Morton: Oh, ah, right enough. That was the day I met Jack Enderby coming out of Oddsleigh. Jack used to run the local pub, but then he retired, though he stayed on in the area. He'd come to like it a lot, see. In fact, there isn't a pub no more, because the next man that took over, who we all thought seemed a bit funny from day one, well he ran away with all the takings and since then it's lain empty . . .

Counsel: Yes, yes, yes, but what about the day you met Jack coming out of the estate?

Morton: Well, I said to Jack, aren't you afraid of being torn to bits by them dogs? And he said, what dogs? And I said, the dogs on the notice, the ones that roam free day and night. And he said, there haven't been dogs in there for over a year, that's an old notice, that is.

Counsel: So the notice was wrong?

Morton: As wrong as could be. I went for a walk in Oddsleigh Park the next day and I've been every day since, and I ain't never seen a dog in there, save Mrs Parker's pekinese, which got caught down a rabbit hole one day and I had to go and get my spade to help . . .

Counsel: Yes, yes, Mr Morton. So your claim is that although the notice promised savage dogs inside, it was a false description? And thus it was an offence against the Trade Descriptions Act?

Morton: Yep.

Judge: Just a moment, Mr Morton. Are you suggesting that Offshore Estates should have remedied the situation by filling the estate with savage dogs to make the notice accurate? Or that it should have erected a notice saying that the estate was now dog- free? Or what?

Morton: Anything but what it did, your honour. I wasted a whole year when I could have been walking in Oddsleigh. That's a year out of my life. A wasted year. A year when . . .

Judge: Yes, yes, yes . . . I must say I find this case puzzling. I cannot think of any precedent for it.

Counsel: There is, in fact, a precedent, your honour. The Dorset village of Dunstan Baddileigh was sued last year over its notice which said that the village welcomed careful drivers. The action successfully claimed that, contrary to the claim on the notice, many careful drivers were given the cold shoulder in the village. And the Department of Transport is currently being sued for a notice on the M6.

Judge: Really? What notice?

Counsel: One saying, 'End of roadworks. We are sorry for any delays'. The plaintiff claims that the department has, in fact, no remorse at all.

Judge: Are these actions being brought by Mr Morton here, by any chance?

Counsel: Yes, my lord.

Morton: Yep.

Judge: I feared as much.

The case continues.

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