LETTER: Trial and error: animals in custody

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From Dr Gary Slapper

Sir: It is quite understandable that the cat owner whose beloved pet was savaged to death by a dog is in shock ("Bull terrier arrested for cat killing" 21 August). For over 50 years the law has recognised that severe shock can constitute an "injury". Last year, a man was convicted of grievous bodily harm upon a woman whom he had terrorised with obscene calls over the telephone. The woman had suffered physically (vomiting, diarrhoea etc) through the assault on her mind. The culprit was given a custodial sentence.

If, therefore, a dog, by killing a cat, causes an acute form of post traumatic shock syndrome in the cat's owner, then a legally recognised "injury" has been caused to a person. The Dangerous Dogs Act is then applicable, and the dog can be seized.

Using the law against animals is not a new departure. Many animals accused of killing were tried in Britain under the doctrine of deodand until it was abolished in 1841. Some countries still proceed against animals. On a recent trip to Asia I read, under the newspaper headline "Elephant Slapped with Manslaughter Charge", of the prosecution in New Delhi of an elephant which had trampled a man to death. The first legal wrangle concerned whether the mammal could be granted bail.

Yours faithfully,

Gary Slapper