|LACEY – REST IN PEACE AT LAST|
by Nick Mays
'LACEY', THE white Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross seized by police in 1993 as an illegal, unregistered pit bull 'type' dog and held at secret kennels for just under nine years until her death on February 24th this year has finally been laid to rest. She spent a total of 3,252 days in custody, the longest period any dog has been incarcerated under the Dangerous Dogs Act. However, many anti-DDA campaigners have pointed out that she need not have remained incarcerated for the past four years at least, and only remained so due to the refusal of her owner to register as a Pit Bull ‘type’ dog and thus secure her release.
Even the Home Office and Scotland Yard were prepared to make great concessions to allow Lacey her freedom, including the fact that her neutering, tattooing and microchipping would have been paid for by the Metropolitan Police.
Lacey was owned by Spanish-born artist Montserrat 'Monste' Christian, who, in early 1993 was undergoing a divorce from her British-born husband, Clem. Mrs Christian was living elsewhere, whilst her dogs, Lacey and Maite, were being looked after by Mr Christian.
Lacey's ordeal began on March 30th 1993. At 11:30 P.M. that evening, her husband answered a loud knocking at the door to be confronted by several police officers in body armour and at least one RSPCA Inspector who informed him that they had come to seize two unregistered Pit Bull Terriers known to be on the premises. They duly seized both dogs and took them to secret kennels. As their owner, Mrs. Christian was eventually charged under Section 1 of the DDA.
Some time after the dogs were seized, the police officer in charge of the case contacted Mrs. Christian and tried to broker a deal with her. If she signed a disclaimer that one dog was a pit bull 'type' and allowed it to be destroyed, then the police would return the other dog to her. The officer made it clear that he didn't care which dog she chose. Mrs. Christian refused top make a choice, but even so, nine months later, Maite was returned to her without charge, but Lacey remained in custody.
It is pertinent to note at this point that no court hearing ever took place and the dog’s 'type' was never legally determined. Over a year later in May 1994, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued proceedings, but the police re-seized the dog under Section 5(4) of the DDA (now Section 4(b). This section was originally intended for use in cases where the ownership of a pit bull could not be proven. This necessitates the owner taking the police to court for the return of their dog but becomes a civil, rather than criminal, hearing and, as such, not subject to assistance under legal aid.
Mrs. Christian was allowed a brief reunion with Lacey at a London police station soon after she was re-seized. It was to be their last meeting.
Lacey's case was taken on by solicitor Trevor Cooper, working for the Fury Defence Fund. An abortive attempt was made by the Metropolitan police to secure a destruction order on Lacey at Richmond Magistrates Court in November 1994, which was dismissed by magistrates.
Mr Cooper tried to secure Lacey’s release in March 1995 by making an application for her release under the Unlawful Interference of Goods Act, at which time a summons was also issued against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The matter was heard at Croydon County Court, before Judge Goodman. Mr. Copper instructed International Defence Barrister Anthony Pickford to present the case to the court. The application was rejected by Judge Goodman, although he was critical of the Act and called for "clarification of [the] confused legislation arising from the DDA."
The next attempt to free the hapless dog came in November 1997. The DDA had been amended earlier that year, with the mandatory death sentence removed. This allowed owners with dogs accused of being pit bull 'types' to have their dogs registered as such, neutered, tattooed, insured and then released. However, arrangements for this fell through, as Mrs. Christian was persuaded by others that this was not the best course of action. Somewhat disillusioned, Montse Christian then dispensed with Mr. Cooper's services and in March 2000 appointed solicitors JR Jones and Co, hoping to secure the services of top barrister Imran Khan. By this time, Mrs. Christian had left the UK and was working overseas, which made it difficult for all parties involved to liase effectively on the case.
A further hearing took place at Croydon County Court in July 2000 to secure Lacey’s release under the Unlawful Interference of Goods Act. Once again, the case was dismissed and costs of Ł250 were awarded against Mrs. Christian. This sum was met by the Fury Defence Fund.
Mrs. Christian’s summons against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police remained dormant and was never progressed further.
That same month, in a bid to get the matter resolved in court by determining if Lacey was a pit bull ‘type’ she was examined by Forensic Vet Trevor Turner and Staffordshire Bull Terrier Championship Show Judge James Beaufoy. Both concluded that Lacey was not a pit bull ‘type’. Mr Turner stated that she was substantially a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, whilst Mr. Beaufoy described her as a "loveable mongrel, only wants to please, in good condition and with a superb temperament." Both experts gave their services free of charge. However, the matter never came to court as Mrs. Christian subsequently dismissed JR Jones solicitors and appointed Juliette Glass of the Fury Defence Fund as Lacey’s ‘guardian’ in the legal fight. All papers on the case were then released to Mrs. Glass.
Trevor Turner told OUR DOGS: "Nicola Thatcher who was then dealing with first Trevor Cooper and then JR Jones & co. had tried to move whole thing forward. She said that if Mrs. Christian would simply concede that Lacey was a pit bull ‘type’ and had the dog microchipped and so on, the dog would have been released and no costs pursued. I believe that the police were even prepared to pay for this to be done, as the whole case had become an embarrassment to them. In fact, the police officer then on the case, PC Pinner, indicated to me that he was prepared to tell the court that the dog was not a danger to public safety to secure her release. At this point the police had withdrawn any allegation of Lacey being dangerous, which she plainly was not. They also said that they would be happy to release her for export to Spain if needs be.
"Both James Beaufoy and I agreed that Lacey was not substantially of the type known as a Pit Bull Terrier. She shared a few characteristics of the breed as she would do, being predominantly of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed."
In the summer of 2001, Ann Harpwood of the canine charity Justice For Dogs, on the approval of Juliette Glass, contacted the Home Office and Scotland Yard in an attempt to secure the dog’s release. Nicola Thatcher of Scotland Yard’s Solicitors Department was most helpful but pointed out that unless Mrs. Christian fully transferred ownership of Lacey to another party, the registration and release of the dog could not proceed. However, the Metropolitan Police indicated that if Mrs. Christian agreed to have Lacey registered as a pit bull ‘type’ then they would meet all costs involved in neutering, tattooing and microchipping the dog. However, Mrs. Christian had slipped out of contact.
In early 2002, Lacey suffered a stroke whilst at the kennels where she was held and, although she received medication and rallied slightly, she died peacefully in her sleep on February 24th.
Trevor Turner said that the owner of the kennels where Lacey was held had been very kind to the elderly dog, especially when her health began to deteriorate.
"He said he’d keep a close eye on her," added Mr. Turner. "I felt that if she was neutered as part of the identification process, then this would be an asset and stave off any threat of pymoetra."
Mr. Turner concluded: "It is a shame that Lacey has now died, when, if Mrs. Christian had agreed to having her registered, the dog could have been released in very short time. I didn’t consider that Lacey’s welfare was being put first by Mrs. Christian. People were bending over backwards to help her and this did not appear to be appreciated."
Ann Harpwood of Justice For Dogs commented: "I worked very hard in 1997 on Montse Christian’s instructions to get Lacey released, But unfortunately, Mrs. Christian listened to somebody else and those instructions were subsequently withdrawn. At the same time I worked on the release of Gary Dunne’s Judd and Sandra Rowlands’ Buster and those dogs were, of course, returned to their owners. What a pity Mrs. Christian did not agree to do what was right for Lacey. At least Lacey is now at peace."
Juliette Glass added: "It is a tragedy that this poor dog was seized in the first place, but this was how the DDA operated in those days. It was tragic enough that Lacey was incarcerated for so many years, but I am confident that she would have been released some years ago after the DDA had been amended, were it not for the interference of other parties. Ann Harpwood was working very hard to secure Lacey’s release more recently, but sadly, this was not to be. Rest in pace, Lacey."
Montse Christian has been abroad for some considerable time now and was last reported to be living and working in Cuba. OUR DOGS attempted to secure comments from Mrs. Christian following Lacey’s death all messages left for Mrs. Christian on her last known telephone number were not returned.
Over the years, however, Montse Christian has made many comments regarding Lacey’s seizure and her battle to secure justice.
"Lacey was a young dog when she was seized, now she's old, most of her life has been spent away from me, in secret kennels where she has no social contact with people or other dogs," Mrs. Christian said in 2000. "I was devastated when Maite and Lacey were taken, and I felt sick when the police suggested that I should agree to have one of them killed so they could say they'd done their job and I could have the other back.
"I always thought that the British were admired for being the world's greatest animal lovers, but it's obvious that there's some people who don't love animals at all if they allow laws like this to happen and for pets to be locked up just because of the way they look.
"I also thought that British justice was the best there was, but where's the justice in what has happened to Lacey? How can one policeman say 'I believe that dog is a Pit Bull' and then she's seized, I'm 'guilty' and it's down to me to have to prove that my dog is not a Pit Bull? It's ridiculous!"
Mrs. Christian was aware that she had been criticised by some anti-DDA campaigners for not ‘biting the bullet’ and simply ‘admitting’ that Lacey is a pit bull 'type' dog, so she can be registered and freed by the courts. Such a move would have satisfied the law, although Mrs. Christian would have been morally right in her assertion that lacey was not of the ‘type., as have many other dog owners placed in similar positions by the DDA.
"I don't see why I should have to register Lacey as a Pit Bull even if the case is remitted back to court," she said. "She is not a Pit Bull, she should not have been seized in the first place. The DDA is a cruel law, a stupid law. It has nothing to do with justice."
LACEY: A CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS:
MARCH 1993: Lacey and her littermate Maite are seized from the Christian family home by officers of the Metropolitan police.
DECEMBER 1993: Maite is released without charge back to Mrs Christian. No court determination on Lacey’s ‘type’ takes place.
MAY 1994: The Crown Prosecution Service drops proceedings; the police re-seize Lacey under Section 5(4) of the DDA.
JUNE 1994: Monste Christian has an emotional reunion with Lacey at a police station after she has been re-seized. It is to be their last meeting.
NOVEMBER 1994: The Metropolitan Police seek a destruction order on Lacey at Richmond Magistrates Court. The application is dismissed by the court.
MARCH 1995: Application is made for Lacey’s release to Croydon County Court, under Unlawful Interference of Goods Act. Summons issued against Commissioner of Metropolitan Police. Judge Goodman rejects the application, although he is critical of the Act and calls for "clarification of [the] confused legislation arising from the DDA."
JUNE 1997: DDA is amended, and the Index of Exempted Breeds register re-opened. Justice For Dogs plans to secure Lacey’s along with those of Judd and Buster by having her registered as a pit bull ‘type’.
NOVEMBER 1997: Montse Christian pulls out of JFD’s plans to secure release of Lacey with Judd and Buster, who are released shortly afterwards.
MARCH 2000: Montse Christian engages JR Jones and Co solicitors.
JULY 2000: Another attempt to secure Lacey’s release under Unlawful Interference of Goods Act at Croydon County Court. This is also unsuccessful. Costs of Ł250 awarded against Mrs Christian, met by Fury Defence Fund.
JULY 2000: Lacey examined by Vet Trevor Turner Staffordshire Bull terrier judge James Beaufoy. Both concluded Lacey is not of the Pit Bull type.
Montse Christian dismisses JR Jones and all papers are released to Juliette Glass of FDF.
SUMMER 2001: Home Office and Metropolitan Police indicate to Justice For Dogs they are happy to see Lacey released if she is placed on the Register. Police offer t pay all costs involved in neutering, tattooing and microchipping her. No instructions received from Mrs Christian.
JANUARY 2002: Lacey suffers a stroke at the kennels where she is held but rallies.
FEBRUARY 2002: Sunday 24th. Lacey dies peacefully in her sleep. She has been held in custody for 3,252 days – the longest period any dog has been held under the DDA.
© Nick Mays/OUR DOGS 12th April 2002