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by Nick Mays

‘RICKSON’, the English Bull Terrier facing destruction after a court imposed a destruction order for biting a child is currently languishing in solitary confinement at Liverpool City Kennels, whilst an appeal to the House of Lords is under way. Since being seized by police in March 2001, Rickson’s owner Elizabeth Holland has not seen her pet and has been consistently refused permission to visit him by the police officer in charge of the case, WPC Wheeler.

However, after intervention from Janet Payne of the Fury Defence Fund – who have assisted Mrs Holland in this case – a senior police officer, Inspector Bacon overrode PC Wheeler’s edict and granted permission for Mrs Holland to visit Rickson at the city kennels.

The visit took place last Friday, August 16th. Janet Payne and a friend accompanied Mrs Holland into the kennels to see Rickson, whilst Juliette Glass, co-ordinator of the Fury Defence Fund waited outside. OUR DOGS newspaper reporter Nick Mays attended the meeting, whilst the proceedings were filmed by an independent TV production company who have followed Rickson’s story as one segment of a TV documentary about people and their pets, which is due to be screened in the autumn by the BBC.

The film crew had already been advised that they could not enter the kennels and film the meeting taking place, so they were forced to content themselves with filming Mrs Holland and Janet Payne arriving at the kennels, with food and toys for Rickson and interviewing them after they had viewed the dog.

The kennels were closed to the public for half an hour whilst the meeting took place, amidst what can only be described as conditions of quite extraordinary security. Mrs Holland and Ms Payne were met at the kennels main office by a senior kennels officer who explained that there was to be no physical contact with the dog apart from stroking it through the bars of the pen. Mrs Holland would not be allowed into the pen to see the dog in case“ a situation” took place. Furthermore, there was to be no photography by any party. The reason for this was given as the case being subjudice and that publication of any photographs of the dog in kennels could prejudice the case. Further, the meeting would be observed on CCTV and if any of these strictures were breached, the visit would be terminated.

A police officer accompanied Ms Payne and Mrs Holland throughout the meeting.

The conditions imposed on the meeting were given in the form of legal advice by solicitors representing the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and Liverpool City Council. Indeed, a council press officer attended at the kennels to observe the meeting, even though, when questioned by the media, she was unable to give any meaningful answers, as she “was not familiar with the case.”

Janet Payne described the meeting between owner and dog exclusively to OUR DOGS: “We were treated reasonably courteously throughout,”she said. “We were led through the various kennel blocks to one particular block where a number of other dogs are held. Rickson was in the end pen, which was clean – having been recently cleaned in my observation. He had a clean, dry blanket and a toy, and seemed in reasonably good spirits.”

The meeting between Elizabeth Holland and her pet was, naturally, quite emotional, although Rickson was quite restrained in his greeting.

“I think he was glad of some attention,” continues Payne, “We were told by the kennel maid who attends to him that he does not receive one-to-one attention, but also that he has never displayed any aggression towards her nor, indeed, to anybody else at the kennels in all the time he has been held there.

“Rickson appeared to be in good condition for a dog that has been incarcerated in kennels for 17 months, his weight appeared adequate and I could find no fault with his actual care or the conditions in which he was kept, given that he is confined to a Spartan pen, although it is reasonably spacious and has an outdoor run attached. However, he is not taken out for individual exercise sessions.”

The meeting ended after half an hour, during which time Rickson had been given biscuits by Mrs Holland and had enjoyed the unaccustomed attention. Ms Payne and Mrs Holland then left the kennels and were interviewed again by the TV production company, before returning to Mrs Holland’s home in Norris Green.

Nick Mays of OUR DOGS spoke to Janet Payne, Juliette Glass and Elizabeth Holland as to how the appeal to the Lords was progressing.

Animal Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford has agreed to visit Rickson and assess his temperament and compile a report accordingly. Dr Mugford will be giving his services free of charge.

“Elizabeth has been denied justice from day one and coerced into pleading guilty with the full truth never coming out.

“She has only been allowed to see Rickson just once through wire mesh with officials breathing down her neck which in itself was undeniably cruel. The authorities seem to afford more courtesy and compassion to paedophiles, murders and terrorists.

“If the Lords refuse permission to appeal, then we shall set our sights on the European Court of Human Rights and take the appeal there. We shall do all we can to save Rickson’s life.”

Elizabeth Holland said: “I was overjoyed to see Rickson again after so long, although it breaks my heart to see him locked up like that. I am hoping and praying that the House of Lords to allow his appeal to go ahead.

“I can’t begin to thank the Fury Defence Fund enough for all their help, and I’ll always be grateful to OUR DOGS for helping to save Rickson’s life when he was due to be put down a few weeks ago. If your reporter Nick Mays hadn’t have phoned the kennels and told them that an appeal was underway, Rickson may well have been dead by now. And OUR DOGS is the only newspaper– and by that I mean dog newspaper and national newspaper – which has reported Rickson’s case fairly and accurately.

“I’m convinced that the police thought this case would be a doddle and that Rickson would be put down quickly, and that I’d just fade away and let it happen. Well, I’m still here and I’m fighting on to save Rickson’s life. I’m not going away, and nor his he!”

The‘Dangerous Dog’ and the ‘Neighbours From Hell’

As reported previously, 2 year-old white Bull Terrier ‘Rickson’ is owned by Elizabeth Holland of Norris Green, Liverpool. Mrs Hollandhas eight grandchildren, all of whom have played happily with Rickson with no fear of attack. Mrs Holland, 63, is an experienced dog owner; having owned many dogs – mainly rescues – over the years, and would never take chances where children and dogs are concerned. There had been various disputes between Mrs Holland and the Ambrose family next door, including several disputes over the fencing dividing the two properties. Mrs Holland described the Ambrose family as “neighbours from hell” and alleges that they were responsible for the break in the fencing which enabled Rickson to wander into their garden on March 4th 2001, when 8 year-old Kathryn Ambrose was playing in the back garden, being there to visit her grandparents.

It is alleged by the Ambrose family that the dog grabbed Kathryn’s ankle and lunged for her leg and chest. The child received treatment at hospital for a 5-centimetre wound to her knee and is now scarred for life. According to evidence submitted in the subsequent court hearing, the child now has a phobia about dogs.

According to Mrs Holland, however, the dog was enticed under the damaged fence and was being beaten by various members of the family with sticks, at which time the dog bit Kathryn in self-defence.

Police investigated the incident and Mrs Holland was subsequently charged under Section 3.3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (which covers ‘aggravated’ attacks in non-public places) and Rickson was seized and taken tocouncil kennels.

Mrs Holland pleaded guilty on the advice of her solicitor at Liverpool Crown Court last November, and was fined £250 with £250 costs, by the magistrates, who also imposed a destruction order on the dog and a ten year ban from owning dogs on Mrs Holland. Shortly afterwards, Mrs Holland made contact with the Fury Defence Fund who advised her to contact solicitor Trevor Cooper immediately. Mrs Holland had, in the meantime, lodged her own appeal. Legal Aid was granted, but only for the services of a Barrister, not a Solicitor. Mr Cooper’s work was pro bono (i.e. free of charge). Mr Cooper then instructed barrister Pamela Rose, who has extensive experience in presenting DDA defence cases.

Complaints have been lodged against PC Wheeler, the officer in charge of the case, for her handling of the matter and for her attitude towards both Mrs Holland and FDF officer Janet Payne.

The Appeal against the sentence was heard at the Court of Appeal in London’s High Court on Tuesday, June 18th, 2002, before Lord Justice Kennedy, Mr Justice Pitchford and His Hon. Judge Rant. The Justices heard the evidence then retired for a brief adjournment before dismissing the appeal, however, was dismissed, thus allowing the destruction order against Rickson to stand.

Mrs Holland has since sought to appeal to the House of Lords against the Appeal Court decision, and has, with the help of Mr Cooper and the FDF, been gathering evidence to present her case to the Appeals Committee.

© Nick Mays/OUR DOGS August 2002