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By A Special Reporter

AS THE campaign against the harsh 'fighting dog' control laws in Germany continues apace, many campaigners have written to all British Members of the European Parliament to point out Germany's plans to have a law effectively banning Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffords introduced across the EU via the European Parliament. Most MEPs have responded to state clearly that they are against such breed specific legislation and would vote against such a move. However, one Labour MEP, Richard Balfe, who represents Inner London South caused what could be accurately described as "a storm of outrage" by branding the owners of Staffordshire Bull terriers as "thugs".

Mr Balfe, who holds the position of Finance Spokesperson for the Labour Party, sitting on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and is also a Quaestor in the European Parliament is a committed federalist and, it is clear, not a dog lover. Staffordshire BT exhibitor Andrina Morton from Glasgow wrote via e-mail to Mr Balfe to seek his views on the proposed EU legislation and was somewhat surprised by his reply dated July 29th:

"You seem to overlook the fact that your "Dear little Staffys" have killed a number of children.In my experience most of the "Staffy" owners are rather unpleasant "Thugs" who seem to glory in violence and enjoy intimidating people. I suggest you rethink your strategy. Maybe you should get a proper dog such as an Alsatian or a similar properly bred dog."

Andrina Morton posted a copy of Balfe's reply on the Dog Holocaust Internet List, which prompted several irate dog owners to e-mail Mr Balfe direct. Far from apologising for his comments, Balfe seemed to glory in making further outrageous remarks. Responding to another correspondent, he said:

"I have certainly met both the animals and their keepers. They strut around Inner London often professing to be Millwall supporters (though the club disowns them), they are thoroughly arrogant and unpleasant."

Other List members wrote to Mr Balfe, including these was journalist Sean Fleming, himself a senior Staffordshire Bull terrier exhibitor and breeder. Mr Fleming said:

"As an elected member of the European Parliament, your comments - in any format - carry a good deal of weight and influence. For you to have fired off such a patronising and hostile missive based on nothing but prejudice and ignorance is inexcusable and your contempt for a member of the electorate who took time to ask for your help is appalling.... "As the owner of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I am one of those that you choose to brand a "thug." What facts do you have to bear out the assertion that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are child-killers, and how is it that you feel you can brand me, and thousands of other law-abiding citizens of the UK, a thug with your gross generalisations? Haven't you heard of facts? ... "
Mr Balfe, now obviously a little worried by the reaction his e-mails had caused, responded to Mr Fleming:
"I have had lots of e-mails so let me give you an answer and ask you to pass it around. Firstly in London the Labour MEP's have divided up the policy areas and my friend and colleague Robert Evans looks after animal matters. Secondly if this matter comes to a vote in parliament I will vote according to the group whip. So its not me that needs to be influenced. Thirdly, I started a few days ago to get a number of incredibly long e-mails that took up a lot of computer space. It was clear from their content that they were centrally inspired as they were almost identical. Fourthly unusually a combination of staff holidays and sickness meant I was dealing with my own e-mails. Fifthly I found the content of the e-mails rather Yucky. Sixthly, I decided to stir things up. Normally politicians write such boring uncontentious letters I decided to get my own back on the people who were blocking my e-mail facility. So thats it. Many people and I am one are not particularly animal lovers. I don't bear them any particular ill will but overall I find many other things to interest me. So I suggest you in a manner of speaking "call off the dogs" and we will leave my esteemed colleague to deal with the matter."

Sean Fleming responded:

"That's the lamest excuse for bad behaviour I've come across in a very long time. Your "bit of fun" as you call it has upset a great many people and you seem to think that that's OK. Well it isn't. You know as well as I do that your position brings with it as many responsibilities as it does privileges. You can't simply go around calling people thugs like that. And what was all that nonsense about "Millwall fans" and people "strutting around inner London". You're in the Labour party, a party formed for and by ordinary people to put an end to elitism and persecution. I can't begin to tell you how offensive I find the attitudes expressed in your emails.

OUR DOGS reporter Nick Mays e-mailed Balfe to seek clarification on his "offensive comments" and whether he stood by them. Balfe responded to Mays e-mail thus:

"I said the message was yucky and as far as I am concerned it was. It is not neccessary to like dogs in order to represent Londoners. Personally in a rural setting they are fine in an Urban one in my view they often do not add to the overall environment. Apart from that the German Government presumably has good reasons for its actions I am told that a loss of a life was a contributory factor. Similarly our own Dangerous Dogs Act was not passed without good reason. The then Home Secretary was a very keen upholder of Law and Order as is the present one. If there is to be European Legislation I am sure the matter will be given careful consideration by all parties involved including our own Home Secretary and the MEP's."

Balfe also received a polite e-mail from German dog owner Gabi Woiwode, which engendered a more polite response form the beleaguered MEP:

"Thank you for your e-mail, sorry for the delay in replying. It is best for Laws to be based on facts. I think Germany is probably a little better at this than the UK where all sorts of funny Laws are passed often ill thought out and at high speed. For example at the moment the UK Government is passing a football hooligans Act which in my view is badly drafted and will not succeed. I understand from a German colleague that a Citizen did die following an attack by a dog and that the proposed legislation is to attempt to prevent a recurrence..."

Sean Fleming wrote again to Balfe, and received a rather more conciliatory reply:

"Dear sean, thank you for your further e-mail.When I turned on my e-mail a few days ago hoping to quickly deal with the handful of e-mails that come through in August I did not realise the hot water I was about to land myself in. Almost an hour passed much of it downloading endless pictures of dogs which download very slowly onto my two year old machine. But of course the fatal error I made was instead of just deleting the lot on the grounds that it was not my policy area I sent what I now recognise was an intemperate inaccurate and rude reply to the first three of my e-mailers. This was then clearly passed around and Then even more arrived. Still it has been an instructive exercise. First I clearly got my facts wrong and do apologise to anyone I upset. Secondly a lot of the e-mails I received were a lot ruder than the one I sent, however I am not complaining if you can't stand the heat etc. Thirdly I received two extremely informative e-mails one from Canada and one from Germany which led me to have a much greater understanding of the issues involved. Fourthly I had two long conversations with German friends and I can see they have considerable problems with the way some German citizens train their dogs in inappropriate ways. Fifthly I have ascertained that this matter is "highly unlikely" to become the subject of European Union legislation. Finally thank you for the courteous tone of your letter. I am now going to have a break,maybe I should have done it a week ago! This e-mail facility will reopen on Aug 28th.

Richard Balfe"

In the overall scheme of things, the exchange of e-mails between Mr Balfe and campaigners has very little influence over the whole sorry situation in Germany. However, OUR DOGS believes it is in the public interest to reproduce some of those e-mails as they contain the views on dogs and dog-related legislation of an elected British representative in the European Parliament.