Dog Bites Through The Letterbox – Royal Mail/CWU Wins Appeal Court Case Over Ipswich Postman’s Dog Bite – Dog Owner Subsequently Pleads Guilty and Sentenced:
In response to a number of requests for further details of the case I referred to in my speech at CWU Annual Conference on Motion 68, here is a detailed summary of the case in question for the information of Regions, Branches and Representatives.
Background – The Dog Attack
In May 2017 a postman and CWU member had part of his finger bitten off by owner Richard Watson’s ‘Boxer’ dog as he pushed mail through a letterbox in Ipswich. So began a four and a half years legal battle for justice for a CWU member.
Suffolk Police Refuse To Prosecute
For reasons best known to themselves and inexplicably, the Suffolk Police refused to prosecute the dog owner despite huge efforts jointly by Royal Mail and the CWU Health, Safety and Environment Department through representations to the Chief Constable, the local MP and the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Gathering the Evidence
The next stage was another long drawn out battle to get Suffolk Police to release case file documents, statements and evidence following which a ‘Private Prosecution’ was launched by Royal Mail lawyers under an agreement reached in 2014 between the Royal Mail Group Chairman and CWU.
Private Prosecution Commenced – Dog Owner Wrongly Acquitted
Royal Mail Group prosecuted the dog owner Richard Watson accused of being the owner of a dog which was dangerously out of control after the incident at his home on Sycamore Drive, Ipswich. However, Mr Watson was acquitted and cleared by a district judge Julie Cooper in February 2020 at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court when the judge, who clearly misunderstood the Dangerous Dogs Act law, wrongly dismissed the case and cleared the dog owner of committing a crime.
Royal Mail Win High Court Appeal
After discussions between Royal Mail and the CWU Health, Safety and Environment Department and our member, Royal Mail lodged an appeal and the case, after a long wait, came before the Appeal Court in London.
Two senior Appeal Court judges ruled that the Ipswich District Judge was wrong to dismiss the case and the case was sent back to Ipswich Magistrates Court.
Reviewing Royal Mail’s appeal, Lady Justice Carr and Mr. Justice Saini said they considered whether Mr. Murrell acted as a trespasser by putting his fingers through the letterbox rather than using a “posting-peg”.
They also considered if Mr. Watson had a defence to the case because Mr. Murrell “failed to use due diligence” or was a “trespasser”.
All of these points were dismissed by the judges.
The judges ruled the Ipswich District Judge was wrong to acquit the dog owner.
The Appeal Court Judges stated – “Parliament has chosen to put the burden on those who own (or are in charge of) a dog to ensure that effective steps are taken to ensure that the dog does not cause injury to anyone,” Lady Justice Carr and Mr. Justice Saini stated in their ruling.
“A postal worker in the position of Mr. Murrell is not a trespasser as a result of putting their fingers through a letterbox.”
Lady Justice Carr and Mr. Justice Saini said the ruling did not mean people could not leave dogs unattended, but rather “simple measures” could be taken, “such as the installation of a wire letterbox guard or adjustment to the height of the letterbox itself”.
Case Finally Concludes with Dog Owner’s Conviction at Ipswich Magistrates Court
After the successful Appeal Court judgement, dog owner Richard Watson’s case was remitted/sent back to Ipswich Magistrates’ Court from where the case was wrongly dismissed, in order for it to be properly tried.
On Friday 22 October 2021 dog owner Richard Watson pleaded guilty to an offence under S3 of the DDA 1991 and the Magistrates sentenced him to a 12 months’ community order, 150 hours of unpaid work, £1000 in costs to Royal Mail, a victim surcharge of £85 plus a contingent (suspended) destruction order was placed on the dog. The Magistrates additionally awarded a further £1500 costs to Royal Mail from central funds.
In conclusion, this case now establishes ‘case law’ which should avoid similar cases being thrown out of court without a proper trial. The Appeal Court ruling has also clearly defined the dog owner’s responsibilities to keep their dogs under control in such cases plus it dealt with the ‘spurious’ defences of ‘trespass’ and ‘due diligence’ used by defendants in similar cases.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer