Pensioner fails in bid to stop 'dangerous' bull dog from being destroyed

James Murdoch was served with a dog control notice in January 2022 after his dog Storm assaulted a chocolate Labrador, locking her jaws round its head.

Pensioner fails in bid to stop his ‘dangerous’ American bull dog from being destroyed after two attacks iStock

A pensioner has failed in a legal bid to stop the destruction of his “dangerous” American bull dog after it attacked pets in two unprovoked attacks. 

Pensioner James Murdoch, 66, was served with a dog control notice in January 2022 after his dog Storm assaulted a chocolate Labrador, locking her jaws round its head.

The retired professional dog-walker was then charged by the police following another attack outside his home in Braco, Perthshire.

The attacks took place close to a village school.

Murdoch stood trial on the attacks at Perth Sheriff Court where he denied allowing his dog to be dangerously out of control on February 14 2023, when she attacked a local resident’s German Shepherd Collie cross called Peggy.

He was found guilty on this charge and a further charge of failing to comply with the dog control, by letting Storm out without a muzzle or lead.

Sheriff Gordon Fleetwood fined Murdoch £400 and ordered him to pay £500 compensation to the dog’s owner.

He added: “I am of the view that with [the victim] having been caused injury, this becomes an aggravated offence and I have no discretion as to whether or not I order the destruction of the dog.”

Lawyers for Murdoch went to the Sheriff Appeal Court in Edinburgh to argue that Sheriff Fleetwood misinterpreted existing legislation on dangerous dogs – the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. 

Defence advocate Colin Neilson argued that the circumstances of the assault were such that Sheriff Fleetwood didn’t need to impose a destruction order. 

But in a judgement issued by the court on Tuesday, Sheriff Principal Catherine Dowdalls KC threw out the bid to lift the death sentence on Storm. 

Sheriff Principal Dowdalls, who sat with colleagues Sheriff Principal Gillian Wade KC and appeal sheriff Fiona Tait, referred to the victim by her initials in the judgement. 

She wrote: “Storm was dangerously out of control when he attacked JS’s dog. JS was injured as a result of trying to rescue her dog. “There was no need to show direct injury to JS. That is nota requirement of section 3(1) of the 1991 Act. 

“Storm’s behaviour was sufficiently connected to JS’s injuries to establish that Storm was dangerously out of control. 

“But for Storm’s attack upon her dog, which she tried to rescue by pulling on the lead, JS would not have suffered injury. 

“The sheriff was entitled to hold that Storm’s attack amounted to an aggravated offence in terms of section 3(1) of the 1991 Act… and to convict of the aggravated offence. 

“Having concluded that the offence was aggravated in terms of section 3(1) of the 1991 Act, the sheriff had no option but to make the order for destruction.”

Murdoch also appealed unsuccessfully against his conviction and sentence – a £400 fine, and a compensation payment to the woman of £500.

At proceedings last year, the victim told the court she had been walking her dog Peggy past Braco Primary when Storm bolted out of her Mid Lane home.

The environmental consultant told the court: “The dog was on the other side of the street.

“He barked at Peggy, ran across and bit her.

“Her whole head was inside its mouth. It clamped its jaws down on her.

“She was squealing in distress.”

The woman said: “I couldn’t see my dog’s face because it was inside the other dog’s mouth.”

Asked what kind of dog had attacked Peggy, she said: “I would compare it to an XL Bully type. It was a big dog, about 60 kilos.”

She said her dog was trying to free herself.

“But there wasn’t much she could do,” she said.

The witness said she ended up on the ground as she tried to rescue Peggy. She was left with a bruised wrist, ripped leggings and with scratches to her leg.

When prosecutor Andrew Harding if she felt at risk, she replied: “A bit, yes. I felt that if it had let go, it would have then turned on me.”

She said Murdoch came out and helped pull Storm away, before taking her inside and closing the door.

Peggy was left with a bloodshot eye and a cut to her head. The woman said she felt “distressed and upset”.

“It was a horrible thing to go through,” she said.

Murdoch accepted that he had failed to make sure his door was closed when Storm ran across the road towards Peggy.

He told the court that Storm may have learned from another dog how to open the door by herself.

“I landed on top of the dog and my hands were on her snout, trying to open her mouth up,” Murdoch told his trial.

“But I was hampered by boot heels kicking my hands.”

He insisted he would keep his dog on a lead and a muzzle to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Murdoch said his dog had pinned down other dogs, but had never attacked people.

“I’ve never seen her so much as growl at another person,” he said.

Murdoch, who lives alone, said his dog was his sole companion and he had “missed her dreadfully” since she was taken away by police.

His lawyer David Holmes urged the court not to destroy the dog.

“Mr Murdoch is a responsible dog owner with a history of owning dogs,” he said.

“He let himself down on this occasion, but he has made real efforts to prevent this from happening again.”

The court also heard that Murdoch was served with a dog control notice by Perth and Kinross Council following the first attack in January 2022.

He was ordered to keep Storm on a suitable collar, a lead of no more than 1.5 metres and a muzzle.

A man told the court he was taking his chocolate lab Mia out for a walk when she was attacked by Storm.

He added “It locked its jaws over my dogs ear, cutting it.”

In the judgment issued on Tuesday, Sheriff Principal Dowdalls added: “The appeal is refused.”

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