NEWS AND COMMENT: The High Court in the UK has, in effect, ruled that a dog owner can be held criminally liable if they allow their dog, either through inaction or action, to bite a postman’s finger when delivering post through the letterbox. A Royal Mail spokesman said: “Owners who fail to take steps to prevent their dogs from biting postal workers through a letterbox, whether the owner is at home or not, can be convicted of an offence contrary to the Dangerous Dogs Act and face a maximum of up to 5 years in prison.”
The High Court overruled a County Court judge who acquitted an owner when their dog bit a postal worker’s hand as he delivered mail through the letterbox. According to Royal Mail about 1,000 postal workers have been attacked since 2013 through the letterbox. Sometimes they suffered severe injuries. They say that the High Court judgement settles the law on criminal liability. To be clear, it can be a crime if a dog owner allows their dog to bite a postman when delivering post through the letterbox in the UK.
The case in point concerned a dog owner, Watson, and a postal worker, Murrell. The High Court decided that Murrell was not a trespasser and that Watson did not have a defence when their dog bit Murrell. The dog bit his finger in May 2017 as he pushed mail through the letterbox of a house in Sycamore Drive, Ipswich.
Royal Mail prosecuted Watson arguing that they had allowed the dog to be dangerously out of control. The district judge, Julie Cooper, acquitted Watson at a hearing at Ipswich magistrates’ Court in February 2020. Her decision was reversed by the High Court.
One of the High Court judges, Lady Justice Carr, said that the ruling did not mean that homeowners could not leave their dogs unattended. They should take “simple measures, such as the installation of a wire guard or adjustment to the height of the letterbox itself” to protect the fingers of postal workers.
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