Page last updated at 13:59 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 14:59 UK

MP seeks dangerous dog law change

Postal worker in London
Many postal workers suffer "horrific" attacks every year, it is claimed

An MP has called for a change in the law to help protect postmen and other workers from attacks by dogs.

Angela Smith said the Dangerous Dogs Act must be amended to protect workers from attacks by dogs on private land and to allow owners to be prosecuted.

"There clearly is a problem as far as these attacks are concerned," she said.

Unions say current laws leave thousands of postal workers vulnerable to savage dog attacks because the law does not cover incidents on private property.

Disfiguring injuries

According to postal unions, as many as 6,000 workers are attacked every year by dogs while delivering the mail.

Hundreds suffer disfiguring injuries and post-traumatic stress as a result, it is claimed.

The law currently leave thousands of postal workers at risk from debilitating dog attacks with no legal right to pursue damages
Billy Hayes, Communication Workers Union

Introducing a private member's bill in the Commons, Ms Smith, Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, said the law should be amended to make dog owners liable for situations when their animal is dangerously out of control on their own property.

Owners should take simple precautions, she stressed, such as keeping dogs hidden away when mail was delivered or putting a post box on the gate or a cage around the letterbox.

But she said the ability to prosecute, and suitable penalties for offenders, were needed in extreme cases - a stance she said was supported by Royal Mail.

"If there is an attack by a dog on a child or an adult, more of than not, the dog is destroyed," she said.

"But it is the owner that needs to face the consequences."

Legal redress

CWU General Secretary Billy Hayes said the law must be changed so his members could receive compensation if they were attacked doing their job.

"The law currently leaves thousands of postal workers at risk from debilitating dog attacks with no legal right to pursue damages or to have action taken against dangerous dogs and their owners," he said.

"The CWU's view is a simple one that if a person wishes to own an animal, particularly a dog, then they have a duty to ensure that it doesn't cause personal injury and damage."

Other workers considered at risk of attack include district nurses, social workers and meter readers.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said there were a number of routes that victims of attacks could take to get redress.

A spokesman said police or magistrates were empowered to take action against dangerous dogs under the 1871 Dogs Act if cases were reported to them.

"This Act applies everywhere, including private land, and if the court is satisfied that a dog is dangerous and not kept under proper control, it may make an order for it to be controlled or destroyed," he said.

Victims could begin civil proceedings to claim damages on the basis that the person owning or controlling the dog was negligent, he added.

He added that under separate legislation passed in 1957, the owner of a property who invites someone to their home may be liable for any injury suffered by the visitor. Ms Smith's bill will get its second reading in October, but has no chance of becoming law unless the government decided to back it.



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