Editorial: Tums down for shonky court case


Hastings man Des Hughes has a charming accent. For example, the Irishman pronounces thumb - "tum".

I mention this only because we were talking thumbs a few months back.

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As it turns out, much to his anguish, his family labrador bit the end off a stranger's thumb last year.

With its muzzle under the family gate, 5-year-old pet Franklin was approached by a stranger, whereupon it proceeded to snap.

The details of which are a little sketchy.

After the inevitable impoundment, Mr Hughes claims the victim popped in to see him to apologise and admit he had acted, under the influence, and foolishly.

Later in court, the man denied this ever took place.

Mr Hughes was later found guilty of owning a dog that attacked.

Of my years as court reporter, this is, without exception, the most ill-conceived prosecution I've stumbled across.

For the record, I applaud the council's tough stance on dog control. But I'm also for the council using its discretion.

Last year this paper covered the story of a police dog that inexplicably bit the face of a kindergarten youngster in Taradale.

No prosecution was brought - and neither should it have been. It's called discretion.

A witness, who emerged late on the scene of Mr Hughes' case, swore she saw the victim aggravate the dog.

Despite the fact the witness' statement never made it past its own dog-control officer, the council failed to use the advent of this new witness as a way out of an already embarrassing prosecution.

As a former boss of mine used to say, when you're in a hole, stop digging. But no. Despite the elephant in the courtroom, the council continued to claim the prosecution was justified and refused to call off the dogs. Its legal team was only too willing to clip the ticket.

This despite the many and varied available inferences that this case was shonky. Theirs was a stance poignantly described by defence lawyer Karl Sandbrook as "righteous indignation".

Surely there comes a stage in a prosecution case where winning only by the skin of your teeth becomes a tad unethical.

Judge Geoff Rea, who under current legislation (and let's remember this case was one of strict liability) quite rightly found the charge proven, refused to enter a conviction.

A victory for common sense - but a pyrrhic victory for the plucky Irishman. Putting up a good fight to avoid a conviction has cost him plenty.

The way I see it, the council can now save itself only by spending more ratepayers' money. That is, reimburse this thoroughly decent, hardworking father of two, who it's all but ruined.

Pay him all fees associated with having his dog impounded and destroyed, and the $6000 he owes his lawyer. Then add a compensation sweetener.

As a nominal figure, how about matching the $9400 this case has to date cost ratepayers?

Judge Rea needs to be applauded for seeing this case as it is.

The legislation, as he rightly stated yesterday, is perhaps more geared for when a small child approaches a dog through a fence.

Such robust common sense should have cut this prosecution off at a much earlier pass.

The Hughes family have the judge to thank for handing the council a distinct anti-climax.

Proof in this case, (and perhaps the failure to disclose all of it), came dangerously close to out-muscling truth.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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