The failure to prosecute a man who had been accused of beating his neighbour's dog to death with an iron bar sets a dangerous precedent, an animal welfare charity has said.
Helen Davis, from the Rainbow Rehoming Centre just outside Londonderry, said she was horrified by the Public Prosecution Service’s decision not to proceed with the case.
She believes people who attack animals could now evade court because of the case, in which she was asked to give expert evidence.
The case concerns a vicious attack on a basset hound in which the animal’s jaw was broken.
Ms Davis said the case was stopped because there were no witnesses other than the accused, who claimed that the dog had growled at him.
“I was horrified by the decision not to proceed with this case,” she said.
“This is stepping into very dangerous ground as far as protecting animals against cruelty goes, because the impression the Public Prosecution Service is giving is that anyone who attacks and kills a dog can say they acted in self-defence. So long as there are no witnesses, they will get off scot free.
“In this particular case a man hit a basset hound with a metal bar and killed it. A post mortem of the dog has shown that the first blow broke the dog's jaw and may well have been the fatal strike as well. By anyone's standard that sounds excessive. But it’s particularly worrying because this was on a basset hound which is not known as an aggressive breed of dog.
“I was asked to provide information about bassets and was able to say that we would recommend them as family pets because of their mild and friendly nature.
“In the 16 years since I have been running the centre we have only once been asked to home a basset hound because people love them so much. They take them into their families so easily, so I find it highly improbable that a basset hound would behave aggressively.
“They also have short legs and a long body so, if in the unlikely case that they did attack a person, they are easily outrun.”
In correspondence — seen by this paper — between the public prosecutor, Ms Davis and the owner of the dog, the prosecutor sets out its reasons for not proceeding. It states the man accused had “acted in self defence” claiming the “dog turned on him”.
The man claimed the animal was “snarling aggressively” but the DPP stated that as there were no witnesses to what took place, it could not proceed with the case.
Ms Davis said: “I am gravely worried that in cases were there is either a dispute within a family or between neighbours, a pet will be attacked and so long as no one is there to witness the attack, then there will be no repercussions.”
A spokeswoman for the Regional Prosecutor said that following a review of the facts, he had concluded that there was insufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of a conviction.