A decision by Northern Ireland’s highest court to condemn a family pet to death has prompted furious protests by supporters around the world.
Lennox, a seven-year-old pitbull-type dog, is set to be destroyed after the Court of Appeal rejected a last-ditch legal bid to save his life.
The ruling comes despite a long and costly court battle which has made headlines and attracted interest from as far afield as Australia and the United States.
Some supporters have even written to Prime Minister David Cameron to call for him to intervene.
Lennox has been detained at a secret location since May 2010, when he was seized by Belfast City Council officials.
The dog was deemed to be a banned American-type pitbull terrier and assessed as a danger to the public.
He has been on death row for nearly two years, and two lower courts had already ruled he should be destroyed.
The case went to the Court of Appeal after lawyers for Lennox’s owner, Caroline Barnes, argued the dog had never attacked anyone and wasn’t dangerous.
On Tuesday three senior judges dismissed Ms Barnes' appeal.
Lord Justice Girvan, sitting with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justice Higgins, set out how dog wardens who tried to examine and measure Lennox in May 2010 were told by a man it would “rip their head off”.
An expert dog handler retained by the City Council concluded that the dog had a severe personality defect.
Referring to the County Court judge who confirmed the destruction order, Lord Justice Girvan said: “The judge had heard evidence on the issues relating to this dog over a protracted two-day hearing, carefully considered the evidence and the issues, and he reached conclusions of fact which have not been vitiated by any error of law on his part.”
Mrs Barnes was not in court for the ruling. The family declined to comment last night.
A spokesman for the family indicated they would release a statement “once they have had time to absorb the ruling”, adding the decision was “sad and very wrong”.
Tuesday's ruling is likely to mark the end of the road for Lennox, despite a long and high-profile campaign.
Nearly 130,000 people have signed a petition calling for him to be returned to his owners, while a Save Lennox website has been set up.
Last night support was piling in for Lennox from across the world.
A protest was held outside Belfast City Hall while some supporters said they had emailed Downing Street calling for Mr Cameron to intervene.
Minutes after the court’s verdict was announced, Janne Thiebaud from Tasmania in Australia contacted the Belfast Telegraph to express her anger at the ruling.
Fighting back tears, Janne told how she believes the decision is a “massive injustice”.
“I have followed Lennox for two years, from the bottom of the world,” she said.
“It is just so cruel because none of this should be happening. It has been proven Lennox is not a pitbull. People all over the world have offered to take him, but rather than do that and give him a life, they want to kill him.”
Supporters also bombarded a Save Lennox page on Facebook, with over 2,000 comments appearing within hours.
Debbie Reppucci, who lives in America, said she had emailed Downing Street in protest at the ruling.
“I’ve sent a message to the Prime Minister,” she wrote. “Let him know this story has reached the US too and how the Belfast government is morally bankrupt for locking up an innocent dog.”
What happens next?
By Lesley Anne McKeown
Death row dog Lennox will not be destroyed until Belfast City Council is completely satisfied that all legal options have been exhausted, it has been confirmed.
Speculation was rife online that the pitbull-type dog, which has been kept at a secret location since being seized by Belfast City Council two years ago, was put to sleep hours after the Court of Appeal rejected a legal challenge against a destruction order on Tuesday.
However, a council source has confirmed that the seven-year-old family pet is still alive and would remain in care for the time being.
Lennox’s owners have the right to take their case to the Supreme Court in London — the final court of appeal in the UK. But the landmark case, which has already cost the public purse tens of thousands of pounds, could go all the way to Europe.
This means Belfast City Council will not put the dog down until Lennox’s owners and their legal representatives decide where, if anywhere, they go next.
Costs likely to top £20,000
By Lesley Anne McKeown
It has been a marathon legal battle that has been largely funded by the public purse.
It is too early to calculate the full costs of the high-profile case between Caroline Barnes and Belfast City Council but the figure is expected to be well in excess of £20,000.
Seven-year-old pitbull-terrier type dog Lennox was seized by City Council officials under the Dangerous Dogs Act in May 2010 and has been on death row for more than two years.
His owners — who had instructed one of Northern Ireland’s most senior barristers, Michael Lavery QC, as well as junior counsel and a solicitor — are understood to have been in receipt of Legal Aid.
The council’s legal costs will be funded by ratepayers.
Tuesday’s sitting in the Court of Appeal was the 21st time that the Lennox case had been heard by a judge since proceedings began on August 10, 2010, in Belfast Magistrate’s Court.
It progressed to the County Court before coming before Northern Ireland’s most senior judges — Lord Justice Girvan, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justice Higgins — in the Court of Appeal yesterday.
Tears as animal lovers stage a silent protest
By John Mulgrew
Dog lovers loyal to condemned Lennox gathered outside Belfast City Hall on Tuesday afternoon in a show of solidarity against the court’s decision.
A small handful of fans braved the rain — gathering quietly outside the front of the building — with not a placard in sight.
Visibly moved to tears, Belfast woman Natasha Anderson (25) said she could only imagine how the family were feeling.
She was joined by William Milliken (29) and their chihuahua Sophie — in doggie hoodie to shield herself from the rain.
“It’s just really sad — the breed is labelled as a bad breed,” said William. “For anyone who has ever had them or been close to them they are not an aggressive dog. The family just wanted their pet back home.”
Shannon McCall (17), from Lisburn, said the family pet should have been allowed to live.
“I just feel sorry for the family that society has let them down so badly,” she added.
Edward Gibson (25), Bradley Crawford (17) and Louise Dinsmore (31), from Mobile Pet Supplies in Newtownabbey, also turned out to show their support.
“I think the family would be absolutely devastated, as would anyone in that set of circumstances, with the child not being well,” said Louise.