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Case no: CO/0249/96 ...
Case no: CO/0249/96

Kent CC have gone to the high court in a bid to stop the 'slavering jaws' of a pair of Rottweiler dogs putting fear in the hearts of ramblers using a Meopham footpath.

In what the council sees as a vital test case, it is asking judges to rule that the path was illegally obstructed by the dogs' jowls protruding over a four-foot fence.

The council in court yesterday said that Gravesham magistrates 'erred in law' when in October last year they acquitted the dogs' owner, Graham Holland, of two charges under the Highways Act.

But Mr Holland says the magistrates were entirely right to rule there was no case to answer against him. His counsel, Kevin Sparks, said: 'There is no suggestion that the dogs had been deliberately let out by Mr Holland in order to create fear'.

Summarising the case, Lord Justice Schiemann told the court: 'There were some extremely noisy and essentially worrying dogs just off the footpath, fenced in and bellowing away and putting people in fear.

'The question is whether that can amount to an obstruction of the highway under the act; that's the substance of the point.'

There was also the question of whether the dogs' 'slavering jaws' protruding over the fence constituted a physical obstruction, he added.

Mr Holland's home - the Old Barn Bungalow in Woodhill, Meopham - is bordered by a 100-metre wire mesh fence adjoining the footpath which is about four feet wide.

The county council took action against Mr Holland after Gravesham BC rights of way officer, Anne Waugh, walked along the footpath on 7 February last year and was terrified by the Rottweilers.

The magistrates found: 'In the garden of his property were two Rottweiler dogs and two Terrier dogs. They were a matter of a few yards from the fence and they were barking furiously.

'As she walked along the pathway the Rottweiler dogs were jumping at the fence less than three feet away from her.

'On some occasions the dogs' front paws were resting on top of the top rail, and the head was over the top, with the jowls protruding beyond the line of the fence.

'She was afraid of the dogs catching her arm, she was too frightened to walk the full length of the path but went back the way she had come.'

Mr Holland was charged with 'wilfully obstructing free passage along the foot path without lawful authority or excuse through the presence of Rottweiler dogs'.

But the magistrates decided that the dogs' presence could not amount to an obstruction, and ruled that there was 'no case to answer' against Mr Holland.

Lord Justice Schiemann and Mr Justice Brian Smedley today reserved their judgement in the case, saying they would give their ruling as soon as possible.

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