‘No-go zone’

High Court ruling means dog owners could face up to five years in prison if convicted

We are calling on all dog owners to make letterboxes in their homes a ‘no-go zone’ for their pets.

Our request comes after the High Court ruled that dog owners who fail to take steps to prevent their dogs from biting colleagues’ fingers through a letterbox, whether the owners are at home or not, can be convicted of an offence contrary to the Dangerous Dogs Act and face a maximum of up to five years in prison.

This clarification of the Dangerous Dog Act was made in a case brought by Royal Mail involving a colleague who lost the tip of his finger when a dog bit him as his hand partially protruded through the letterbox while he was delivering mail. The dog, which had not injured anyone before, had been left alone at the address by its owner.

The court ruled that the decision applies to postal workers or anyone lawfully visiting the premises, such as someone delivering a free newspaper or distributing leaflets. The judge said that there will be a short time when someone exposes their fingers to a dog within the property. If the dog injures that person, and the owner had allowed the dog to freely roam the house, the owner can be criminally liable.

The High Court ruling will effectively require dog owners to install letter box cages or otherwise keep dogs away from the front door or face prosecution if injury is caused to a person delivering to the house.

In the event of a conviction, the court must order the destruction of the dog, unless the owner proves it is no longer a danger to the public. The court also has the power to disqualify persons from owning dogs and order unlimited compensation to victims. 

Angela’s story

Darlington postwoman of 13 years, Angela Chapman, was posting a letter through a letterbox, while delivering mail on a new route.

‘I wasn’t aware of a dog at the property and it didn’t bark as I approached the door,’ she said. ‘My hand didn’t actually go through the letterbox when I posted the mail, but the dog instantly latched on to the letter and pulled my hand into the letterbox.

‘It bit onto my three fingers and wouldn’t let go. The dog’s owner didn’t come to my aid, so I had to literally pull my hand out of the dog’s grip. I went into shock and some neighbours who had heard me screaming called an ambulance and I was taken to hospital.

‘I suffered irreversible nerve damage to my ring finger and have been left with a permanent tingling in my finger that gets worse in the winter. Also, the scar tissue means I can’t bend my fingers properly.

‘Even as a dog owner, I am very wary of dogs now. The attack still affects me, eight years on. Even if the smallest of dogs looks as though it is going to approach me, I start shaking and sweating. A simple letterbox gate would have prevented this from happening to me.’

Since 2013, more than 650 colleagues have been attacked while posting mail through the letterbox, with some cases having resulted in the loss of fingertips and even amputation.

Dr Shaun Davis, director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability, said: ‘We know that the majority of dog owners are responsible and will do all they can to ensure their pet doesn’t harm anyone.

‘However, even the most lovable dog can be a danger to postal staff. Dogs are territorial by nature and if they feel they need to protect their family, they can become unpredictable.’

In 2014, Royal Mail successfully lobbied for changes to the Dangerous Dog Act. This amendment to legislation ensured that postmen and women were given legal protection if attacked by dogs when legitimately on private property, including a customer’s garden. Tougher penalties were also imposed for irresponsible dog owners.

Previously, legal protection following attacks by dogs did not extend ‘beyond the garden gate.’ This legal loophole was a particular issue for our people, who each visit hundreds of private addresses every day on their delivery rounds.

We commenced the action following a number of devastating injuries to colleagues. There are more than 2,000 attacks on our people every year. Over 150 of those attacks result in permanent and sometimes lifechanging injuries.

10 Sep 2020