PROCEDURE IN DOGS CASE QUESTIONED
THE owner of an elderly, overweight dog and a young pug cross impounded by the Shire of Mundaring for 15 months over their alleged involvement in the killing and maiming of 39 sheep in 2016 has been acquitted.
A three-day criminal trial in the Perth Magistrates Court last week between the Shire and Simon Hey ruled the prosecution was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the dogs Two Sox and Floyd had committed the offence on a property in the Lakes.
Handing down his decision Magistrate Thomas Hall said he had serious concerns about the investigation conducted by Shire of Mundaring rangers Delphine Wilson and Damien Stevens.
“In my view their evidence was very poor and totally unreliable,” he said.
“I don’t necessarily question their credibility but I have serious concerns about the reliability of their evidence and their practices and procedures in this investigation or lack thereof.
“There are some serious differences in their evidence and concern neither of these two witnesses made contemporaneous notes.
“I appreciate rangers don’t have the training of police officers but nevertheless they make investigations and their investigations are the subject of prosecutions and to make contemporaneous notes is basic 101 procedure.”
Magistrate Hall said it was also concerning one ranger didn’t make notes until three days after the attack and the other attending ranger never made a statement.
“It’s poor practice at least and incompetence at most,” he said.
Magistrate Hall said there was circumstantial evidence of blood being found on the dogs but it was never tested or properly documented.
“Photos show some red marks on the dogs but there’s no evidence that it is blood,” he said.
“Photographs and videos should have been taken of the blood or a sample sent to a lab for confirmation.
“What is greatly concerning is that ranger Wilson took pictures to identify the blood but later distanced herself from the photos she allegedly took and raises the possibility that her own evidence may have been doctored.
“For a prosecution witness to raise an issue that her own evidence in relation to apparent red marks on dogs might have been doctored causes me great concern.”
Magistrate Hall said he was not satisfied the two dogs had been identified at the scene at the attack.
“Had Two Socks and Floyd been captured at the scene, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
“But the key issue is identification.
“I accept that it’s certainly suspicious that there are two similar looking dogs at the Heys’ and that they were let out and in close vicinity.
“But given my concerns, particularly about the reliability of the rangers’ evidence, but also the reliability of the identification evidence of the civilian witness, I am not satisfied the prosecution have proven identification beyond a reasonable doubt.”
This was the third trial for the owners, after a mistrial was declared on December 29, 2016.
The dogs were reunited with their owners in May 2017 after a second court hearing had to be rescheduled because a key witness was unable to give evidence at the trial in Northam.
In a statement by the Shire, a spokeswoman said the Shire had the highest number of dog attacks in the metropolitan region and lawyers had advised them to prosecute the owners.
“The Shire’s role is to gather available evidence in line with its obligations in the Dog Act 1976,” she said.
“Legal advice was sought at the time and the Shire was advised by its solicitors to prosecute the dogs’ owners, based on the available evidence and seriousness of the attack.”
The Shire has been contacted for comment on how much it spent on the unsuccessful prosecution.
Simon and Hazel Wheatley-Hey take Two Sox and Floyd (middle) for their first walk after their release from the pound.