Ranger rep­ri­mand

PRO­CE­DURE IN DOGS CASE QUES­TIONED

Hills Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Sarah Brookes

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.

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