By John Mulgrew
Belfast Telegraph
Saturday, 26 May 2012


Dog lovers around the world are waiting for Northern Ireland’s highest court to decide if the life of a dog should be saved.

The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and two other High Court judges yesterday heard an appeal case against an earlier court verdict that pitbull-type dog Lennox should be destroyed.

Legal costs in the long-running case are expected to run to tens of thousands of pounds.

Since proceedings began more than 127,000 people worldwide have signed a petition calling for Lennox to be returned to his owners, who have not been given enough chance to show he can be made safe, the court was told.

In the Court of Appeal, lawyers for Belfast woman Caroline Barnes argued that her pet dog has never bitten anyone and has behaved impeccably since being impounded.

Lennox has been held by Belfast City Council at a secret location for two years after being seized from the family home. The case yesterday was brought in front of Northern Ireland’s most senior judges — including the Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan — in a last ditch attempt to save Lennox the dog’s life.

Two lower courts have already ruled that the seven-year-old dog should be destroyed because it poses a danger to the public.

In September it looked set to be put down when a county court judge decided there was too great a risk. That decision came after the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997 in England and Wales was extended to Northern Ireland.

In a final challenge, lawyers for Lennox’s owner claimed the judge misdirected himself.

Michael Lavery QC — who is representing Caroline Barnes — said Lennox was not given a chance to “prove his worth”.

He told the court that no credit was given for the dog behaving well since being taken into the care of Belfast City Council.

“It comes to this: is it automatic that if a dog is either dangerous per se, or shows some allegedly dangerous characteristics, falling well short of biting, can he never be allowed to prove his worth?” he added. “He (the County Court judge) didn’t give sufficient weight to the question of whether the dog could be made safe or not.”

Mr Lavery also cited one case in which a dog had avoided the death sentence despite having bitten people before.

But according to David Scoffield QC — representing Belfast City Council — all possibilities in the case of Lennox were examined before the decision was taken.

“What else should the judge have considered which he did not consider?” he asked the court.

“He has looked at the issue of muzzling, he has looked at the issue of keeping the dog confined, he has looked at the issue of keeping it on a lead. This challenge is really a challenge to the judge’s conclusion that the imposition of conditions was not sufficient to satisfy him the dog was not a danger.”

Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan said he and Lord Justices Higgins and Girvan would give their decision in the next week.

An astonishing journey ends in Royal Courts of Justice

It was a very strange day in the grand surroundings of the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. Barristers, QCs and Northern Ireland’s most senior judges filling the court, to discuss whether the life of a family pet should be saved.

In the Court of Appeal the fate of seven-year-old Lennox the dog was being decided; the same court which only minutes earlier had heard a murder appeal from Brian Shivers, convicted of killing two young sappers outside Massereene Army Barracks in Antrim three years ago.

Normally reserved for cases involving serious crime, yesterday it was the plight of the dog from Belfast and his owner Caroline Barnes, and the now global support campaign finally reaching what could be the end of the line.

Now, dog lovers across the globe are patiently waiting to hear the outcome of the case — which has garnered an ever increasing number of loyal supporters — and whether the appeal over Lennox’s death sentence will be successful.

After two years and the decisions from two lower courts – the future of the pitbull-type dog finally reached the Court of Appeal.

Walking into the long marble corridor of the Royal Courts of Justice — an icon of Northern Ireland’s judicial system bustling with sharp-suited lawyers and their clients — it seemed such an unlikely place for a hearing about a family pet.

Walking into the court, comprised of the typical television courtroom drama look of aged wood and leather benches — the surroundings seemed completely in contrast with the case being brought before the panel of judges.

On first appearances, given the large number of lawyers, you could have been mistaken the court was dealing with a murder appeal.

But it was all for Lennox.

Moments earlier the same judge — Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan — had dealt with one of the region’s biggest terror cases in recent years.

During the brief proceedings in the hot and musty confines of the court — the panel of senior judges heard evidence on behalf of both Lennox’s owner and Belfast City Council to determine the dog’s fate.

With the sun shining through the tall room’s glass ceiling, you could hear a pin drop before the start of proceedings.

In court, Caroline Barnes — accompanied by her mother — appeared visibly moved while discussions about the fate of her dog were brought before the court — terrified of possibly losing her beloved pet forever.

Outside the court, Ms Barnes said she was still hopeful that her dog would be spared the death sentence.

And the focus continued on Lennox outside the court yesterday with photographers snapping the family and onlookers enjoying the sun gazing on — turning more attention to the life of a pitbulltype dog than a convicted murderer.

Grabbing the interest of animal lovers the world over, more than 127,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Lennox to be set free.

And those tens of thousands are now waiting with baited breath for the outcome of a case which has stirred up a raft of emotion among dog lovers globally.

Yesterday, the number of his supporters continued to rise as more and more signed the online petition.

Worldwide interest has grown to the extent of a campaign song, penned about the dog’s plight — with his tens of thousand of supporters waiting patiently for a final decision.

The slick Save Lennox website has also been keeping the myriad of supporters updated on the progression of the case so far, along with some 50,000 fans on Facebook.

In the next few days a decision from the court is expected on whether Lennox’s appeal will be successful and whether the lengthy two-year campaign to set the dog free has been worth it.

It’s a case which has surprised many — few expecting a decision to destroy a family pet to go as far as Northern Ireland’s appeal court.

Complex and costly battle over family pet

By Amanda Poole

The story of death-row-dog Lennox began back in May 2010.

Caroline Barnes’ pet dog, deemed to be a banned pitbull-type, was seized by Belfast City Council dog wardens and he has remained in their care at a secret location ever since.

Ms Barnes immediately launched in to action and her ‘Save Lennox’ campaign has attracted considerable attention from people across the world.

So far, more than 127,000 individuals have put their signatures to an online petition for the attention of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, demanding seven-year-old Lennox’s release.

And the Save Lennox Twitter account has some 7,000 followers and over 50,000 people have liked its Facebook page.

Last autumn, Judge Derek Rodgers at Belfast County Court said it was the “duty of the court to put public safety above anything else” and dismissed Ms Barnes appeal to spare the dog’s life.

He upheld the original decision that Lennox posed a danger to the public and must be destroyed, but Ms Barnes has continued her fight.

A decision from the Court of Appeal is expected in the next couple of weeks and until then the dog will be kennelled and cared for by the council.

The full cost of the marathon legal battle between Ms Barnes and Belfast City Council will not be known until the court case has concluded, however, it is expected to be in excess of £20,000.

While most of the dog’s supporters are well intentioned animal lovers, some of his fans have overstepped the mark.

The Lennox saga took a sinister turn, when council staff and others experienced intimidation from members of the public.

A council document explains “abuse, harassment and intimidation” was directed towards its staff, including online harassment and physical attacks.

Belfast City Council is reviewing procedures to protect staff from abuse and the Attorney General is investigating the incidents.