Police officer cleared of dangerous dog charge after incident in park
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A police officer whose dog ran off and bit a woman in a park has been cleared by a jury of any criminal wrongdoing.
Police dog handler Paul Sheldrake was acquitted on Monday following a trial at Ipswich Crown Court.
Pc Sheldrake, 38, was accused of being in charge of a dangerously out of control dog, which injured Marianne McRae, and that the dog was not being used for a lawful purpose by a police constable.
The incident happened at about 5.30pm on February 11 last year, in Arun Park, Chelmsford, where Ms McRae was walking her miniature Yorkshire terrier off the lead.
Off-duty Pc Sheldrake’s German shepherd police dog, Cain, appeared from a wooded area and ran towards Ms McRae, lunging onto her right side and biting her hip – releasing its grip when Pc Sheldrake ran towards the scene.
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Ms McRae was treated at Broomfield Hospital and remained off work for two weeks.
Pc Sheldrake later submitted an official dog bite report.
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The law around out-of-control dogs provides an exemption where the animals are used for a lawful purpose by a constable, such as a policing activity.
The court had heard that officers were required to conduct continued training of dogs outside formal sessions, including obedience exercises such as ‘long down stays’ off the lead.
But prosecutor Mark Halsey said: “It’s not like this was an operational deployment, where there might be an operational bite, and where the dog is trained to chase after a suspect.”
“A person responsible for a dog on deployment is exempt from liability, but the Crown says the exemption doesn’t apply.”
The defence had argued that Pc Sheldrake had indeed been using PD Cain for a lawful purpose when the incident happened.
A jury of seven men and five women took less than half an hour to find him not guilty after a four day trial.
Pc Sheldrake said he had been carrying out obedience training and rewarding PD Cain by allowing him to chase a ball – but that the dog ran off into nearby woods after possibly scenting a squirrel or a rabbit.
PD Cain had been suspended from operational duty since the incident, while Pc Sheldrake remained a serving Essex police officer but was no longer a dog handler.
In a statement made after the case, Essex police said: “Following a trial at Ipswich Crown Court, PC Paul Sheldrake was found not guilty today, Monday 27 July, of being in charge of a dog that was dangerously out control and caused injury.
“An internal investigation will now commence following the conclusion of the case and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”