Murder at Crufts? Dog poisoning and the law

On 7 March 2015, the canine world was turned upside down when it was claimed that six dogs were poisoned at the prestigious annual Crufts show.

Organisers confirmed one dog died after consuming poisoned beef while several others were taken ill, sparking fears that one or more people may have been poisoning the dogs. It has since been reported that the dog who died appeared to have ingested the poison once back home in Belgium and there is still no conclusive evidence that the other affected dogs were poisoned.

The West Midlands Police are yet to launch any formal investigation; however, it is believed that they are working with officials from Crufts to secure and preserve any relevant evidence that may assist in due course. 

Any criminal investigation is likely to focus around the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Section 7 of that Act makes it an offence for anyone to administer any poisonous or injurious substance to a “protected animal” or cause any poisonous or injurious substance to be taken by a “protected animal”. That person would also have to know that the substance concerned was poisonous or injurious. For these purposes, a dog would be classed as a “protected animal”.

This section therefore specifically makes it a criminal offence for anyone to poison a dog knowing that what they were giving the dog was poisonous. In contrast, obviously no offence would be committed if the poisoning was accidental.

A person found guilty of this offence could receive a term of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £20,000.

Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act also makes it an offence for a person to fail to take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he is responsible are met. This section could therefore apply to the owners of the dogs in terms of their responsibility for ensuring the welfare of their own dogs while at Crufts.  

In addition, it might also extend to a person responsible for an animal, even if this is just on a temporary basis. Theoretically, this means that this section could apply to those who run the kennels at Crufts and they too could face criminal proceedings.

However, this would only be if it could be shown that any poisoning definitely occurred while at Crufts and that also assumes that it would be reasonable for them to check every piece of food given to the dogs. It is unlikely that this section would extend this far, as to check every piece of food would appear to go beyond ‘reasonable steps’ as required in the section.

It may also be possible for the owners of the dogs affected to claim compensation from the person responsible for any negligent actions. A compensation claim may look to recover the cost of the dog’s medical treatment as a result of the poisoning, the replacement or market value of the dog and compensation for any emotional distress caused by the loss of the dog. Given that some of the dogs involved in any poisoning were likely to be of high value, a claim for compensation could therefore be substantial.

Amy French is a criminal defence associate at Blaser Mills.