Attack could mean lifesaving Ipswich guide dog, Jazz, has to retire

Emma Free pictured with Jazz outside the court

Emma Free pictured with Jazz outside the court - Credit: Gregg Brown

A former Guide Dog of the Year may be forced into retirement after she was attacked while walking her handler to pick up children from school.

Emma Free pictured with Jazz outside the court

Emma Free pictured with Jazz outside the court - Credit: Gregg Brown

Emma Free, 34, who is registered as blind, was in Gatacre Road, Ipswich, on September 18 last year with her guide dog Jazz, a five-year-old golden retriever.

The pair, along with Mrs Free’s friend, Tina Brunning, were going to pick up their children from Handford Hall Primary School when at about 2.55pm Jazz was attacked, South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court heard.

Carol Hutson, prosecuting, said a Weimaraner dog called Pilot managed to come free from a wooden slat that was holding him and jumped out of a hatchback car parked near the school.

The dog owner, Gordon Alexander, 63, of Woodbridge Road, Hasketon, was working at the school at the time, the court heard. He pleaded guilty to being in charge of a dog dangerously out of control without causing injury.

Emma Free pictured with Jazz outside the court

Emma Free pictured with Jazz outside the court - Credit: Gregg Brown

The prosecution was brought forward under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which was revised last year to protect guide dogs.

Mrs Hutson told the court: “She (Mrs Free) was walking to the school, the next thing she knew of was aggressive barking from the defendant’s dog who then got out of the back of the hatchback and jumped into the back of Jazz.”

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Michael Stephenson, for Alexander, said his client returned “immediately” to his car and ordered Pilot back into the vehicle. He claimed that it was a matter that was “almost something out of nothing”.

But Mrs Hutson’s version of events was different. She said Mrs Free was left “scared and very concerned” for the welfare of Jazz.

“Obviously Mrs Free was very upset about what was happening and that there were children around but he said ‘Do not worry the dog is not after the children, just after your dog,’” Mrs Hutson said.

The court heard how Alexander had a previous related conviction. In May 2013 he was charged with causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal after Pilot attacked a “number of sheep”, causing two lambs to die, Mrs Hutson said.

Mr Stephenson referred to vet Simon Bagnall’s report on Jazz. He said: “The vet confirmed there were no puncture wounds or adhesions. The dog was nervous and unsettled, so (there was) no physical effect at all but some psychological effect.”

Alexander was fined £750, and ordered to pay £750 compensation and £350 costs. He will also pay a victim surcharge of £75.

An order was made meaning Pilot will have to be kept on a lead of a maximum length of one metre in a public place.

He will also have to be restrained by a harness or similar device whilst in a vehicle.

Jazz was awarded the Guide Dog of the Year prize for 2013/14 after she pulled Mrs Free and her two sons out of the path of an oncoming lorry.

At the time, Mrs Free said Jazz had gone beyond her training. “She just got up and pulled me backwards. It was a lifesaving moment.”

Speaking after the court case, Mrs Free added: “This is not just for me, it’s for all guide dog owners to prevent them being victims.

“People need to learn to control their dogs. It’s not the dog’s fault, it’s the owner.

“I do feel relieved that it’s over and justice has been served.”

She said Jazz’s future was undecided as she was now nervous around unfamiliar dogs.

Helen Sismore from Guide Dogs for the Blind said training a new guide dog would cost £50,000.

Debbie Charles from Suffolk Hate Crime Service said Suffolk Constabulary’s policy was to accept such a crime as a hate crime.