Judge wrong to acquit man whose dog bit Ipswich postman, court rules

Are your letters going undelivered? Are your packages still arriving on time? Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Royal Mail won the appeal after postman Gavin Murrell was bitten by a dog - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A judge was wrong to acquit a man whose "Boxer-type" dog bit an Ipswich postman on the finger, the High Court has ruled.

Two senior judges in London have ruled that the district judge in Ipswich was wrong to acquit Richard Watson over the incident involving postman Gavin Murrell.

The hound bit Mr Murrell’s finger in May 2017 as he pushed mail through the letterbox of Mr Watson’s home in Sycamore Drive, Ipswich.

Royal Mail Group Ltd prosecuted and accused Mr Watson of being the owner of a dog which was dangerously out of control.

But District Judge Julie Cooper acquitted Mr Watson after a hearing at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court in February 2020.

Lady Justice Carr and Mr Justice Saini, who considered Royal Mail’s appeal at a High Court hearing earlier this month, have concluded that she was wrong.

In a ruling published online, they had to consider whether Mr Murrell acted as a trespasser because he put his fingers through the letterbox rather than using a “postal stick”.

Most Read

They also looked at whether Mr Murrell “failed to use due diligence”.

However, they concluded that Mr Murrell had not been a trespasser and that Mr Watson did not have a defence.

“Parliament has chosen to put the burden on those who own (or are in charge of) a dog to ensure that effective steps are taken to ensure that the dog does not cause injury to anyone,” said Lady Justice Carr.

“A postal worker in the position of Mr Murrell is not a trespasser as a result of putting their fingers through a letterbox.”

She said the ruling did not mean that homeowners could not leave dogs unattended and added: “Simple measures, such as the installation of a wire guard or adjustment to the height of the letterbox itself, can be taken.”

Mr Justice Saini agreed.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: "Royal Mail is pleased at the High Court ruling that settles the law in relation to the criminal liability of dog owners whose dogs attack postal workers while posting items through a letterbox.

"Owners who fail to take steps to prevent their dogs from biting postal workers though a letterbox, whether the owner is at home or not, can be convicted of an offence contrary to the Dangerous Dogs Act and face a maximum of up to five years in prison.

"We hope that this deterrent will in turn lead to more responsible dog ownership.

"Since 2013, almost 1,000 postal workers have been attacked while posting mail through the letterbox – some cases have resulted in severe injuries."

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter