Otis – Remembering His Name
Pet dog Otis is seized under Dangerous Dogs Act:
Henry Bates (Harry) had his pet dog ‘Otis’ seized from the inside of his car by the Police on December 4th 1991, following a routine stop and check in the Blackwall Tunnel in East London. Otis was asleep in the car when one officer declared he looked like a ‘pit bull’ and seized him. Harry was later charged with having a dog unmuzzled and unleashed in a ‘public place’ contrary to Section One of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
Legal proceedings commence:
Following a Magistrates Court hearing in July 1992, Harry was found guilty and Otis, who had never harmed anyone ever, was sentenced to death by the Court. An Appeal was lodged and the legal process, centred on what did and did not constitute a ‘public place’ continued. Later a legal ruling by Justice Waller and Lord Justice Rose on February 25th 1993 stated that the interior of a private car on a public highway is, for the purposes of the Act, a public place. In the interests of public safety, registered dogs would have to be muzzled and leashed inside the vehicle, the leash held by an adult, whilst travelling down a public highway!
Otis, like many dogs seized under the DDA was held at an unknown kennels waiting for the Courts to seal his fate. Owner Harry was allowed one brief reunion with his dog over a two and a half year period. At a cost charged to the defendant, Otis was transported from his secret location to a cage at the rear of a Police Station, Harry was able to spend 30 minutes with Otis inside the cage, with the authorities watching and filming from the outside.
|Otis remembered Harry immediately, he thought he was going home and his spirits visibly lifted for a brief moment, Harry was led away under Police escort – Otis paced back and forth, now familiar with the small confines of a cage, his eyes fixed on Harry, Otis loved people and was lost with no meaningful human contact or mental stimulation and without his owner.|
Harry was accompanied and assisted by Eugene Welch and Cllr John Branch a breed identification who expert examined Otis. Pictured here is Otis licking the face of John Branch & enjoying some company.
Further legal appeals to save Otis:
Following the High Court ruling, valuable new evidence had come to light. Otis had now been examined by leading breed identification experts, who confirmed Otis had more characteristics of a Great Dane than any other breed of dog and therefore not subject to Section One of the DDA, new grounds to free Otis were attempted but the legal team were never to be given the opportunity to establish his breed or type in a Court of Law-the courts ruled that new evidence relating to breed identification had come to late.
On 29th June 1994
an application was heard for Judicial Review at the Royal Courts of Justice,
Mr David Walbank stressed the point that evidence concerning breed identification
had been obtained and since the seizure of Otis, some two and a half years previously,
the defendant and one expert had only been able to gain access to visit Otis
on one occasion.
The prosecution had not made any attempt to determine exactly what type or breed of dog they believed Otis to be until January 1994. This opened the question:
Section 5(5) of the DDA reverses the Burden of Proof:
Should the prosecution be under some obligation to check the factual foundation of an allegation on making it?
Lord Justice McCowan and Mr. Justice Buxton ruled on the interpretation of section 5(5), in view that this section reverses the Burden of Proof they considered it not necessary that the Prosecution need provide any evidence, the DDA states you need no more than to make an allegation – then it is up to the defendant to prove otherwise.
The effect of this decision made the DDA unprecedented in English law by reversing the presumption of innocence.
Despite the absence of any substantial funding, a meeting was subsequently held with the legal team, Harry, Amanda and Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, after examining the facts Lord Lester asked if we wanted to attempt to challenge the DDA at Europe, Harry replied that he did but also wanted to try to attempt to save the life of Otis.
Lord Lester QC, a
leading expert in human rights and himself a dog owner agreed to take the case,
making legal history in that the first case which would seal the fate of a dog
was to hopefully go before the European Court.
In order to make an application to Europe, the legal process had to be exhausted in the UK, the final stage was an application for Leave to Appeal to the House of Lords, this was refused as expected and gave the green light for Europe.
An application to the European Commission was drafted and submitted by Lord Lester QC, it was lodged in January 1995.
Concerns of Otis’s wellbeing continue:
Meanwhile Otis was imprisoned at an unknown location. His physical condition was unknown and of constant concern, he had thrived on human company and would not have adjusted to a lonely and boring life in a kennel isolated from every day life over such a long period of time, the local MP Jeremy Corbyn was contacted and made several representations to the authorities requesting information on Otis’s health and well being.
In August 1994, blankets and toys flooded in for Otis and other pet dogs held on canine death row, members of the public were outraged and sent in boxes to the Met. Police marked for long term death row dogs and Otis. Otis's family sent in their box which included Otis's favourite blanket from two years ago along with his toys.
“I, personally, believe the Dangerous Dogs Act is an ill thought out piece of legislation and like yourself am deeply concerned about some of the cases it has led to. Your letter mentions the specific case of Otis and the most recent information I have on him is that his fate is still in the hands of the European Courts. He is still being held in a special Police kennel but unfortunately his current condition is unknown.”
As all legal avenues in the UK had now been exhausted, there were new fears that the Court destruction order would be implemented, the last hope for Otis was that the veterinary establishment would refuse to administer the fatal injection, at one point Harry travelled to collect the body of Otis, he was removed from his secret kennels on 28th July 1994 and taken to be destroyed, but when Otis arrived the vets refused to do it and he was led back to his kennel.
Otis Appeal tirelessly campaigns:
The letters and phone calls campaigning for the release of Otis intensified, offers of Sanctuary from the USA, Canada and Switzerland were received, Warner Brothers offered to export Otis out of the UK free of charge, Carla Lane (writer and animal welfare defender) and Dr. Roger Mugford (World renowned animal behaviourist) personally asked the Home Secretary to intervene, on the morning of 31st August 1994 the EDDR received one hundred and thirty one letters in one post, we were also inundated with offers of toys, dog food and blankets to be posted to Otis who was still in solitary confinement with many other just like him, all innocent of any crime.
One Animal Shelter wrote "In reference to the plight of Otis may I suggest the dog be shipped to Florida for an extended vacation, if this is a possibility, we will keep him free of charge until the owner can make other arrangements or until he is adopted. At least the owner can visit him. We have been opened three years and have many volunteers from England." We recived photographs including that of a large swimming pool full of dogs all having a great time, but this was not an option allowed for Otis who was to remain locked away.
The Authorities were still expected to destroy Otis, a date for destruction was given and the media picked up the plight of Otis and his struggle, media interest brought him to the attention of the public once again.
|We again wrote to the veterinary establishment informing them that Otis was due to be destroyed, urging them to refuse to administer the fatal injection, if every vet in the country refused to destroy a healthy animal whilst the case was to go before Europe the authorities would have to keep him alive – or shoot him dead themselves ?|
The media run the story that Otis was to be shot by Police marksmen as vets had refused to do it. A stay of execution was ordered by Deputy Police Commissioner Sir John Smith in September 1994 following a public outcry in response to this news. Article headlines included:
rally to death row Otis’ – Evening Standard Aug. ’94.
‘Toys flood in for Otis’ – Daily Mail Aug. ‘94
‘Owner fails to save dog on death row’ – Daily Telegraph June ‘94
‘Slaughter of the Innocents’ - Evening Standard Sept.’94
All that was keeping Otis alive was the public who had championed him and made daily telephone calls to the Government, at one point the Home Office complained that there were inundated on a daily basis with telephone calls asking for Otis to be set free.
A last minute petition had to be launched by the ‘Otis Appeal’ requesting that Otis be kept alive whilst the case came before Europe, this petition helped raise further awareness to the DDA, it was never handed in as events moved quickly and a stay of execution was eventually granted, with conditions, pending the the appeal to Europe.
We contacted the All Party Animal Welfare group, amongst others, the Chairman Roger Gale MP issued a press release and made a direct appeal to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to allow further time for a European hearing and said "the commissioner's ADC has been most sympathetic and helpful".
The stay of execution was eventually agreed but with the stipulation that Kennel fees were charged to the defendant at a cost of £8.88 per day, failure to meet this cost would have resulted in the instant destruction of Otis, costs were met by the ‘Otis Appeal’ which had been launched by owner Harry and the EDDR. From August 1994 to December 1995 £4712.36 was paid by the Appeal to cover kenneling costs alone, Dr Mugford had offered to house Otis in a secure and approved setting at no cost, but this was refused. The letters and telephone calls from here and overseas supporting Otis continued to pour in and every one was personally answered.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Met. Police Commissioner) replied:
“Thank you for your latest letter in respect of the case of Otis. I apologise for the fact that you have had two similar responses – I can only ask for your understanding since we have been inundated with correspondence from concerned members of the public such as yourself. The fact remains that personal replies are not possible due to the sheer volume of the letters received by both the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner.”
News from Europe:
On 16th January 1996, the European Commission ruled that the Otis case was inadmissible; they decided by a majority decision that the DDA was not a human rights violation.
This was a terrible blow, a blow to the anti-DDA campaign, Harry and everyone who had a dog in custody on ‘death row’ awaiting a similar fate with their attempts to free their own dog pinned on Otis - it was also Otis’s last hope.
Export permission was requested –several rescue sanctuaries overseas had offered to house and take care of Otis for the rest of his life, but this was ignored, there was to be no way out, the establishment was determined that one innocent dog must die.
The final blow:
As the last hours for Otis drew close, with exhausted voices, telephones and fax machines, we again urged the Home Secretary to intervene and then every veterinary surgeon in the country to refuse to administer the fatal injection, owners of pet dogs seized and held under the legislation all waited for news, knowing that their dog may be saved if Otis forced the law to change, there was nothing else at the time to cling onto as their dogs endured month after month in confinement, just like Otis had.
But on the 8th of February 1996 Otis was led from his kennel to a secret place of execution where he came face to face with the person who had agreed to end his life and this was to be his last encounter before his life was needlessly drained away. The legal team received a telephone call, after four years of struggle it was all over and Otis was dead. The news was devastating and we'll never forget the telephone calls of anger and the tears shed.
Click HERE to read the full European Court Judgement
There was once again national media interest & some of the headlines read:
for Otis’ – E. London Advertiser – Feb ‘96
‘Owners grief as ‘pit bull’ is executed under DDA’ – Daily Mail Feb.’96
‘Tears all round as Pet Dog Otis is put down’ – Hackney Gazette Feb. ‘96
‘Dogged by bad law’ – Daily Telegraph Feb. ‘96
Otis doomed to die as last appeal fails’ – Daily Mail Feb. ‘96
‘Death row dog put down after appeal fails – Daily Telegraph Feb. ‘96
EDDR members, Dr Roger Mugford, Cllr John Branch and dog owners gathered outside the Police Station awaiting the return of his lifeless body, ending four years of solitary confinement for him and four years of torment for his devoted owner.
His body was finally returned in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box, his body was laid out on the pavement for all to see, campaigners stood quietly by, the news cameras flashed and filmed, at this point in time, a terroist bomb exploded nearby and all the press ran towards Canary Wharf as members of the public came running past shouting.
Otis was gone but his memory was to live on. The campaign against BSL had strengthened; never did the Authorities and those in favour of breed bans ever envisage that dog owners would fight so strenuously for their pet dogs and fight they did against the full weight of breed specific legislation.
Otis was taken to the home of Dr Mugford and following a post mortem he was buried at his centre of animal behaviour.
Pictured here Harry holds his friend Otis freely, for the first time in four years and then laid him to rest.
of Otis’s body:
By S. Lindley BVSc MRCVS
Otis’s body was delivered to Harry bates on the evening of Friday 9th February 1996 at 6.30pm. He was enclosed in a cardboard box in a yellow incineration bag. Thorough examination took place on the morning of Saturday 10th February and the following findings were present:
a. All nails on four feet extremely worn.
b. The signs of old lying sores on both hocks.
c. Weight gain 34kg dead weight.
d. Severe wearing of all teeth.
Two upper incisors broken.
All front teeth worn so that the pulp was exposed.
Severe wearing of the lingual aspect particularly of the upper right canine.
A one third deposit of calculus on most of the teeth (more than one would expect for a 6 year old dog).
Wearing on the left hand side more pronounced generally.
e. Umbilical hernia.
Congenital in origin, but enlarged.
On incision this was confirmed as abdominal fat forced subcutaneously through a 1cm hernia.
I would suggest that this is due to over-feeding of Otis latterly, causing increased pressure on the hernia which was present. This hernia should have been noted and treated. This hernia would have almost certainly not have been reducible since there were adhesions present. The danger of intestinal entrapment was present.
Harry was left homeless and jobless with legal debts outstanding.
His had endured severe mental strain and emotional stress lasting FOUR years and had also incurred substantial legal cost, being criminalised in an effort to save his dog.
of man power, effort and huge amounts of public money –
to kill one friendly dog.
Was it worth it?
Or is it bureaucracy gone absolutely mad ?
OTIS – Remember his name
MP Jeremy Corbyn wrote:
Mr Bates, I was horrified to learn of the very speedy execution of OTIS.
I am in little doubt how traumatic an event like this is likely to have
been for you. I am writing to Mr Howard (Home Sec.) to express my outrage
and I enclose a copy for you.
Harry Bates’ letter to the Daily Mail Newspaper, published February 1996:
I write to you concerning
the recent state execution of a beloved friend – my dog Otis. I struggled
for four years to save my dog, my right not to be burdened with a criminal record
for the rest of my life, my right to justice.
I opposed the system, the Home Office, the Courts from Bow Street Magistrates to the High Court of Appeal and on to the European Commission of Human Rights, but to no avail.
Daily Mail readers came to my rescue when your paper published my plight and I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have helped me through this nightmare. Thank you to Tony Banks MP, J. Corbyn MP, Carla Lane, Jilly Cooper, Lord Lester QC, Dr Mugford and Cllr John Branch.
I have paid a hefty price for speaking out, I am homeless, jobless and financially destroyed for the rest of my life, our Government has taken from me the only true friend I ever knew.
I am told that the Dangerous Dogs Act was implemented to ‘protect the public’ I have never disputed this to be a priority, but I am also a member of the public, no one has protected my basic rights.
It is my opinion that Otis paced back and forth in his cage, imprisoned and patiently waiting for me to take him home. He, like me knew of no crime committed or of any danger to the public. I am tormented with the thought that my friends last memory was that of the face of his executor, he would have licked the hand which killed him. I have no knowledge of how, where or by whom he was killed.
I find it very difficult to believe I am living in a civilised country in the year 1996.
If Otis was human he would have endured solitary confinement, deprived of all visitors for 30 years on account of how someone thought he looked – in their opinion of the wrong hair and skin colour.
Mike Hall MP writes to the Secretary of State:
“Can you please let me know why a car is considered to be a public place in respect of the DDA? Is this interpretation one that was envisaged by the Government when they placed this Act on the statue book and is the Government happy for this interpretation to be used by the Police when they enforce the DDA. Can you please let me know what the full cost has been in respect of compounding dogs and keeping them in police custody since the DDA became law.”
Rt. Hon. Dame Angela Rumbold MP writes:
“I certainly do believe that the treatment of some of the dogs such as ‘Dempsey’ and ‘Otis’ under the Dangerous Dog Act has become completely beyond the intention of the Act, and I entirely agree now that there needs to be either a revision of the Act, or else much clearer instructions to those who carry out the provisions of the Act, to use common sense.”
Cllr. John Branch writes:
"On friday February 9th, I was one of the fifty or so people at Limehouse POlice Station, to support Harry bates when he was finally allowed to collect the body of Otis. Entering the police station at 6 o'clock we were told we had to wait as there was a bomb scare, 30 minutes later we were allowed to enter and collect the body of otis, which was in a cardboard box and wrapped in a dustbin liner.
We carefully opened the box and laid Otis out on a blanket which we placed on the pavement for the TV crew to film and take a statement from harry. Just before 7 o'clock we replaced otis in the cardboard box and as we were deciding what to do next; there was the loudest bang I have ever heard and we could feel the rush of wind and clouds of smoke rising from the other side of Canary Wharf; this was the moment otis and harry's fight to save his dog were blown from the pages of the press and T.V news coverage.
Everything is retrospective, otis, his supporters, our anger, the TV crew, the press, seemed to pale into insignificance after the bomb went off. If the police Station had been on the other side of Canary Wharf, I don't think I would be here now writing this letter!
Harry in those four years has lost his job, lost his house, lost his car, all to defend the dog he loved. harry has been shown no compassion from the Police throughout those 4 years. If there is a plus side to this tragic situation, its the friends and supporters that harry has gained in his long battle against this outrageous Dog Act. We owe it to Harry and to the memory of Otis to carry on the campaign to save innocent dogs and to fight the Dangerous Dogs Act until it is changed, to what is really wanted an Act against dogs proved to be dangerous. "
Salty Tears - A moving poem asks why did he have to die?
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