Dartmoor farmer slams sentence given to dog owner over sheep worrying
A farmer whose sheep were worried by dogs on Dartmoor has criticised what he has called a "pathetic" fine imposed by magistrates on the dogs' owner.
Campaigners said the rare prosecution sent out a clear message that sheep worrying would not be tolerated.
Douglas Symonds, aged 59, yesterday admitted two charges of being in charge of a dog worrying sheep near his home at Peatcot Farm near Princetown.
The case was brought to Plymouth Magistrates' Court in a rare prosecution.
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Gareth Warden, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said Symonds left his home with eight dogs, believed to be black and white collies, on March 30.
He said two of the dogs were seen by an independent witness to break free from the pack and chase some of the sheep on to the land of their owner, Graham Palmer.
Magistrates fined Symonds £10 for each offence, ordered that he pay £65 in costs and £15 victim surcharge.
Mr Warden added that Mr Palmer was worried the sheep would miscarry because they were heavily in lamb.
He said one of the collie dogs chased five of the sheep "for a considerable time" during the second incident, on April 13.
Mr Warden added that police found two dead sheep in a bog three days later but there was no evidence the chase had led to their death.
Mr Symonds, representing himself, said his partner Lisa Robertson trained sheepdogs which often took part in trials. He said he took the dogs for walks.
He added in the first incident one of his dogs "must have run off".
Mr Symonds said: "I shouted at him and he came back. The dogs are all trained.
"It was like One Man and his Dog, it is like you see every Sunday on BBC 2 during the summer. I did not think much more about it."
He was referring to the popular and long-running sheep dog trialling TV programme.
Mr Symonds said he knew nothing about the second incident.
He said he let one of the dogs out of the house in the morning so that he could "do his business".
He added there had been antagonism between him and Mr Palmer and he was now trying to move.
The presiding magistrate Jane Mutch said: "We are not making an award for compensation, because there is no evidence of any injury to the sheep."
Speaking after the case, Mr Palmer, who keeps flocks at Sheepstor and Princetown on Dartmoor, said that the level of the fines imposed was "piddling pathetic" and would do nothing to deter other dog walkers trying to keep a check on their dogs in future.
He added: "We have had 25 years of sheep being harassed and attacked by dogs.
"Overall we have lost hundreds and hundreds of hours of work and thousands of pounds.
"We have had enough and persistent offenders have got to be dealt with – I thought it would only be a fine but expected it to be more.
"This is sending out the wrong message – people have got to know they cannot let their dogs and could be in for a painful experience if they do."
The Protection of Livestock (dogs) Act 1953 imposes a £10 fine per offence in cases where dogs are proved to have been worrying livestock, rising to £50 where there has been a previous conviction.
Karla McKechnie, Dartmoor's livestock protection officer, said the prosecution, which was a rare event as incidents are usually settled privately, had been a success.
"It wasn't a big fine but it is good publicity against sheep worrying," she said.
"It shows farmers are not going to sit back and let their sheep get massacred.
"I cannot change the law but the fact that we got a sheep worrying incident to court and got a conviction was a positive result."