A police dog which bit a woman while breaking up a rave near Bristol cannot be named, a tribunal has ruled. The decision ends a two-year long battle to reveal the dog’s name, its records and whether its handler commanded the dog to bite the woman’s leg.
Jessica Mae Andrew was left needing surgery after attending a Halloween rave in Yate in 2020, when police broke up the lockdown-breaking event with force. A police dog mauled her leg while she danced and she said at the time that it had left “a gaping hole in my calf bigger than my fist”.
Since the attack, Avon and Somerset Police have faced dogged questions over why the incident was allowed to happen, disproportionate force and what training and qualifications the dog’s handler had received. But the new ruling leaves many questions unanswered. The First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) has now dismissed an appeal asking for the police to release the data as a freedom of information request, as naming the dog could also reveal the name of its handler, which is exempt under freedom of information law.
Edward Williams initially made the freedom of information request to Avon and Somerset Police in November 2020, a few weeks after the dog bite occured. He asked the police force to reveal the names of the dog and its handler; the dog’s police records; and the handler’s training record and qualifications.
He also asked the police whether the handler commanded the dog to attack Ms Andrew, and why the dog attacked her. But the service refused to reveal the information, due to exemptions about personal information and ongoing investigations.
Exhausting every avenue, Mr Williams asked the police for an internal review into its handling of the freedom of information request. When this was not forthcoming, he appealed to the Information Commissioner, which acts as a national regulator for data requests. When this data was still not published, he appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights).
Anthony Snelson, judge of the First Tier Tribunal said: “There is no room for any doubt that these are all requests for personal data of the dog handler. It is not in question that identification of the dog would inevitably reveal his or her handler; likewise, identification of the dog’s records.”
Hundreds of people attended the Halloweeen rave at a warehouse in Beeches Industrial Estate, and at least a dozen were convicted. Police said they faced “significant hostility” when breaking up the rave.
Ms Andrew was given first aid and taken to hospital. An Avon and Somerset Police spokesperson previously said: “The investigation into the complaint concluded there was no indication the dog handler behaved in a manner requiring disciplinary action or individual training. Any injury sustained during police contact is regrettable. An apology was made to the complainant for the injury she sustained.”
After the incident happened, Ms Andrew told the Independent: “I was dancing when I was attacked with no warning at all. The dog came out of nowhere, grabbed me by the thigh and pulled me to the floor. The dog was totally out of control, it was traumatising. It felt like it was on me for around three to four minutes. An attack dog is a horrific weapon.”