Legal Expert Says More Needs To Be Done To Protect Staff
By Helen MacGregor
A Hackney council worker who was forced to give up his job and postpone his wedding after being bitten in the face by a dangerous dog at work has spoken of his ordeal for the first time.
Anti-social behaviour officer Chris Dew was visiting a house with an RSPCA officer in response to complaints about dangerous dogs disturbing the neighbourhood in May 2011 when a Pitbull launched at him and bit him round the face and throat.
Chris suffered a puncture wound to his neck, but once he returned to work he developed a strong fear of dogs, suffered anxiety and felt he had no choice but to hand in his notice as he could no longer continue visiting people’s homes.
The 42-year-old, having also postponed his wedding to partner Clare due to the psychological reaction that left him irritable, depressed and seeking therapy, instructed personal injury experts at law firm Irwin Mitchell in a battle for justice.
He is speaking out after specialist lawyers from the firm found Hackney Council failed to protect staff when sending them to houses where they were at risk from dangerous dogs. The council has now admitted responsibility and agreed to pay Chris an undisclosed settlement for his loss of earnings, pain and suffering.
Claire Bracewell, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who specialises in helping victims of dog bites, said: “Whilst Chris was fortunate not to suffer serious physical injuries, the psychological impact this incident has had on his life is huge.
“All employees have the right to work in a safe environment that does not put them at risk, but sadly this was not the case for him. A proper plan needs to be in place to protect workers when they are faced with a dangerous dog.
“The impact of dog attacks cannot be underestimated and we hope to see action by the government to tackle this wider issue soon but also hope lessons have been learnt by the council about the importance of protecting staff.
“The settlement cannot turn back the clock but gives Chris financial stability after being out of work for three months and we hope it gives him peace of mind that justice has been done.”
Chris, who eventually married Clare in August last year, said: “I went to the house with an RSPCA officer after neighbours had complained about dangerous dogs and initially the owner put the dogs out in the garden.
“The RSPCA officer asked to inspect the dogs and when the owner opened the back door one of them ran straight to me and launched at my face. It was absolutely terrifying but thankfully it did not draw much blood.
“As the seriousness of what happened began to sink in, I started feeling more and more wary about dogs to the point I was terrified to go to work in case I was sent to a property where a dog was present.
“This made me anxious and depressed and affected all areas of my life, putting a strain on my relationship with Clare. We felt it best to postpone our wedding until I had things under control.
“Thankfully with help from a counsellor I have begun to come to terms with what happened but I had to give up my job and it was three months before I found a similar role with a new company.
“I just hope lessons are leant by Hackney Council about the importance of protecting workers who have to deal with dangerous dogs so no one else has to go through the same ordeal. I’m all too aware my injuries could have been much worse and a routine plan needs to be put in place to protect workers in these situations.”
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to dog bite claims