A pro bono champion for dogs
2 April 1997
Worthing solicitor Trevor Cooper does not own a dog or, come to that, a pet of any sort. "I'm a busy general practitioner going flat out seven days a week and it just wouldn't be fair to own a pet," he says.
Yet in UK canine circles Cooper's name is legendary. He has probably saved more dogs from "death row" than any other lawyer and is the hero of dog lovers everywhere.
Last year he won freedom for one of the best-known condemned dogs in the country, Dempsey, the pitbull terrier. And recently, he won freedom for a seven-year-old mongrel bitch called Kizzie, who had spent half her life in police kennels after being wrongly seized as a pitbull terrier.
Kizzie was originally taken from owner, Jeanette Cragg's, north London home in July 1992 after claims that the bitch was a pitbull terrier and had been illegally walked in a public area without a muzzle.
That case was dropped in 1994 but Kizzie was seized by the police again as she was being returned to her owner. In March the following year a stipendiary magistrate ordered she should be destroyed after accepting police evidence she was of a "pitbull-type" breed.
Last October the High Court ruled that the police action had been "wholly inappropriate", but despite that ruling, police refused to free Kizzie on the basis that they had no formal order for her release.
The High Court has now made the formal order and Kizzie is back with her owner. Cooper was called in near the end of the battle and conducted a whirlwind fight for Kizzie's freedom. But he says it is still unclear whether the police plan any further action over the bitch.
Cooper's reputation in the canine world is unsurpassed. He is an acknowledged expert on dog law, lectures on the subject, sits on the Dangerous Dogs Act Reform Group, and has given evidence to parliamentary groups on the subject.
Cooper used to be a commercial lawyer, but his practice became dominated by canine cases after he took one on by chance and won a major victory. since then he has fought the legal corner for around 50 dogs, often acting on a pro bono basis, and of those animals only four have ended up being destroyed. He says: "I do feel I am able to be impartial and dispassionate about the subject. I like dogs but I would never adopt the view that everything with a tail that wags should go free."
As far as his fight for Kizzie was concerned he went into battle virtually blind. The owner's previous solicitor had gone to Australia and taken all the case papers with him. Cooper met Kizzie's owner when they appeared together on a television debate last November and, despite the lack of documentation, agreed to take on the case.
"I had to start from scratch and get bundles together," says Cooper, "but I think it is fair to say that the one thing no one can complain of is delay in this, the final round of this case. I was instructed in November and Kizzie was freed by the court in January."
He instructed counsel Pam Rose, who has worked with him on other dog cases, with James Townend QC leading in the successful final hearing.
Cooper is with the Worthing-based practice of Rosemary Hensby and says he is hoping to ease himself away from dog cases and back to a more general practice. But he admits: "Although that is my aim, I suppose the next time the phone rings with another dog lover, probably in tears, asking me to help, I won't be able to say 'no'."
One thing that does annoy him, however, is that his reputation as the legal champion of dogs has resulted in other lawyers ridiculing him. "They seem to think it is a joke that someone should be prepared to take on cases like this," says Cooper. "Frankly, though, I think many of them should take a long look at their own pro bono work.
"I believe everyone should take their share. We should all be prepared to put something back into the community that we take so much out of."