'PD Finn was stabbed with the biggest knife I've ever seen' - Police dog handler sobs in court while giving evidence in Stevenage stabbing trial
PUBLISHED: 14:18 11 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:08 12 May 2017
A police officer broke down and sobbed in court today when telling a district judge how his police dog was stabbed through the chest with 'the biggest knife' he'd 'ever seen' when trying to stop a suspect in Stevenage.
PC Dave Wardell made the statement during the trial of a teenage boy from Lewisham is accused of assaulting the officer and causing criminal damage to PD dog Finn on October 5 last year.
Prosecuting, Joan Gandolfi told Stevenage Magistrates’ Court that the accused was attempting to get away from police in the town’s Denton Road.
PC Wardell shouted at him to stop but when he didn’t and started climbing over a wall, the dog handler instructed PD Finn to stop him.
Miss Gandolfi said PD Finn – a German shepherd who retired at the end of March – took hold of the suspect’s leg and pulled him back to the floor.
The accused is said to have had a knife in his hand and stabbed PD Finn through the chest, before swinging the knife again and bringing it down on the police dog’s head. In trying to deflect the blow, PC Wardell said he received a 1cm wound to his knuckle.
The officer called for back up and picked up the bleeding dog, taking it to a police van nearby from where he was driven to a veterinary practice.
PC Wardell told the court he had been on duty with PD Finn when they received information about a suspect – who was believed to be armed – near the shops in Rockingham Way.
There were two firearms officers at the scene. PC Wardell and PC Finn began searching for the suspect and they came across him looking “panicked and out of breath”.
PC Wardell said he shouted to the suspect – who he believed was armed with a baton – to stop or he would unleash the dog, but the boy kept running.
He said he released PD Finn from his lead as it would be the only way to catch the suspect.
Going through a garden gate, the officer told the court he saw Finn on the other side of the gate and the suspect further away running towards a fence.
PD Finn then used his jaws to grab the boy’s lower left leg and pull him to the ground. The boy was lying on his elbows propped up against the fence and PC Wardell straddled the dog and was giving instructions about what the boy should do next when it is alleged he reared up and stabbed the dog.
PC Wardell broke down when he described the suspect withdrawing the ‘biggest knife’ he had ‘ever seen’ from PD Finn’s chest.
He told the court: “I knew we were in mortal danger, I thought, ‘he’s just tried to kill my police dog and the next thing is me’.
“I thought ‘we’ve got to do something about this now or we’re not going home’.
“He did not comply. He continued to run and he had a weapon.”
Defence counsel Rebecca Bax questioned whether PC Wardell had given sufficient warning to the boy that he would unleash the dog and suggested the officer had not caught up with the dog when the stabbing took place. She said the suspect had acted to defend himself because he thought the dog would continue biting him.
She claimed the boy was already lying on the ground when PD Finn bit him and was not trying to escape over a fence.
Ms Bax said the dog bit the boy for a second time and that police training records showed he had a “tendency to go for a second bite”.
She also claimed records showed the dog had had insufficient training during the previous year to be registered as a police dog, and therefore PC Wardell was acting outside the execution of his duty as a police officer.
Ms Bax said: “The dog you took with you couldn’t be considered to be a police dog. This dog attacked the suspect when he was already on the ground didn’t it?
“I suggest it was a completely different set of circumstances. This was a highly aggressive attack by a dog, not a police dog, that was out of control.”
“If they stop and are no longer running away, the dog has no right to engage with the suspect and bite him.”
She also said the wound to PC Wardell’s hand had most likely been caused when he tried to retain the dog himself.
Giving evidence, the suspect said he stabbed the dog because he feared he would be ‘bitten up’ and said he could only remember PC Wardell shouting ‘stop’ – not giving him warning that he would unleash PD Finn.
When asked if he thought stabbing the dog was a reasonable response, he said: “Yes because I was on the floor and the dog was coming at me and I thought it was going to bite me.”
He said he had been left with three deep holes and one shallow hole in his leg which had taken months to heal.
District Judge Jo Matson will give her verdict this afternoon.