Watchdog gives verdict on West Yorkshire Police decision to return dog that went on to kill Huddersfield man David Ellam

A police watchdog has published the findings of its investigation following the death of David Ellam, top right, and conviction of dog owner Aaron Joseph, bottom right.
A police watchdog has published the findings of its investigation following the death of David Ellam, top right, and conviction of dog owner Aaron Joseph, bottom right.

Officers who tried to stop a dog attack which claimed the life of Huddersfield man David Ellam have been described as courageous and resourceful by a police watchdog.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) today published the findings of its investigation into West Yorkshire Police's response to the call reporting the deadly attack in 2016 and its earlier decision to return the dog responsible to its owner.

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It found officers arriving at the scene successfully fought off the dog and the force had done everything asked of it during earlier assessments of the animal's breed.

But it recommended further training on how to handle dog attacks against members of the public and more formal procedures for checks on dogs possibly belonging to banned breeds.

Mr Ellam, 52, died after being attacked by the mongrel bull terrier on his own doorstep on August 15, 2016.

Father-of-three Aaron Joseph was jailed for 10 years in February after being convicted of owning a dog dangerously out of control, causing injury resulting in death.

IOPC regional director Miranda Biddle said: “Firstly, our thoughts remain with the family and friends of David Ellam, and all those affected by this tragic incident.

"We recognise that the publication of our report will once again highlight the tragic circumstances in which he died, but I sincerely hope that our findings provide answers regarding West Yorkshire Police’s actions.

"I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Ellam’s family for their assistance with our investigation."

The investigation was completed in December but publication was delayed until after the conclusion of the trial and the recent confirmation that an inquest would not be resumed.

Using statements from officers, eye witnesses and radio transmissions, investigators found that officers arrived just eight minutes after they were called on the day of the attack.

One of the officers used a fire extinguisher to force the dog away, actions which the IOPC said showed "considerable courage and resourcefulness".

The other officer searched for the dog in an effort to stop it harming others.

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The investigation noted both of the officers’ actions helped to stop the attack and allow for emergency medical treatment to be given to Mr Ellam.

Ms Biddle said: “The quick thinking of the officers who arrived to help Mr Ellam cannot be underestimated.

"I share the view of our investigator that they acted rapidly and decisively during a sustained and vicious attack, and it’s only right that they should be commended for their courage."

The IOPC found that Kirklees Council had issued a dog control order to Joseph in 2012 and, following a complaint four years later, asked the force to assess the dog to see if it was a banned breed.

A suitably qualified officer determined that it was not and, as there were no legal grounds to keep it, returned it to Joseph.

The investigation found evidence of clear exchanges of information between the force and the local authority during that time.

Investigators also had the dog independently assessed, prior to the decision being taken by West Yorkshire Police for it to be destroyed, and had access to post-mortem results; all of which corroborated the officer’s original assessment.

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Ms Biddle said: “When someone sadly dies following contact with the police, it’s vital that we independently investigate the circumstances.

"In this case it was important to establish, not only how the force responded to the attack but, what role the force had in the decisions made to remove and return the dog to Aaron Joseph.

"We found West Yorkshire Police did everything asked of them by the local authority correctly."

The IOPC noted that the force does provide training to officers on how to protect themselves from dog attack, but it has recommended additional training in how handle dogs attacking members of the public.

It has also recommended that there be a more formal procedure established to communicate with local authorities requesting checks on possible banned dog breeds, as recommended by DEFRA.