On 6 July 2018 a police dog named Ivy died from heatstroke after being left unattended for two hours in a West Mercia Police* vehicle on one of the hottest days of the year. So why has no one been held accountable for her death?
In February 2017 retiring police dog handler Sergeant David Evans was devastated to learn that his request to keep his canine partner of four years, German shepherd/Malinois crossbreed Ivy, had been refused by his employer, West Mercia Police (WMP). The force’s decision sparked a public outcry with a petition launched by Sergeant Evans’s daughter Jennie aimed at keeping the two together attracting more than 140,000 signatures. Sadly the campaign fell on deaf ears and Sergeant Evans and his cherished dog Ivy were separated for good.
Explaining the force’s decision, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham said that police dogs “are not family pets. They belong to the force and are highly valued resources“.
He continued: “Police dog Ivy is very young and has many years’ service ahead of her.”
Bangham’s words would soon come back to haunt him.
Less than 18 months later, it was reported that PD Ivy had tragically died inside one of the force’s vehicles. Her death had occurred during a period of unprecedented hot weather, with Met Office data for the day of the incident confirming that temperatures in the force’s area had exceeded 29 degrees.
Dogs die in hot cars …. duh!
Being well used to the regular warnings of animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA, Scottish SPCA and PDSA about the dangers of leaving dogs inside vehicles during warm weather, many people naturally speculated that this was what had happened here.
Could a police officer have acted so irresponsibly again? There was a history there after all.
Who could ever forget the cases of Sergeant Ian Craven of Metropolitan Police and Police Constable Mark Johnson of Nottinghamshire Police? Between them, these officers are responsible for the deaths of five police dogs after leaving them to bake to death in patrol cars.
Both Craven (actually a repeat offender) and Johnson were prosecuted in the courts under animal welfare legislation and also faced internal misconduct procedures, with the former ultimately resigning from the force (Johnson on the other hand had been promoted to sergeant as at February 2015). The pair were also subjected to public scrutiny and castigation after their respective cases received widespread coverage in the national press.
Not so the police officers, of all ranks, whose actions and indeed inaction caused the death of PD Ivy. We don’t even know their names.
An exercise in damage control: West Mercia Police’s misleading initial statement
Ever mindful of managing their reputation in an era where the UK police service is often the subject of public criticism, WMP were plainly anxious from the outset to play down any speculation that their officers were in any way to blame for Ivy’s death. The very next day they released the following carefully crafted statement (we’ve highlighted the significant bits in bold):
It is with great sadness that we share news today of the death of one of our serving police dogs who died yesterday.
Chief Inspector Mark Colquhoun said: “Five-year-old police dog Ivy was on duty at the time of her death. She arrived at work with her handler but had not participated in any activity.
Ivy was in a purpose-designed climate controlled police vehicle with another dog. She was discovered to be unresponsive and immediate medical care was provided by her handler.
Consequently she was taken to the local vets where she sadly passed away. The second dog in the vehicle was found not to be in any distress or unwell state.
As is established practice, a post mortem will be conducted to determine the cause of Ivy’s death and we are fully investigating the circumstances leading up to her death.
The implications of the statement couldn’t be clearer. WMP are blameless. Nothing to see here. Mind how you go.
It would be the best part of four months before the hideous truth would be made public (by which time many people would’ve forgotten about the case); PD Ivy had been left unattended and unchecked for TWO HOURS in the back of a police car on one of the hottest days of the year and HAD died from heatstroke.
The truth finally emerges: the findings of Staffordshire Police’s independent investigation
In late October 2018 Staffordshire Police released their Peer Review Report. The report identified a total of 17 serious failings by WMP’s dog handling unit, which had combined to create a ‘perfect storm’ where the death of one of the force’s dogs was, quite simply, an accident waiting to happen.
We won’t go through the report’s findings in detail here; BBC News provides a fairly decent summary of those. The report is well worth reading in its entirety, however, even though its exposure of police incompetence coupled with a culture of shocking indifference to dog welfare is liable to send any animal lover’s blood pressure sky high.
Regardless of the detail regarding the technical failures of the vehicle in which Ivy died, the crux of the matter is this. She, and her pod mate, were left in a vehicle parked in direct sunlight for two hours without a single check being made on them. It was extremely hot and continuously sunny, as it had been in the days leading up to 6 July.
Ivy’s handler was attending a training exercise at WMP headquarters in Worcester. He and several other dog handlers participating in the training left their dogs behind in vehicles. Due to lack of available parking in the shade, all of the vehicles were parked in direct sunlight.
There was no opportunity during the exercise for any of the handlers to check on their dogs (the two trainers didn’t see this as a problem and indeed left their own dogs in vehicles unattended for nearer three hours) and none of them saw fit to raise an objection.
Several of the handlers were well aware that the ventilation systems on their vehicles (air con, ‘run stop’ and the like) were unreliable and/or they were unsure of how to operate them correctly (no instruction had ever been provided to them and no one was proactive enough to ask).
It is more down to luck than judgement that no other West Mercia police dog has ever died in the same appalling circumstances as Ivy.
Each of those police officers, including the two trainers, one of whom was a former RAF dog handler, played Russian roulette with their dogs’ lives that day (and every other day, apparently) and in the case of Ivy’s handler lost with the most tragic of consequences. As always it’s the helpless animals who suffer most. Ivy is dead, the police officers involved haven’t received so much as an internal reprimand.
The review also makes a nonsense of WMP’s initial statement in four key areas:
The review included the results of the post-mortem examination of Ivy’s body, which confirmed that she had died from Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation, brought on by heatstroke. Ivy’s veterinary history revealed that she had no underlying health conditions that could have caused or contributed to her death. She was “a fit, healthy and competent police dog”.
The other dog
The surviving dog – a springer spaniel, as it turns out (funny how that not insignificant detail was omitted from WMP’s initial statement) – far from being unaffected was noted by three different eyewitnesses to be displaying signs of heat stress:
Section 5.4: “[The spaniel] seemed OK but was panting a bit as if suffering from the effects of heat.”
Section 5.7: “[redacted] went to get his water and get his spaniel out. (Redacted) recalls him looking hot and visibly puffing and panting“.
Section 5.8: [the spaniel] “collapsed down as if significantly affected by the heat” … [He] was not right, he was panting rapidly and was clearly adversely affected by heat.”
Furthermore, the report notes that the malinois breed has a pre-disposition for heat stroke due to the insulating nature of their coat, which makes it harder for them to lose heat. The much smaller and lighter springer spaniel is far more able to cope with high temperatures and humidity. Surely the author of WMP’s initial statement would have been well aware of this and should have made that information known from the outset.
The “purpose-designed climate-controlled vehicle“
The vehicle in which Ivy died was neither “purpose-designed” nor “climate controlled“. This was an ordinary Skoda estate car into which two dog pods had been fitted.
The pods housing Ivy and the other dog were fitted in the rear of the vehicle. These would need to be built to DEFRA and RSPCA guidelines, i.e. of a specific size and with adequate ventilation.
Dog pods can be equipped with technology capable of monitoring both temperature and humidity as well as cameras and heat alarms. The pod unit housing Ivy and her pod-mate had a dedicated air-con system, but nothing else.
To call the police patrol car in which Ivy died a “purpose-designed climate-controlled vehicle” is, quite frankly, bullshit.
Besides this, none of the handlers had been trained on the effective operation of any of the ‘climate control’ features of their vehicles. Some even expressed doubts as to the reliability of integrated systems such as the air-conditioning and ‘run-stop’.
Any reasonable lay person might wonder why, given this knowledge, these officers saw fit to leave their dogs in these potential death traps at all, never mind for two hours without a single check being made.
The “immediate medical care” administered to PD Ivy
The report reveals that Ivy’s handler had not been trained in canine first aid and didn’t even know how to use the first aid kit for dogs that was kept in his vehicle. Instead, he attempted some basic CPR, including chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which was ultimately futile.
Another dog handler also had a go at resuscitating Ivy, but again not being trained in canine first aid, admitted she wasn’t sure what she was doing.
The Keystone Cops have nothing on this lot.
A local vet had been asked to attend the scene but refused for reasons that are not made entirely clear in the review. While unlikely given that she was barely alive when her handler finally returned to check on her, it is always possible that earlier medical intervention could have saved Ivy’s life.
All of this exposes WMP’s initial statement as profoundly misleading. The force is clearly spinning a narrative designed to give the impression of an efficient, proactive organisation and to fend off adverse publicity.
Given that honesty, integrity and transparency are the foundations of the police service this blatant attempt at cover-up is indefensible.
The harshest of lessons
In a statement published on their website on 25 October 2018, West Mercia Police said they accepted the review’s recommendations and affirmed that they would be developing a number of initiatives and updating their procedures relating to police dogs. They also said that they would share the ‘lessons learned’ with forces across England and Wales.
Assistant Chief Constable of WMP Geoff Wessell concluded: “We accept that PD Ivy should not have died as a result of heatstroke and we have learned this very harsh lesson in the worst possible way.”
Repercussions (or lack thereof)
WMP’s acceptance that mistakes have been made is all very well and good – Ivy’s death has clearly given them a much-needed wake-up call – but a beautiful and much loved dog has still lost her life and for that there needs to be consequences. If Ivy had been human, those responsible would be PUNISHED. Contrition on its own simply won’t cut it.
Sadly it would appear that that’s as far as it’s going to go. As matters stand, no one is to be prosecuted or even disciplined in connection with the death of PD Ivy.
“No criminal offences identified”
The RSPCA, who held off any involvement in the case pending the outcome of the police’s internal investigation, have now confirmed that they are satisfied that Staffordshire Police’s “full and thorough investigation into the circumstances of Ivy’s death … did not identify any criminal offences”.
We disagree. Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 places a duty of care on people to ensure they take reasonable steps to meet their animals’ welfare needs with an obligation to protect them from “pain, suffering, injury and disease” and to provide them with “a suitable environment”.
The facts and circumstances surrounding the death of PD Ivy reveal a very obvious dereliction of that duty of care in this case.
Besides this, Staffordshire Police’s review explicitly states in its terms of reference that its purpose is “not to attribute blame” and nowhere does it say that investigators are seeking to identify whether any criminal offences (or indeed misconduct issues) have been committed. The review merely presents the evidence gathered and makes recommendations for improvement to prevent a recurrence.
To say the RSPCA’s stance is puzzling is an understatement especially as they regularly prosecute ordinary members of the public irresponsible enough to leave their dogs in vehicles during hot weather – and rightly so. So why is this case any different?
Police officers are not above the law. They should be responsible for what they do or don’t do, just like everyone else.
We’re not RSPCA-bashers as a rule but we would urge the charity to have a serious rethink of their decision not to prosecute here.
“No case for misconduct”
WMP accept that Ivy’s death was preventable and should not have occurred. Staffordshire Police’s review laid bare a catalogue of errors by officers of all ranks, coupled with a cavalier and lackadaisical attitude towards the welfare of police dogs. So why then has the force concluded that there is “no case for misconduct“?
The public is entitled to expect the highest standards of behaviour from police officers and these officers have fallen well short of those expectations.
On a more practical level, there has also been a financial loss here (in the words of Chief Constable Bangham, police dogs are “a highly valued resource”, remember?).
It is estimated that it costs around £24,000 to purchase and train a police dog – that’s taxpayers’ money gone to waste. Surely there has to be accountability for that at the very least? Not our key concern, but another possible argument for disciplinary action.
As passionate animal welfare campaigners, we are not prepared to accept that no one is to be punished for Ivy’s death when it’s plain as day that a lack of care was the cause of it.
With this in mind, we are to write to West Mercia Police seeking their response to the following questions in connection with Ivy’s death:
- Was any police officer even investigated for potential misconduct? If not, why not?
- Why were dog handlers not issued with instructions on the correct operation of their vehicles’ air-conditioning and other climate-control features?
- Was any consideration given to postponing the firearms training exercise on animal welfare grounds in light of the unprecedented period of hot weather? If not, why not?
- Why were participants in the training exercise not given an opportunity to check on their dogs? Who is responsible for this decision and why haven’t they been disciplined?
- Why was no provision made for dog handlers to be allocated parking in a shaded area of the car park? Staffordshire Police’s report says that dog handlers parked in direct sunlight because “there was nowhere else to park”. Do you consider that this would have been an acceptable excuse from a member of the public?
Should we receive an unsatisfactory response or feel we are being fobbed off, then we will make a complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
One animal welfare campaigner with a special interest in the PD Ivy case has already made an official complaint to the West Mercia Police Professional Standards Department about the handling of the inquiry and the force’s decision not to take disciplinary action against any of the police officers involved.
The complaint was rejected on the grounds that it didn’t “fit with the police complaints procedure”. The justification for this is quite technical and appears to relate to the complainant not being an eye witness to the events of that day. Further investigation suggests that the rejection was incorrect and this is something we would like to challenge. Watch this space.
We will also be writing to the RSPCA asking them to reconsider their decision not to prosecute anyone, despite an obvious breach of the Animal Welfare Act.
Finally, while we are encouraged by the fact that the recommendations made by Staffordshire Police are to be shared across police forces in England and Wales, we would like to follow up on that. In the coming weeks we will submit Freedom of Information requests to each police force with a dog handling unit. We will file similar requests with Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). We aim to have this completed well before autumn 2019.
As we approach the first anniversary of Ivy’s death, we can take some comfort that her tragic loss hasn’t been in vain. At the very least it seems to have shaken West Mercia Police out of their complacency and indifference to animal welfare. It has led to them launching new protocols and making much-needed changes to the treatment and handling of the dogs in their care.
It is also encouraging that other UK police forces are apparently to learn valuable lessons from the events of that day as we’re quite certain West Mercia aren’t alone in their laissez-faire attitude to dog safety.
While none of this will return Ivy to life, it will, if implemented properly, bring about better protection for other UK police dogs, who after all are sentient beings and not equipment, so that there is no opportunity for other police dogs to be put in harm’s way as Ivy was that day.
*When Ivy’s death occurred, West Mercia Police were in a strategic alliance with Warwickshire Police. Staffordshire Police’s report refers to ‘the Alliance’ in its report rather than ‘West Mercia Police’. The two forces have since demerged and all communications regarding the death of PD Ivy have been issued by West Mercia Police and all media reports on the incident have also referred to ‘West Mercia Police’. For the purposes of simplicity we have done likewise in our article.