Dangerous dogs kennelling costs police £3.7m

media captionThere are fresh calls to take action on dangerous dogs

Kennelling types of dogs suspected of being dangerous, cost police at least £3.7m in 2010, according to figures given to BBC Newsnight.

During that period, 2,493 dogs were held by the 29 police authorities in England and Wales that kept records.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which applies to England and Wales bans four types of dog.

But critics say the legislation is not fit for purpose and has failed to curb the number of dog attacks on people.

Out of control

Figures detailing the kennelling costs - the most recent available - were passed to Newsnight by Labour MP Luciana Berger, who obtained the data under a Freedom of Information request as part of her campaign for new dangerous dog laws.

The 1991 legislation, still in force in England and Wales, bans the ownership, breeding of, sale or exchange of the pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa, the dogo Argentino and the fila Brasileiro.

It also gives police powers to deal with any dog, whatever the type or breed, that becomes out of control in a public place - with the ultimate sanction for a dog to be destroyed. Amendments in 1997 gave courts discretion over this and over the sentencing of owners.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have both amended their laws on dangerous dogs in recent years to reflect concern from workers who enter a private property and from members of the public.

'Urgent action'

Ms Berger has called on the government to take "urgent action" and grant the police powers of preventative action which could avoid the need, and cost, of kennelling.

Her proposals would allow police to take action on private property, produce dog control notices and instigate compulsory micro-chipping, so that dogs and their owners can be traced more easily.

"This isn't a party political issue, there are MPs from across the house... that are demanding of government to wake up, pay attention and take some action. We cannot afford to see another child die. We've seen six children lose their lives since 2006," said the MP.

One of those children was John Paul Massey, who lived in her Liverpool Wavertree constituency.

John Paul, four, was mauled to death by a pit bull terrier at his uncle's house in 2009.

'Safe not sorry'

In June 2010, Christian Foulkes, was jailed for four months for breeding and owning the dog, and John Paul's grandmother was given a suspended sentence and banned from keeping dogs for life.

John Paul's mother, Angela McGlynn, has started a campaign to raise awareness of the risks posed by all types of dogs, and has called for them to be muzzled around children.

"People just seem to think it's not my dog, or it's the owner. And it's not. It's the actual dog. And it's not just the pit bull, it's many dogs. It's better to be safe than sorry."

The Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on dangerous dogs, Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Pritchard, said that the inflexibility of the law had led to high kennelling costs and a "gap in public protection".

"We do need powers to concentrate on people who use dogs as weapons in the communities, people who are seeking to use it as a status.

"So therefore, we do need robust legislation to tackle these offenders and ensure that they understand their responsibility," he said.

According to figures from the NHS, 6,005 adults and children were admitted to hospitals over the year to March 2011, after being "bitten or struck by a dog", the fifth successive year-on-year increase.

The government estimates that treating dog injuries costs the NHS more than £3m a year.

Ministry of Justice figures show that between 2009 and 2010 the number of people sentenced for dangerous dog offences rose from 855 to 1,192.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has long been one of the most controversial pieces of legislation on the statute book.

Critics accused the then government of rushing it into law under media pressure and that it has failed to achieve its aims.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the BBC that it expects to announce proposals for dealing with dangerous dogs, following a consultation that ended more than 18 months ago, some time in the next few weeks.