UK Politics

Heseltine: I did not kill my mother's Alsatian

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Media captionLord Heseltine told Radio 4's PM it was ridiculous to think he had killed the dog with his bare hands

Lord Heseltine says it was a "terrible misrepresentation" to say he killed his mother's pet dog, an Alsatian called Kim, after it started biting him.

He told Tatler magazine the animal had a "mental breakdown", so he grabbed it by the "choker chain - and pulled it tight" until "he went limp".

The ex-deputy PM clarified to the BBC that Kim had not died but reverted to being "the dog we all knew and loved".

He had a "terrible dilemma" but had him put down the next day, he added.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's PM programme, Lord Heseltine said he had been minding Kim one day in 1964 when the dog appeared to have developed a problem with its paw.

He said when he reached down to help, "the dog flew at me... on his hind legs".

'No choice'

"I immediately got out of my chair," he added, "and there was a certain amount of blood, as he was biting my wrists. I shouted to my wife to get out of the room as she was heavily pregnant at the time.

"I managed to catch the choker chain that was around his neck and, twisting that, obviously got a grip on the dog.

"After, it all seemed so long in the event but it probably wasn't more than 15 seconds, he went quite limp and reverted to being the dog we all knew and loved."

Who is Lord Heseltine?

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Nicknamed "Tarzan" because of his combative manner and long blond hair, renowned by the press as a Conservative "big beast", Michael Heseltine has been a major figure on the UK political scene for decades.

Having made a fortune in publishing, he was an MP from 1966 to 2001. He hit the headlines in 1976 when he grabbed the Mace - the five-foot-long silver club which sits on the table in the middle of the House of Commons - and waved it threateningly at Labour MPs.

After Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, the ambitious and politically centrist Heseltine became environment secretary and then defence secretary. In the early 1980s, he was tasked with turning around the fortunes of inner-city Liverpool, following the Toxteth riots.

But he and his boss had a huge fall-out in 1986, over a complex dispute involving the future of Westland helicopters. In dramatic style, he quit and walked out in the middle of a cabinet meeting.

Heseltine remained on the backbenches until, in 1990, with Thatcher apparently losing popularity among the public and her own party, he launched a leadership bid. He didn't win but inflicted enough of a blow on the PM's prestige for her to resign.

John Major won the next contest, but Heseltine, an ardent Europhile, returned to the cabinet, rising to deputy prime minister in the last two years of Major's premiership, a period beset with Conservative disputes over the UK's relationship with the EU.

Heseltine retired as an MP and entered the Lords, where he continued occasionally to speak out on issues dear to his heart - including putting the Remain case during the EU referendum campaign - and also returned to publishing.

Lord Heseltine said the incident had left him with a "most awful dilemma" about what to do with Kim.

"We had to talk to the vet," he said. "There isn't any choice. Frankly, you cannot have your wife left alone in a flat or my mother when she came back with an Alsatian that can go berserk."

Stories involving an altercation between Lord Heseltine and a dog have been in circulation at Westminster for decades.

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Image caption Lord Heseltine said he feared Kim would also attack his wife, pregnant at the time

In 1990, when he was running to be leader of the Conservative Party, the Observer newspaper mentioned a rumour "in which Heseltine allegedly strangled his own pet at a party", but this was dismissed by one of his biographers as "journalists' exaggeration".

Asked about a similar story, in which he was said to have killed a dog with his bare hands after it attacked a child, Lord Heseltine told Tatler about Kim instead, leading to misplaced speculation on social media that he had killed - rather than disabled - it.

Shot squirrels

An RSPCA spokesman said the organisation "can only investigate and prosecute summary-only offences - like those under the Animal Welfare Act - within three years of that alleged offence being committed".

"There is no rule that says a dog should automatically be put to sleep if it bites someone," he added. "If you are concerned about your dog's behaviour, the RSPCA would advise that you seek expert advice.

"It is important to get your pet checked by a vet, as the dog may have become aggressive due to being in pain. If a vet rules out any form of illness or injury that could be causing the issue, they can then refer you to a behaviour expert for further help."

Earlier this month, Lord Heseltine revealed he had shot 350 grey squirrels in six months at his home in Northamptonshire.

The 83-year-old was deputy prime minister from 1995 to 1997, having previously served as defence secretary, environment secretary and president of the Board of Trade.

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