Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser - Friday 20 May 1932




What is understood to be the first case of its kind in the country was heard at the Tonbridge Police Court on Tuesday, when Brian Russell was fined for aiding and abetting Walter Morosco* in landing dogs from France at Capel on January 16th, without license from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and for making a false declaration with regard to the same.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Commissioners for Customs and Excise prosecuted, and Mr. Percy Robinson, instructed Sir Reginald Poole, of Messrs. Lewis and Lewis, defended. The Magistrates were Mr. C. W. Powell (in the chair), Mrs. Henry Hills, Mr. Vivian Phillipps, Mr. F. O. Streeteu, Mr. L. Walters, Major Nicholson and Captain | P. Atkin.

The summons against Morosco was adjourned for three months as he had returned to America. Mr. Robinson, on behalf of his client, pleaded guilty.

Mr. H. E. James, for the Ministry of Agriculture, said the landing of dogs or cats from the Continent was prohibited unless license was obtained from the Ministry, and when landed the animals had to go into quarantine for six months. At 8.30 a.m. on January 16th, Russell left Heston aerodrome for Calais, accompanied by an American, Morosco, in a plane which belonged to a relative of his. They landed at Croydon at 9.38 a.m. and chartered another plane, and booked passage to Calais. They left Calais for England, giving Heston their destination, at 3.15 p.m., but when a short way from Calais they were seen to stop and take on board two dogs. The plane passed over Lympne and came to Capel, where they had to make a forced landing owing to the bad weather conditions.

Morosco went to Lily Farm, which was near, and asked a boy he saw there if he had anywhere he could put his dogs, and they were accommodated in a barn, of which Morosco kept the key. Morosco went back to the plane, and when questioned by the local constable who had by then arrived, both he and Russell said they had been flying round Kent, and said not a word about having come from France. The constable found no luggage in the machine.

At 7 p.m. the door of the barn was still locked and the dogs were inside, but the next morning the door was unlocked and the dogs were gone. Russell and Morosco telephoned from the local hotel for a car and went off together. About the middle of April information came to the Ministry about this, and they set about tracing the dogs to put them in quarantine. An Inspector of the Ministry arranged a meeting with Russell and asked him about the landing of dogs at Capel, but Russell denied this, and refused to say anything before he had seen his solicitor. An interview was arranged for the next day with Russell and Morosco, and both admitted bringing dogs into the country and gave full particulars of them. The maximum penalty in this case was fine not exceeding £50 (around £2,400 today). It was a most serious case, more serious perhaps against Morosco than against the other defendant. The order made was never relaxed on any account whatever the position or plea of the person concerned. Up till 1902 there was rabies in this country, but by quarantine and other methods this was stamped out until 1918, when a smuggled dog introduced rabies into the South of England. It took from then until 1922 to stamp out the outbreak caused by that one dog, and during that period 358 people were known to have been bitten or affected by suspected dogs. The country had been free since 1922, but there had been several cases among the dogs while in quarantine.

Mr. Robinson said that as one who bore on his arm eight scars as the result being bitten by a French poodle he would be the last to dispute the observations made by the previous speaker as to the seriousness of the offence. Russell was not the principal offender, but Mr. Morosco being in America he would come before them at a later stage.

Russell was 27 years of age and bore an exemplary character. In 1926 he took up flying and joined the Air Force Reserve, qualifying as a pilot. Later he went to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Rio de Janeiro, and only returned last year. Mr. Morosco was staying m England with his wife, who had two dogs in France, and the lady fretted for her pets and Mr. Morosco was anxious that his wife should remain in England rather than go to France. This foolish young man went over to France, picked up the dogs and brought them over to this country. Their landing at Capel was nothing to do with having the dogs on board, but was due entirely to weather conditions. Russell sincerely regretted the offence, and would like the Bench to take into consideration his comparative youth and exemplary character; that he was not in any sense the principal but the secondary in the transactions; and that he had saved the authorities very considerable expense by the course he had adopted in admitting the facts of the case, for if he had not done so witnesses would have been brought over from France who saw the dogs taken up and saw him leaving France.

In view of these facts, and notwithstanding the serious nature of the offence, he asked them to deal lightly with him. Mr. Morosco was at present in America, where he had gone in connection with the film industry, in which he was engaged.

The summons for making a false declaration to the Customs and Excise officer at Heston was then proceeded with. Mr Stevens, on behalf of the Commissions, read the Clause in the Act dealing with the question of duties, and said that the maximum penalty for not making a true declaration was a fine of £200 (around £9,000 today) and/or six months' imprisonment. On January 17th Russell went up from the field at Capel and went to Heston where he was seen by the Excise Officer and interrogated by him. On the declaration form he gave particulars of the cargo as 'nil' and Mr. Stevens produced the form which stated that Russell had delivered no cargo out of his craft, when he had in fact delivered two dogs at Capel. The Commissioners did not want to press the case unduly, but they must take a serious view of a case like that. The whole object of the Act was to prevent prohibited and uncustomed goods from being delivered, for if that sort of thing was allowed to go on there was nothing to prevent these private pilots from dropping into the country all goods like cocaine, drugs, etc. Mr. Robinson said that while he did not seek to minimise the nature of the offence it did differ very considerably from the very considerably from the majority of cases of smuggling that they had in this country. There was no question of defrauding the Revenue, as no duty would be payable in respect of these dogs, and fortunately no harm had been done. He did not want Russell to be punished too severely for his foolish and indiscriminate act in which he was led away by people older than himself who ought to have known better.

The Bench retired, and on returning the Chairman said the gravity of the cases been pointed out, and they all knew it trouble there was if they had rabies in the neighbourhood. The Bench had decided that on the first summons defendant would be fined £25 or six months default, and on the second summons £100 or three months. The cost on the first summons would be 10s., and the second £4 (totalling around £6,000 in current values). Defendant was allowed four weeks in which to pay.

* Walter Morosco was an American film producer, writer, actor and director born in San Francisco in 1899. He worked for United Artists and Fox Film Corporation before signing a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. Morosco was married and divorced three times and the offence described above occurred while married to his first wife, silent movie actress Corinne Griffith, who he divorced two years later. Morosco died in 1948 at the age of 49 after suffering a stroke.