A BURNLEY woman has accused park rangers of 'picking on innocent dog owners' after she was cleared by a magistrates' court of dog fouling.
Nikki Needham, 47, successfully challenged the £75 fixed penalty notice at Burnley Magistrates' Court after denying the offence.
After the case was dismissed, she said: "I feel like Erin Brockovich. I just hope that it shows other people that you can fight and win."
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Nikki said she was walking her Labrador/Doberman cross Co-Co on Fulledge recreation ground when she noticed him crouch down.
The mum-of-two, of Hinton Street, said: “I always carry gloves and a bag with me while I’m walking Co-Co so I’m always prepared.
“I went to pick up his poo but could see he hadn’t done anything. He’d just assumed the position.
“When I looked up, the park ranger was walking toward me. I thought he was being nice and coming over to help me so I just called out ‘it’s ok he hasn’t done anything’.”
She said the park ranger didn't believe her and pointed to dog mess 10 feet away.
She added: "He said to me, ‘I can see it. I’ve been very patient with you but it’s obvious you just can’t see it’.
“I asked him to show me so that I could pick it up but he pointed to some faeces that was nowhere near.
“I couldn’t believe that he was saying that my dog had done it because it was so obvious that it wasn’t where Co-Co had been. It was about 10 feet away.
“I told him that it wasn’t mine but I picked it up anyway, just to show willing.
“But the next thing I know, he’s pulling his pad out of his pocket and slapping me with a fine.
“I was really angry. I hadn’t done anything wrong and I’d even picked up someone else’s mess and I got a fine.”
Nikki, who works as a mental health nurse at Airedale Hospital, said she refused to pay the fine and was summoned to appear at Burnley Magistrates' Court.
She said: “I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong and it would have been so easy for me to just give up and pay the fine but I just thought, no. They can’t get away with this. The park rangers in Burnley are picking on responsible dog owners and it’s just not fair.”
Magistrates dismissed the case as there was 'enough reasonable doubt for an acquittal.'
Nikki believes that responsible dog walkers are being unfairly targeted as part of Burnley Council’s 'zero tolerance' approach to dog fouling.
She said: “I know lots of dog walkers that this has happened to and they would never dream of leaving their dog’s mess behind.
“It’s an easy way of making money because often people will just opt to pay the fine rather than the hassle of going to court to fight it. I nearly did the same thing. You never think you’re going to win.
“I’m really glad that I didn’t now because I think that us dog walkers are going to have to stand up to it."
Between August 1, 2013 and August 1 2014, Burnley Council issued 146 fixed penalty notices for dog fouling. Nikki was issued with her ticket on January 22.
The council said that certain staff are trained to issue fixed penalty notices to owners who fail to clean up after their dogs.
These staff, who are not issued with cameras, may issue a FPN if they spot an offence taking place as they carry out their other duties.
The council also said that the staff who issue FPNs do not have targets to meet or receive any commission and only issue notices as and when they feel it is appropriate to do so.
A Burnley Council spokesman said: “The magistrates determined that whilst the park ranger had given a factual account of the incident there was enough reasonable doubt for an acquittal.
"Mrs Needham had the opportunity, as everyone does, to challenge the fixed penalty notice prior to this matter being taken to court, but declined to do so.
"We know that residents want us to take strong action against dog fouling and we’ll continue to issue fixed penalty notices and prosecute those that don’t pay. ”