A ‘passionate’ dog lover brought the region’s motorway network to a halt by staging a bridge protest - after police seized his beloved pets.
Truck driver Eric Dallinger climbed over a barrier above the M6 after his two pets were held on suspicion of being a banned breed – causing the motorway’s closure and massive delays costing £1m.
The 51-year-old, of Higher Road, Longridge was jailed for six months at Preston Crown Court after he admitted causing a public nuisance – with the crown court judge saying he had to “send a message” to others.
He challenged his sentence at London’s Criminal Appeal Court, with lawyers arguing that, as his dogs were as important to him as his own family, he should have been handed a community punishment.
But top judges said the offence, which had a huge impact on the public, was “so serious” that he had to be sent to jail. Mr Justice Irwin told the court Dallinger, formerly of Bamber Bridge, is “passionately fond” of his two dogs ,and told a probation officer he would attempt suicide if they were taken away from him for good.
The judge said the incident happened after his pets were seized by police on March 1 during an unrelated raid on a property.
A specialist warden who examined the dogs concluded they may be a banned pitbull terrier breed, and they were kept in custody.
The following day, Dallinger rang the police and said he would lean over the railings of a motorway bridge if they didn’t tell him what was happening with his dogs.
On Monday, March 5, police received reports from the public shortly after 7.40am, saying a man was on the wrong side of the railings of a motorway bridge near junction 28 of the M6, at Leyland.
Both sides of the motorway were closed and specialist crews were rallied – preventing their use in other emergencies, the court heard.
When officers asked Dallinger why he was there, he said: “Because it is the only way I am going to get my dogs back – get them here now!”
Officers persuaded him to come back to the right side of the railings, and arrested him at about 8.30am.
The judge said traffic was at a standstill until about 9am, and the cost of the disruption was more than £1m.
Following his arrest, he threatened to mount another protest if he didn’t get his dogs back, and said he would have jumped from the bridge if he had been told while up there that they would never be returned to him.
During an interview with a probation officer, he said he hadn’t realised the full impact of his actions and was “genuinely regretful”.
He also told the officer he would try to kill himself if the dogs were never returned, and the officer concluded his pets had “almost assumed a greater importance in his life than his family”.
Challenging his jail term, imposed last month, solicitor advocate, Daniel King, said he should have received a community order or a suspended sentence for the offence.
Mr King said Dallinger was “genuinely distressed” by the removal of his dogs, and has taken steps following his offence to deal with the situation properly.
But, dismissing his appeal, Mr Justice Irwin said the crown court judge was right to say a message needed sending to others who might be tempted to commit similar offences.
The Appeal Court judge, sitting with the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and Mr Justice Openshaw, added: “This is a case where the impact on the public was notable and considerable.
“The judge was entirely right to emphasise the prospective impact on any sentence which did not consist of an immediate prison sentence.
“He was right to predict the potential effect of the signal of such a sentence, and to conclude this was so serious that it could only be met by an immediate sentence (of imprisonment).”
Speaking outside court after the hearing, Mr King said Dallinger’s his dogs remain in police custody pending proceedings in the magistrates’ court.