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Questions must be asked when playground fun turns to terror

PUBLISHED: 16:49 10 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:30 07 September 2010

READERS of this newspaper are fortunate to live in an area abounding with easily accessible wide open spaces. The vast majority of people who venture into areas like Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, Highgate Woods and Regent s Park behave responsibly, full

READERS of this newspaper are fortunate to live in an area abounding with easily accessible wide open spaces. The vast majority of people who venture into areas like Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, Highgate Woods and Regent's Park behave responsibly, fully aware of the need to do so in these privileged environments on their doorsteps.

But every now and then, issues arise between users with different objectives. In the past few weeks, there have been disputes over changing facilities at the Heath ponds, while the way in which pedestrians co-exist with cyclists in public parks has come to the fore yet again.

The Kenwood concert season always divides opinion, though this summer they attracted very few complaints despite the fact that more than 50,000 attended. And of course the nocturnal activities of 'quick thrill' seekers always attracts attention, especially when it involves international celebrities. It is precisely because people really value these great open spaces that controversy is so easily sparked. This week a war of words has even broken out between different groups of fitness enthusiasts!

But all this pales into relative insignificance when compared to the terrifying ordeal suffered by two-year-old Maurice Lambert, who is lucky to be alive after becoming a Staffordshire bull terrier's plaything while he was with his parents in a Primrose Hill playground.

Parents who take their children to the swings on a lazy Saturday afternoon do not expect to be at their side a day later in hospital, meeting medical experts to discuss the need for plastic surgery on their child's injuries.

It goes without saying that dog owners have a responsibility to control their pets at all times - that is the law -and it almost beggars belief that a Staffordshire bull terrier, a breed with a history of attacks on children, should be free to run around a park in the vicinity of a playground.

The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, particularly those with a special affection for pitbull-type breeds, but it is still alarming to see professional dog walkers with half a dozen or more dogs straining at the leash as they take them for their daily constitutional on behalf of owners who presumably have other things to do.

But after headline-grabbing events like this, it is important not to over-react to the dangers posed by pitbulls in particular - they are not the only breeds capable of inflicting injuries on small children. The Lamberts are also right to draw attention to the fact that the play area is not gated, something they see as a contributory factor in the chain of events which could so easily have led to their son's death.

If pitbull-type breeds and children are to be allowed to play in the same vicinity, as the law currently allows, it seems only logical that there should be a fence between them.

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