| Princess Anne at the East Berkshire magistrates court in Slough, England. (Reuters)
Slough (England), Nov. 21 (Reuters): Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter Princess Anne became the first British royal convicted of a criminal offence in 350 years today, pleading guilty to letting her dog bite two children.
Anne was fined £500 ($790) and ordered to pay a few hundred more in costs after admitting violations of the Dangerous Dogs Act, the first British royal guilty plea ever recorded. She could have faced six months in jail. Constitutional experts could recall no case of such a senior royal being convicted of a crime since Charles I was beheaded in 1649.
Anne’s three-year-old English bull terrier Dotty, who could have faced the death penalty, was spared. “I order that Dotty be kept under control for the rest of her life,” said judge Penelope Hewitt of the magistrates court in Slough, West of London. But she warned: “If there is a repetition... that is the end of it.”
Defence lawyer Hugo Keith went to great lengths to prove Dotty’s good character, calling a dog behavioural expert to testify and presenting character references from people who had known the dog.
The expert said Dotty was a dog of good character who had a problem with bicycles and grew agitated when the two boys, aged seven and 12, cycled by in Great Windsor Park on Easter Monday.
The judge described the owners as “extremely responsible people,” but added: “I do think that the children did suffer considerably from this experience.”
In an ironic twist, the case was listed as Regina — Latin for “The Queen” — vs. Anne Elizabeth Alice Laurence, symbolically pitting mother against daughter. Charges against Anne’s husband Timothy Laurence were dropped.
The guilty plea “will go down well with the public,” Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of nobility handbook Burke’s Peerage told Reuters.
“The fact that she pleaded guilty shows what sensible advice the royal family has received. Because otherwise it would have dragged on and made the Princess Royal look as if she was ready to combat this thing and make her look rather bellicose.”
The royals have been caught up in the sidelines of various court scandals in the past — both distant and very recent.
In the 1890s the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, testified in the so-called “royal baccarat scandal” over a gambling affair. Though he was charged with no crime, his mere appearance in court caused a scandal that rocked the monarchy. More recently, the royals have been plunged into controversy over the collapse of royal butler Paul Burrell’s trial who was accused of stealing the late Princess Diana’s possessions.
Burrell was acquitted after the 11th hour intervention of the queen — she told authorities she remembered he had told her he was keeping some of Diana’s things for safekeeping — raising questions about the monarchy’s relationship with the law.
Anne, younger sister of heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, was divorced from her first husband Captain Mark Phillips in 1992 and married Laurence later that same year. She is an avid charity worker, but is often accused of being prickly and rude.
She has accumulated several speeding violations over the years, dating back to the 1970s, but these caused only minor embarrassment and did not result in court appearances.
Royal biographer Robert Lacey said her appearance in court was a sign of how the royals had changed with the times.