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Court orders royal to train dog to be humble servant

Princess Anne on Thursday became the first member of the modern royal family to have a criminal record after pleading guilty to charges of losing control of her dog, which then bit two children.

The princess' acceptance of guilt turned the hourlong trial in the small suburban courtroom into a courteous argument over whether Judge Penelope Hewitt would exercise her right under the Dangerous Dogs Act to order the destruction of Dotty, a 3-year-old English bull terrier.

Hewitt concluded instead that the dog should be placed in retraining classes and put under stricter supervision. She said that the Princess Royal, as Anne is formally known, should pay a $790 fine, $395 in compensation to the children and court costs of $234.

The case _ Regina vs. Anne Elizabeth Alice Laurence, in literal terms, the queen taking her own daughter to court _ stood out on a docket otherwise occupied with cases of drunken driving, theft, burglary, receiving stolen goods, forgery and illegally tapping into electricity lines.

The Princess Royal, 55, appeared in East Berkshire Magistrate's Court with her husband, Commodore Tim Laurence, 47, and her two children by her first marriage to Capt. Mark Phillips, Peter, 25, and Zara, 21.

She arrived under police escort in the highest security operation residents ever remembered in this suburb of such concrete drabness that the poet John Betjeman wrote in 1937, "Come, friendly bombs, fall on Slough! It isn't fit for humans now."

The princess was asked at the outset to confirm her name and address and then to state how she pleaded. "Guilty," was her response.

The incident occurred April 1, two days after the death of Queen Mother Elizabeth, while the princess and her husband were walking their three English bull terriers around Windsor Castle.

As they approached a dividing line between the public and private parts of the grounds and were preparing to put their dogs into their car, two boys, aged 7 and 12, rode up on bicycles.

The court was told that Dotty jumped at the youths, knocking them over and causing them to panic.

The crown prosecutor, Anthony Smith, said the pet bit the boys and that they were "traumatized." The defense lawyer, Hugo Keith, said the dog only "nipped" them and added, "The court is entitled to believe that in time they will make a full recovery from the distress they have experienced."

One boy suffered cuts on his collarbone and legs, and the other scratches on his arms and legs.

Dr. Roger Mugford, a zoologist and psychologist described to the court as the leading expert in Britain on dog aggression, testified that Dotty was a "placid" and "playful" dog and that in the incident she had used only her incisor teeth, which terriers use to groom themselves, rather than the four "canine" ones they use to attack.

After delivering her verdict Hewitt told told the princess that Dotty should be kept on a leash in public and muzzled if there were any danger of her being upset by a "distraction."

The judge said she had no doubt the owners of Dotty were "extremely responsible" and that after undergoing the training that she was mandating, the dog would pose no danger to society.

But she warned, "It nevertheless is a big responsibility, and they have to be aware that if anything goes wrong, if there is another repeat of what happened on Easter Monday, then that is the end of it."

Historians say the last senior royal to be convicted of a crime was Charles I, who was beheaded on the eve of the civil war in 1649. A constitutional expert, Lord St. John of Fawsley, said Thursday's case pointed up the fact that royals with the sole exception of the monarch herself are "subject to the law like anyone else."

But the family of the injured boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said the decision was "neither moral nor just."

They said their children have nightmares over the incident and are fearful of all dogs. "If the dog had been put down," they said in a statement, "it would have been recognition of this and helped our children psychologically."