Hammersmith qc seal attack

Sabben-Clare's initial PR strategy.

The QC whose dog mauled a seal near Hammersmith Bridge initially tried to gag the press by instructing Schillings to prevent media outlets from naming her, it has emerged.

Rebecca Sabben-Clare QC of 7 King's Bench Walk was walking her dog off its leash near Hammersmith Bridge last Sunday afternoon when it attacked a seal popular with local residents for its antics, and which they had named 'Freddie Mercury'. The barrister, and others at the scene, tried to prise the dog off the wild animal. But the mauling left Freddie with a broken bone, dislocated flipper and joint, ligament and nerve damage.

The seal was taken to the Wildlife Hospital but had to be put down as a result of its injuries, and the attack led to people on social media calling for dog owners to exercise better control of their pets.

Sabben-Clare initially instructed reputation specialists Schillings to warn the press that identifying her would violate her right to privacy, according to Guido Fawkes.

But the Daily Mail ignored Schillings and printed Sabben-Clare's name anyway, along with pictures and, of course, the value of her home (£5.8million).

After the QC failed to stop the story, she opted to release a statement to the media instead: "I am heartbroken by this terrible accident. As an animal lover, I fully understand the dismay that has been expressed. I apologise unreservedly for what happened. In hindsight I wish, of course, that the dog had been on a lead but at the time that did not seem necessary."

She added: "I am hugely grateful to all those who helped at the scene. They were heroic. I left for my own safety and that of my dog, believing that there was nothing that I could do to help as the seal was being looked after by a vet and help had been called."  The barrister made a donation to the Wildlife Hospital, which treated the seal, for the "wonderful work it does."

Sabben-Clare confirmed the police had been in contact with her but would not be taking any further action and that, following the precedent it set with a fox-beating QC, neither would the RSPCA. 

"7 King's Bench Walk is deeply saddened by the death of a seal by the side of the Thames following an incident involving a self-employed member of Chambers," said a 7KBW spokesman. "This was a tragic accident which unfortunately resulted in the death of a lovely wild animal."   

When asked about the QC instructing Schillings, the 7KBW spokesman said: "Please be aware that Rebecca took her own advice in relation to this matter."

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Anonymous 26 March 21 08:48

Why has her set got a position on this?  What has it to do with them?  Has her accountant expressed any platitudes?  Maybe her bank manager could issue a bland statement.  'Our bank hates seeing cute animals being attacked.  It was nothing to do with us.'

Ta-Dah! 26 March 21 09:48

Seals are an absolute menace and their numbers are out of control. I'm amazed the mayor hasn't done something about them. They are completely unhygienic and often spread disease. Their droppings are known to be carcinogenic. When they turn feral they have been observed trying to  carry off small children. 

Or maybe that's geese. 

ItsJackieWeaverBitch 26 March 21 10:12

Really wonder what the response would have been if this was a white working class mum on benefits, or young black guy whose dog attacked the seal. Think the police would have taken much more of an interest.

Anonymous 26 March 21 10:57

@10:12 - I know it'll go down badly with the usual neg-trolls around here, but this case is a real flagship example of Rich White Woman Privilege. They masquerade as victims alongside poor, BAME and/or transwomen - but they're actually the most privileged people in the UK (even over and above Rich White Men). 

Think about it, if this had been a man's dog, then he'd be in jail under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

If it had been a BAME person's dog then they'd be in jail for even longer (and would have been called 'angry and shouty' for talking to the police about it).

If it had been a trans person then we'd have yet another week of stories about how trans people are all mentally ill psycopaths hiding in womens' toilets with attack dogs to rape women (and worse, the rich white ones...). Then JK Rowling would have shot a transwoman in the street and everyone would have cheered. Again.

Because, just like JK, if you're a Rich White Woman then you can literally set attack dogs on baby seals and transwomen in broad daylight and nobody cares.

Anon 26 March 21 11:03

Rookie error. The only people who ever seem to think injunctions or threatening letters work are lawyers without an iota of commercial sense or insight. The apology would have been far more effective (and perhaps appeared more sincere) had it come first. Schillings have taken her for a ride.

Anonymous 26 March 21 11:20

Ah, that explains why she got absolutely pummeled repeatedly. The most junior PR exec in the sector could have told her this was a dumb idea that would backfire. But no, barristers always know best. A hard lesson, hopefully learned. The folks at 7KBW must have had their heads in their hands over this.

Anonymous 26 March 21 11:30

@11:03   Yes, it's a complete PR fail. Jeremy Vine wrote this on Twitter about her trying to shut the media down:

"Apparently we aren't allowed to show any pictures of the QC whose dog killed the #HammersmithSeal — after a legal action against broadcasters — yet she has issued a statement in her own name. Would this apply if owner had been teenager in tracksuit? 


Anonymous 26 March 21 11:39

Awful for that poor seal. I shudder to think if it had been a toddler.

Tougher laws have to be brought in requiring owners to control their dogs/have them on a leash. 

Anonymous 26 March 21 11:51

With all that money surely she could have afforded a quick call to a PR agency as to how to handle this? 

Anonymous 26 March 21 12:09

Wow, the neg-trolls really are out for 10:57.

Is it angry upper middle class women scared of losing their privilege, or just transphobes? Or both? 

Disagree with Eric 26 March 21 12:35

A dog that attacks a wild animal it has never likely to have encountered before shouldn't be put down - it needs better owners. My dog has never seen a seal and would likely destroy one if she did and had the chance to. I can't imagine ever being in the position of letting her out of the house off lead because I can't risk that small chance of something new coming her way.

Dogs hunt/attack prey drive behaviour is normal. It is undesirable but it is normal and should be expected. This dog should never be allowed off lead in public. 

Anonymous 26 March 21 12:36

A good advert as to why comms professionals are needed in the legal world.

This will be used in case studies on "what not to do" in media relations courses across the land.

Angela 26 March 21 12:51

Domestic cats kill (and destroy nests of) countless wild birds, as well as mice, frogs, spiders... just because this was a cute seal the owner of the dog is being vilified. It’s utterly ridiculous. 

Anonymous 26 March 21 13:03

@12:35 - it shouldn't be allowed off of a lead in public because it should be in a pine box approximately six feet underground.

Scott of the Arctic 26 March 21 13:03

Feel really sorry for the dog. Seal meat tastes really awful, unless you are an Inuit and love seal blubber for breakfast, of course. But you wont know before you try. However, the fur really makes for some warm and cozy slippers. 

[Generic outrage ensues]

Anonymous 26 March 21 13:07

“The barrister, and others at the scene, tried to prise the dog off the wild animal.”

Did she? From the photos it looks as though she pooped her pants and didn’t even get close, with the three strangers being the ones that actually wrestled the dog off. 

I echo the comments of others that the police’s approach would inevitably have been very different had the owner been less privileged. This was very, very clearly an offence under section 3 of the DDA 1991 - as evidenced by the fact it took three strangers to step in to control the dog. She should be prosecuted and fined. 


Anonymous 26 March 21 13:16

Such a "sweet dog" that (by the looks of the pictures in The Standard) normally requires a shoulder harness attached to a lead attached to a belt round the owner's waist to keep it under control. 

la persona importante 26 March 21 14:07

She should be reported to the BSB - her accounts that she freely gave all her details do not line up with that she ran away, not giving any details, only coming forward when the police were asking to find out who she was together with her photographs being published in the press. This would be dishonesty and undermining trust and confidence in the profession.

She also claims she did not know her dog should be on a leash which is an intriguing claim given her knowledge of the area and the unmissable copious signage.


Anon 26 March 21 14:45

My dog nearly killed a heron the other day. I am just a lowly barristers clerk so they'd have thrown the book at me I imagine...

Anonymous 26 March 21 14:47

A very naive strategy by her to go against the Daily Mail to try and hide this. Surprising for a QC to get the tactics so wrong. It's resulted in the Mail and other papers going large on it.

Also means that the sincerity of her apology will be questioned, as she only came out with her statement after she'd failed to suppress the story. She should have engaged with the press, held her hands up and got her apology out first.  

Paul 26 March 21 14:57

If the seal had got eaten by a killer whale everyone would have shrugged and said nature is a stern master.  As someone else has pointed out, cats kill far more animals than dogs do and no-one gets upset about that.  Dogs sometimes catch the occasional squirrel but no-one gets too upset.  What's so special about a seal?

Anonymous 26 March 21 16:02

The apology and donation look like an afterthought, given that she'd tried to cover up the story. It all just seems like a reaction and a hollow gesture after she was found out.

Anonymous 26 March 21 16:09

@Paul 14:57 A dangerous dog that is out of control and kills a seal could be the type of dog that turns on a child. There's a reason why there's a Dangerous Dog Act and not a Dangerous Cat Act. 

Anonymous 26 March 21 16:32

If you can't control your dog, it shouldn't be off-leash.  My small maltipoo is really good about coming back when called.  Unless there's a squirrel.  She'd never manage to catch it, but she'd still given it a try, and could get hit by a car, or otherwise come to grief, so yeah, she's on a leash when we're out.  And even though she's pretty obedient, I don't want her chasing birds etc. in the first place. (Although I wouldn't mind if she'd do something about the mouse problem in the house...)

PR Manager 26 March 21 17:24

Working in PR for over 20 years my advice to clients in crisis management is that, unless you've got something really, really terrible to hide, it's better to have a conversation with the press, rather than antagonise them. The story usually finds a way to come out, and it will be much worse if you try to conceal stuff and start your version of events, after you've annoyed the media and the story has already broken. Case in point:


Barbara Woodhouse 26 March 21 17:40

Anon@1316 - you clearly know nothing about dogs, leads, harnesses or canicross belts.

Media relations expert 27 March 21 12:11

Suggested amendment to Rebecca's statement - 

"In hindsight I wish, of course, that Schillings had been on a lead but at the time I was trying to cover my as*."

Jane 27 March 21 20:00

She may be educated but her common sense is non existent.

Vile dog, poor seal and irresponsible owner.

A person who likes marshmallows 28 March 21 00:00

Who are we kidding. Schillings’ involvement didn’t result in the DM doubling down on her. They wouldn’t have been able to resist the opportunity to report on the fact she’s a QC AND lives in a £6m house. 

PR Manager 28 March 21 16:06

@ A person who likes marshmallows :  Even if you take that view, it's obvious that threatening the press with litigation certainly wouldn't have endeared herself to the DM and other tabloids. 

Timing is also key in PR. If she'd released her apology first thing to the press, she could have managed to quickly head off any of the (probably unfair) speculation that she'd tried to run away from the incident. By the time her apology came, a couple of days after the story was already out there, some people had already made up their minds that 'here's this rich woman who has tried to hide away and not accept her responsibility' etc. which lessened the effect of the apology. It may be harsh on her, as she offered her details to the vet on the scene and contacted the police, but it's a tough lesson in how to deal with the media.

Anonymous 29 March 21 15:57

You are all jealous. She did nothing wrong. She was walking along, and it was an accident. I know Rebecca and she wouldn’t hurt a fly. The dog probably thought that thing was a fox. I can’t believe you’d want to ruin a highly intelligent woman’s reputation of an oversized slug! 

This will blow over in a few days. You will all still be poor and unsuccessful. Trying to hit others who have done better than you in life when they’re down. Rebecca has worked hard all her life, went to the best schools, and ticked every box along the way. She recently won a huge big case for her set and everyone is overjoyed for her. Leave her alone!

Anonymous 29 March 21 23:25

You’re right - people are jealous of how rich and successful she is, and also how great she looked in her Sweaty Betty leggings. 

Confused 30 March 21 23:25

What does this story have to do with transphobia?! All up for righteousness indignation when warranted. But WTF...?

Badger 31 March 21 11:13

"You are all jealous. She did nothing wrong. She was walking along, and it was an accident. I know Rebecca and she wouldn’t hurt a fly. The dog probably thought that thing was a fox. I can’t believe you’d want to ruin a highly intelligent woman’s reputation of an oversized slug! 

This will blow over in a few days. You will all still be poor and unsuccessful. Trying to hit others who have done better than you in life when they’re down. Rebecca has worked hard all her life, went to the best schools, and ticked every box along the way. She recently won a huge big case for her set and everyone is overjoyed for her. Leave her alone!"

I can't tell if this is satirical. Haunting if not...


Anonymous 31 March 21 12:15

@23:25 - If you don't recognise the issue of structural transphobia in the UK then you are literally part of the problem. It is all around us because it is part of the fabric of society.

Be pro-trans and stand up for the rights of trans people. Just like action against racism, there is no place for passivity. If you are not pro-trans then you are, by definition, anti-trans.

Not sure 31 March 21 22:20

@anonymous 12:15

I’m not sure people necessarily fall into one camp or the other, that seems a false dichotomy to me. It seems like a non-binary question to me...

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