The mother of an 11-month-old girl who was mauled to death by an American pit bull-type dog has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter along with her partner.
Police described the “horrific” scene after being called to the house in Blackburn, Lancashire where paramedics battled to save Ava Jayne Marie Corless who later died from her injuries in hospital.
She is the 17th person to die in a dog attack in the UK since 2005. Neighbours said they had made previous complaints about an aggressive animal in the street.
The pit bull is one of the only breeds currently banned under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act. New legislation designed to curb aggressive dogs is set to become law later this spring.
Police said the child was upstairs in bed when she was savaged. Her mother Chloe King and partner Lee Wright were downstairs when the attack happened.
Chief Superintendent Chris Bithell of Lancashire Police said: “This is an absolutely horrific incident in which a baby girl has lost her life and I would like to take this opportunity to express my own personal sympathy to the wider family of baby Ava.”
He said the animal had been destroyed and tests were being carried out to establish the exact breed of the animal.
The child’s father Dean Corless, who was separated from Ms King, said he was devastated by the tragedy. His family described her as “like a china doll … a lively baby and always happy.”
A post mortem examination is due to take place.
The couple were initially arrested on suspicion of neglect although they were later rearrested on the more serious charge of manslaughter.
Blackburn MP, the former Home Secretary Jack Straw, said families needed to be alert to the dangers of such animals. “What will it take to convince people not to keep dogs like this - and to get across to all dog-owners, of every breed of dog, that no dog should ever be left unsupervised with a baby?”
Postal workers union the CWU, which has campaigned against dangerous dogs, said: “Dog control laws in England and Wales are rightly being strengthened later this year. Current arrangements are simply not good enough and the punishments do not fit the crimes.”
What about the law?
Local authorities and police are to be given greater powers to intervene to prevent attacks and jail irresponsible dog owners in the wake of continuing toll of deaths and serious injuries.
At present only the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act. But concern over the safety of some breeds – particularly bull mastiffs - has risen sharply in recent months following the death of 14-year-old Jade Anderson in Wigan last March who was mauled by four dogs.
Owners of dangerous dogs could face up to 14 years in prison and unlimited fines. New laws included in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will also make it illegal to possess a violent dog in a private home.
The Kennel Club has backed the Government’s stance arguing it is important to target the “deed not the breed”. Opponents of increasing the number of proscribed breeds have argued that the policy has failed in Denmark where 13 breeds were banned in 2010 with plans to outlaw a further 12.