Out-of-control St Leonards-on-Sea dog owner jailed


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The Independent Online

The owner of two out-of-control dogs which savaged 10 people in a “horrific and nightmarish” street attack has been jailed for 12 months.

Unemployed father-of-one Spencer Brown, 22, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of owning dogs which were dangerously out of control in a public place.

The attacks happened after Brown's Staffordshire bull terrier crosses Tilly and Freak escaped from his home in Marline Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, on July 22.

Passers-by suffered bites to their hands, arms and legs as the two dogs marauded around the area with no leads on, while those who came to the victims' aid were also bitten.

Police eventually managed to subdue one of the animals with a fire extinguisher and a dog catcher pole while a passer-by dragged the other one into a cage.

Weeks before the attacks, on May 16, a man suffered multiple cuts, wounds and a broken finger after one of the same dogs attacked him during a confrontation between him and Brown.

The victim, Jason Griggs, has been left scarred and unable to work as a self-employed electrician following the attack, which also left him needing physiotherapy.

Brown, who has eight previous convictions for offences including theft and shoplifting, admitted owning a dog which caused injury in a private place in relation to the attack on Mr Griggs and also possession of cannabis.

Neither dog was banned but police recommended they both be destroyed following reports from the kennels where they are being held that they remain aggressive.

Jailing Brown at Lewes Crown Court today, Judge Anthony Scott-Gall said they were "grave and quite horrific" offences which had left victims "savagely mauled".

The sentencing comes days after new guidelines were brought in for judges dealing with people convicted of being owners of dangerously out of control dogs which harm others in public.

The new guidelines mean tougher sentences which could see more offenders jailed or given community orders and fewer discharged.

Under the guidelines, owners, or anyone in charge of a dangerously out of control dog, would face up to 18 months in jail, with the sentence rising to the legal maximum of two years in exceptional cases.

Jailing Brown and ordering destruction of the dogs, Judge Scott-Gall said: "There was no explanation for how the dogs escaped out of the window, but escape they did, and were roaming unrestrained and uncontrolled in Marline Road.

"What then occurred is that without rhyme or reason or cause from any members of the public, the dogs acted in tandem and indulged in a terrifying orgy of violence against wholly innocent members of the public who were lawfully going about their business on a warm July evening.

"It must have been terrifying for them to see these large and feral dogs running amok and attacking anyone they could get close enough to sink their teeth into."

He banned Brown from owning dogs for life, saying he was not a "fit and proper person" to control such an animal, let alone own one.

The judge went on: "What happened to Mr Griggs illuminates and illustrates what should have been abundantly clear to you - that there was the potential for them to be not only dangerous but that you were unable to control them."

Brown was facing a summons to appear in court over the dog attack on Mr Griggs when his animals launched their assault on the 10 people weeks later.

Freak and Tilly had escaped from Brown's home via an open downstairs window while he was out. One victim, Nigel Waughman, told police the attacks were "horrific and nightmarish".

Passer-by Daniel Smith was walking his Jack Russell in Marline Road when he described two muscular dogs coming at him growling.

Mr Smith bent down to pick up his own dog but fumbled and was attacked by one of Brown's pets, causing him to fall into the road.

Prosecutor Gail Purdy said: "Both dogs then bit him whilst he was in the road and he also felt a sharp pain in his head.

"A passing car then sounded its horn which caused the dogs to stop biting.

"This enabled Mr Smith to get to his feet. He was in pain and was aware that he was covered in blood but managed to get home, then went to hospital."

Another victim, Margaret Deeprose, was walking in the same road when she heard screaming and saw the two dogs running towards her.

She tried to cover her legs with her shopping trolley, which the dogs attacked, and two men helped her get to the safety of a neighbour's garden.

Then the dogs targeted Mr Waughman who fell to the ground and was bitten on his arms and leg. A woman, Sharon Brooker, came to his aid after seeing the attack from her car.

The dogs initially backed off after she shouted at them but then turned their sights on her, biting her on the arm. Her daughter, Claire Mosley, who was in the car with her, got out to help and the dogs bit her as well.

Ms Brooker described the dogs as "tearing at her flesh", Ms Purdy said. Ms Mosley, meanwhile, has been told her injuries are likely to result in scarring and a skin graft.

Ms Purdy added: "In the aftermath of the attack, she describes loss of sleep and loss of sensation in her hand." Both women managed to escape further injury by clambering back into their car.

Another victim, Sandra James, who saw the dogs biting Ms Mosley and her mother, also tried to help but she too was injured when one of the dogs started to "shake her".

"She managed to get to the safety of her vehicle but she sustained injury to her arm and thigh," said Ms Purdy. "Her injuries required stitching and will need physiotherapy and time off work."

Another passer-by said the dogs came at him with "their teeth showing". He managed to hold off one of them but it prompted the other one to then bite him on the leg.

Ms Purdy said: "He did manage to hold on to the brown dog and get it into a cage that had been brought into the street."

When police visited Brown's home, he was missing and a ground floor window was found to be open. Officers discovered five wraps of cannabis at the property, which Brown later said was for his personal use.

Brown was arrested the following day and in police interview he said he had been at home in Marline Road and left the dogs there while he went out at around 8.30pm.

He claimed the dogs were friendly and must have faced aggression for them to act in the way they did.

Ms Purdy said: "He left the dogs at the address but confirmed he had not checked whether the windows were open or closed.

"He stated that the dogs were friendly and must have been scared, stating that people must have been aggressive for them to act aggressively."

She added: "He said that he was sorry for the injury but reiterated that it must have been because his dogs were scared, otherwise they would not have attacked anyone.

"He confirmed the cannabis was his and it had been bought for £50 for his own use." Ms Purdy added that the dogs had been kept in kennels since the incident but remained aggressive and territorial, leading police to recommend they be put down.

Mark Glendenning, defending, said Brown wanted to apologise for both "unpleasant" attacks by his dogs.

Before the incidents, there had been no concerns about the care or conduct of Freak or Tilly, he added.

Mr Glendenning said Staffordshire bull terriers were sometimes seen as "status dogs" among young people but this was not Brown's reason for owning them.

Brown had a difficult upbringing, having been asked to leave home aged 15 and spending time homeless before being housed by social services in bed and breakfast accommodation.

"The dogs were his family," said Mr Glendenning.

"He never took the dogs off a leash. They were always leashed. He is aware of the difficulties of Staffordshire terriers.

"Subsequently, he tells me that once introduced to other people the animals are well behaved and he has had those animals for three to four years and there has never been any complaint of misconduct."

Brown, who became a father in July, has an "immature attitude" and has grown up with a "degree of vulnerability and attachment", Mr Glendenning went on.

Brown had left the house with water and feed for the dogs while he visited his father in Battle when they escaped.

"Unbeknown to him the dogs got out from the front window," Mr Glendenning said.

"He accepts that he didn't check whether the front windows were open.

"He is regretful of that and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but he says he had no reason to check that the windows were shut."