Uncle arrested over boy's dog attack death

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The uncle of John Paul Massey was arrested today on suspicion of manslaughter after his illegal pitbull dog savaged the four-year-old to death.

Christian Foulkes, 21, was detained this morning by detectives from Merseyside Police following the death of the boy on Monday.

A spokeswoman for the force said: "A 21-year-old man from the Wavertree area of Liverpool has this morning been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by detectives investigating the death of four-year-old John Paul Massey.

"He is currently in police custody and will be interviewed later today. No other arrests have been made."

The arrest comes after tests showed that the dog, called Uno, was a pitbull, banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

The illegally held animal, which is powerfully built and sometimes bred for dog-fighting or used as a "status symbol", attacked John Paul while he was staying at the home of his grandmother, Helen Foulkes, in Ash Grove, Wavertree, on Monday.

The 63-year-old was herself injured as she battled to pull the dog off her grandson, whom she was babysitting along with his brother, Craig, 13, while their parents, named locally as Angela McGlynn and John Massey, went out for the night. Mrs Foulkes will make a full recovery.

Police marksmen subsequently shot the dog as paramedics tried to treat the boy, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Christian Foulkes is understood to have recently joined the Army and was away in training, leaving the dog at home.

He was given compassionate leave to return to Liverpool on Monday, before his arrest today.

Merseyside Police admitted they were told months ago that a banned pitbull-type dog had been seen at the house.

Senior officers said they were deeply concerned and disappointed that the tip-off was not followed up properly.

A complaint was made by a city housing officer last February about dog breeding at the home but a police call centre operator told the caller it was "not a police matter" and the complaint was never followed up.

The case comes less than three years after five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson, also being minded by her grandmother, was savaged to death by her uncle's pitbull terrier, Reuben, 10 miles away in St Helens, also Merseyside.

The force said that, since that attack on New Year's Day 2007, they have clamped down on the problem and destroyed 339 dogs of illegal breeds.

John Paul's family last night paid tribute to him.

In a statement they said: "John Paul was the light in all of our lives and when that light went out it took a piece of us with it forever.

"He was full of energy, never still for a minute. He was a born performer and recently got a certificate for singing on his own at nursery.

"He was a real chatterbox who had an answer for everything and his favourite word was 'Why?'.

"He was a breath of fresh air and could light up a room with his cheeky smile and big personality - he was the whole family's sunshine.

"We want to thank all of our friends and family for their support. John Paul will be missed by everyone who knew him. He was a popular and friendly little boy and will never be forgotten.

"We, as a family, request space and privacy to grieve during this heartbreaking time. As you can imagine, we are in a state of shock and we ask the media to respect this."