Dog owner jailed for four years after Staffordshire bull terrier attacks 12 children in playground

One child's leg looked like a 'Swiss cheese', following the attack

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 12 December 2017 14:41 GMT
Some of the children required surgery, skin grafts, stitches and staples, Newcastle Crown Court heard (file pic)
Some of the children required surgery, skin grafts, stitches and staples, Newcastle Crown Court heard (file pic) (Rex)

A woman has been jailed for four years after her Staffordshire bull terrier attacked 12 children in a playground in Northumberland.

Claire Neal, 39, initially denied the dog belonged to her at the time of the attack, claiming it belonged to the courts as the animal was already subject to a destruction order for two previous attacks on children.

But after a first trial was aborted half way through, Neal changed her plea to guilty as the second trial began.

Newcastle Crown Court heard that on May 18 2016, the dog, named Marley, had been let into Neal’s front garden at her house in Blyth, while wearing no collar or muzzle and escaped by squeezing under the front gate.

Prosecutor Fiona Clancy told the court a teenage girl had then found Marley in the street and decided to take the dog home so her mother could contact the RSPCA.

But as they passed a park, the dog went wild, and began chasing children in the playground area. As the children attempted to run away, the dog jumped on several of them, pinning them to the ground and biting them.

Statements from the children were read out, with one girl who was attacked saying she fainted after the dog closed its jaws on her.

Another child said he saw a girl being dragged along by the dog while she was screaming.

A parent described their child's leg as looking like “Swiss cheese”, after the attack, full of puncture holes and with a big gash.

The court heard that panicked parents attempted to lift children to safety, either over the playground fence or onto the climbing frame, until two men were eventually able to tie the dog up.

Nine children were hospitalised after the attack, some as young as five.

Some required surgery, skin grafts, stitches and staples, the court heard, and will have been caused psychological harm by the ordeal, the court heard.

Jailing her for four years, Judge Sarah Mallett said it was a “sustained and repeated attack” and that Neal's actions were “utterly irresponsible on every level”.

She said she had failed to put in place any control measures and the dog had been trained to be aggressive by Neal's partner.

“It was ridiculous to suggest Marley was not your dog, you were the owner and responsible for her at all times,” she said.

“It's clear from these descriptions there was serious injuries but it is also clear there was significant psychological harm.”

Neal said: “I’m really sorry, I apologise”, as she was sent down to begin her sentence.

In addition to the jail sentence for owning a dog that was dangerously out of control, Neal was also disqualified from owning a dog for life.

The dog has now been destroyed.

Press Association contributed to this report

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