Two women jailed after pensioner 'eaten alive' by their dog
Published 03/06/2014 | 18:18
Two women have been jailed for 12 months each after a pensioner was "literally eaten alive" by their dog.
Retired hospital porter Clifford Clarke, 79, was mauled in his garden in Liverpool after he opened his back door while he was cooking a meal.
The Presa Canario cross-breed dog had earlier escaped from the garden of his next-door neighbour in Richard Kelly Close in the Norris Green area of the city.
Last month, Hayley Sulley, 30, of Richard Kelly Close, and Della Woods, 29, of Swallowhurst Crescent, Norris Green, pleaded guilty to an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act of allowing a dog to enter a place where it was not allowed to be and where it injured a person.
Today, both women wept in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court as Judge Mark Brown told them Mr Clarke's death was "entirely avoidable".
Both defendants had left the dog, Charlie, unattended in the garden on a hot day last May without water and shade while they went to a barbecue.
Both women, who are in a relationship, were told by the judge that they were fortunate not to have been charged with manslaughter.
He said the maximum sentence he could pass was two years.
New laws have been brought in since the fatal attack which has increased the maximum term to 14 years but the judge said that could not be applied retrospectively.
Judge Brown said: "I hope that the recent changes to the law will be of some small comfort to Mr Clarke's family.
"Figures released recently show that the number of dangerous dogs seized by the police have risen 50% in just two years in some police forces around the country."
The court heard that the "wild" and "out of control" Presa Canario sank its teeth into Mr Clarke's arm and dragged him around his garden.
The dog effectively chewed his arm off and also mauled his other arm. Mr Clarke died from multiple injuries and blood loss.
Neighbours were unable to get into the garden to help the pensioner, while one neighbour rang for a dog warden but was told there was a four-hour wait
The dog attacked police officers when they arrived on the scene and they were forced to attempt to distract it before an armed unit arrived.
A marksman had to shoot the dog twice after it continued to approach following the first strike, the court was told.
Eric Lamb, prosecuting, said the Presa Canario entered the gap through a gap in the fence.
He said Mr Clarke was "something of an athlete in his younger days" but more recently had two hip replacements and suffered from diabetes and arthritis.
On the night before his death, he celebrated his birthday at his local pub and was in "good spirits", said the prosecutor.
At about 6.30pm a neighbour saw Charlie and another of the defendants' three dogs, Gypsy, in Mr Clarke's garden and said he was "glad he had a hatchet with him to protect himself, such was the conduct of the dogs in the garden".
Later both dogs ran up to a conservatory on a house backing on to Mr Clarke's property.
Mr Lamb said: "The dogs were jumping up at the window. Charlie was foaming at the mouth.
"Both of the dogs appeared very hungry."
He said they were seen eating bird food and dirty water from a bowl containing cigarette butts.
The court heard that at about 8.30pm another neighbour, Michael Rankin, heard a shout of "Get off me".
Mr Lamb said: "He ran out and he saw Cliff Clarke lying down and the dog pulling his arm off.
"Mr Rankin ran back in and with great presence of mind he called the police."
He returned with a golf club and was straddling the fence when the call operator told him not to cross into the garden for his own safety.
Mr Lamb said: "He described it as the dog was basically eating Charlie's arm and it had a go at his other arm."
Another witness compared it to watching "a horror film".
He and other neighbours stood by helpless as the police arrived 15 minutes later but they too were unable to assist initally.
The dog jumped up at the 6ft wooden fence when armed officers attended and bit the end of a rifle.
Mr Lamb said: "The dog was so aggressive that after it was shot once, the dog got up and was shot again for a second time."
He said Mr Clarke, who was said to have served in the armed forces, was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness.
His left arm had been amputated from the elbow while his right arm was said to be "hanging by a thread".
There were also numerous wounds to his head and body
Both defendants came home and were arrested.
One of them said they had fed the dogs that afternoon but Mr Lamb said the findings of a post-mortem examination contradicted that. It was discovered that Charlie had not been fed for at least 45 hours.
Mr Clarke's brother Kenny sat in the public gallery as the facts of the case were outlined.
In his victim impact statement, he said the family was "devastated" and he had lost three stone in weight since the death of his brother, whom he described as "a gentleman".
Mr Clarke said in his statement: "My brother did not deserve this. It must have been the most horrific death in peacetime. While we cannot bring my brother back, I think we should make sure this should not happen again."
Outside court following sentencing, Mr Clarke added: "There are no winners. If they can afford the dog, they can afford a muzzle."
Both defendants wrote a letter to the judge in which they expressed their shame, sadness and "genuine remorse".
Teresa Loftus, defending mother-of-two Sulley, said the dog had not been the subject of previous complaints and she had considered the animal to be "a loving family pet".
She said: "These proceedings have had a significant effect on this woman.
"She is someone who is coming to terms with the magnitude of what happened that day.
"It is something that weighs heavily upon her. She is receiving considerable mental health support for the first time in her life."
Simon Driver, representing mother-of-one Woods, said her earlier guilty plea was "a solid foundation for her expression of remorse and contrition".
He said she would carry the burden of knowing that "a man who lived a dignified life met a painful and undignified death".
Sentencing, Judge Brown said: "The dog responsible for this horrific incident was dangerous and out of control.
"You both caused the dog unnecessary suffering by failing to adequately supervise him and provide him with sufficient food.
"All three dogs did not have an appropriate environment in which to live.
"Neighbours have described the dogs barking all the time."
He said the dogs they kept were described as "status dogs noted for their size and aggression".
He said that many witnesses to the tragedy had suffered psychological trauma.
He also noted that the garden was in an unkempt state with bottles of alcohol strewn across it.
He continued: "I am satisfied that this dreadful and fatal attack on Mr Clarke was entirely avoidable.
"Mr Clarke was literally eaten alive by Charlie when large parts of tissue were ingested by the dog. That was a very shocking, appalling and tragic event.
"It is very fortunate that nobody else was seriously hurt because the dog was completely out of control and extremely dangerous."
He said no sentence he passed would bring Mr Clarke back.
"The situation has changed recently as owners of killer dogs now face up to 14 years in jail," he said.
"I am sure all responsibly minded people will agree this is a welcome step forward."
Sulley and Woods received no separate penalty for the offences of causing unnecessary suffering.
Both were banned from keeping dogs for life.
Their other dogs - one a bulldog - had since been rehomed and were said to be "thriving" in their new surroundings, the court heard.
Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, said: "This tragic case highlights the importance of the Government's amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) last month, which will from now on see much tougher maximum sentences available for owners whose dogs are dangerous and out of control.
"There is no excuse for failing to provide your dog with adequate food, water, care or training, or for not adequately securing your property to prevent escape, and this case shows the horrific consequences of not taking dog ownership seriously. It is absolutely right that irresponsible owners, who consistently allow, or even encourage, their dogs to act aggressively or behave dangerously are sufficiently penalised.
"This case shows us, yet again, that legislation should not focus on specific breeds as it does at the moment, because any breed or crossbreed can be dangerous or a wonderful family pet depending on how they've been trained and treated. The focus should squarely be on irresponsible owners and their actions."