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Dog attack woman spared jail

THE OWNER of two dogs that savaged and nearly killed a Wolverhampton schoolgirl was last week spared a prison sentence after admitting allowing the attack to happen.

Jean Harvey, 23, was given a six-month jail sentence suspended for 18 months after District Judge Phillip Browning heard that since the incident she had received hate-mail and death threats.

Judge Browning had previously adjourned sentencing until last Friday, April 11 and told Harvey: "I am leaving my options open. The consequences of this offence are so serious that the court will have to consider custody."

The 23-year-old, who originally denied allowing her Bull Mastiff/ Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross breeds Kaiser and Gina to cause injury to her neighbour's daughter Leah Preston, had changed her pleas to guilty.

Prosecutor Warren Stannier previously told the court the animals escaped from Harvey's back garden, ran through her house and attacked Leah, who was five at the time, while she played in her front garden in Hawksford Crescent, Low Hill, on May 16 last year.

"They started biting at her legs. Her mother, (Debbie Reynolds) came out and screamed, but was unable to assist. She was in shock," said Mr Stannier.

Harvey joined in trying to pull the dogs off, both she and Miss Reynolds sustaining several injuries themselves in the process. The dogs also turned on their Harvey’s own children, Liam and Lauren Skeldon, aged 5 and 3 respectively, before being penned.

Leah was taken to Birmingham Children’s hospital where she underwent emergency surgery for wounds to her legs, arms, buttocks and scalp. According to doctors, the child had lost much of the flesh on her left leg and her buttocks. As she was being sedated, Leah pleaded with her mother not to let doctors "put her down".

Miss Reynolds kept a vigil at Leah’s bedside. She told of her horror at the attack: "I had been washing up and I heard a scream. I ran into the garden. All I could see was my poor baby being bitten by these dogs. She was screaming for help and whimpering."

Police officers arrived at the scene and the dogs were taken away and destroyed shortly after the attack, added the prosecutor.

Harvey had had the dogs, aged about five-months-old, for about three months, at the time of the incident.

Mr John Rowe, defending, said Harvey did all she could to stop the attack while others in the street watched, stunned.

"She threw herself in between the dog and this little girl. She did her best to protect this child at the cost of her own injuries."

He described the attack as a "tragic accident" which followed the unfortunate coincidence of Harvey and her five-year-old son opening the rear and front doors of their house at the same time.

Last Friday, sitting again at the city’s Magistrates court, Judge Browning ruled that exceptional circumstances in the case, including the fact that Harvey put herself at risk to pull the dogs off Leah, allowed him to suspend the jail term.

"Nothing that I say or can do will change what happened," he said.

The incident was one of a spate of dog attacks last spring which led to renewed media calls for "Bull Mastiffs" to be added to the list of breeds covered by the Dangerous Dogs Act, although in most cases, newspapers took on board and reported the comments made by breed experts who pointed out that Bull Terriers were not inherently dangerous, and also that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) did not work.