THE OWNER of two dogs that savaged and nearly killed a Wolverhampton schoolgirl has been warned she could be sent to prison after admitting allowing the attack to happen.
District Judge Phillip Browning, sitting at the city's magistrates court last week adjourned sentencing until April 11 and told Jean Bernadette 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 Bullmastiff/ 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 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 five and three 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.
The judge granted Harvey bail and ordered her to return to court next month for sentencing.
The incident was one of a spate of dog attacks last spring which led to renewed media calls for Bullmastiffs to be added to the list of breeds covered by the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, although in most cases, newspapers took on board and reported the comments made by breed experts who pointed out that Bill terriers were not inherently dangerous, and also that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) did not work.
Dave Levy, Staffordshire Bull Terrier Liaison Officer for the Kennel Club commented at the time: "Once again, criminal behaviour by dog owners has resulted in severe injuries to children. Why is it that the law-makers will still not understand that we all need protecting from irresponsible owners who intentionally breed and train dogs for aggression and/or allow them to roam the streets out of any proper control?
"It must surely be time for the Government to talk properly with veterinary
bodies, animal behaviourists and dog owners to really understand the problems of bad ownership and begin to draft legislation to control the real threat to children - posed by the way some dogs are kept and stop relying on merely categorising breeds.
"This may absolve their conscious but clearly does not protect children. Repeated scientific research has shown that breed is NOT the significant factor and pandering to media pressure is no way to protect the public.
"The Staffordshire Bull Terrier remains one of the breeds known to be excellent with children and today, an estimated 250,000 Staffordshire Bull Terriers in the UK were not involved in attacks on children.
"The attack in Wolverhampton is reported to have been carried out by two "Bullmastiff/Staffordshire Bull Terrier crosses". This is quite probably a euphemism for dogs that were named and banned in 1991 since the owners can hardly admit to having intentionally disobeyed that law. Hence it is "easier" to blame two well-known and popular breeds, the Bullmastiff and Staffordshire Bull terrier, both of which have been bred and developed over many years to create pet dogs able to live happily alongside their human owners.
"Dog owners don't want to see children injured any more than other members of the public and Government must finally be forced to open a proper informed debate about how to protect them."