A FIVE-year-old girl was savaged to death by her uncle’s dog on Monday of this week only months after the owner had allegedly been officially warned about its dangerous behaviour.
Ellie Lawrenson suffered horrific injuries after being attacked at her grandmother’s home in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Her grandmother, Jackie Simpson, 46, had serious bite wounds to her arms and legs after fighting in vain to get the dog, an alleged pitbull ‘type’ called Reuben, away from Ellie.
The dog, which was later destroyed, was owned by Ellie’s uncle, Kiel Simpson, who also lived at the end-of-terrace house in Eccleston, near St Helens, Merseyside. He could face prosecution under the Dangerous Dogs Act for failing to keep control of the animal and also for possessing a dog of the pit bull ‘type’.
A spokeswoman for St Helens Council confirmed that Mr Simpson had been sent a warning letter about his dog’s behaviour in June last year after a neighbour complained that the animal had attacked his dog. ‘Police received a report on May 29, 2006, about the dog’s behaviour, which was passed on to us at the council on May 31. A warning was sent out shortly after,’ the spokeswoman said.
Mrs Simpson had been baby-sitting her granddaughter while the girl’s parents were out celebrating the new year. They returned to collect her after a few hours but Ellie asked to remain with her grandmother overnight, so at 3.40am they left for home, in Warrington, Cheshire. At 4.20am Mrs Simpson, 46 heard the child screaming. She wrestled the dog, Reuben, from her granddaughter, suffering bites to her arms and legs as she dragged it into a run outside her home.
Mrs Simpson was being treated at Whiston Hospital and was due to undergo surgery.
Superintendent Jon Ward, of Merseyside Police, said: ‘The attack happened some time after Ellie’s parents left the property. At this stage of the investigation it would be impossible to say what has caused the dog to attack.
‘Mrs Simpson dialled 999 to call an ambulance at 4.20am to say she and a five-year-old girl were being attacked by a dog. The attending paramedics did what they could, but Ellie died at the scene.’
Mr Ward said that Mrs Simpson had managed to confine Reuben in a side alley before a police armed-response team and dog handlers arrived. ‘After an assessment it was decided the dog could not be safely removed from the scene and the dog’s life was humanely ended. It was shot by a trained marksman at 5.40am.
‘The family are devastated. When a child loses her life in such circumstances it has an effect on the whole community.
‘Reuben was a pitbull-type dog. We say ‘type’ at this stage of the investigation, as there is the potential that offences may be disclosed under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
‘Until we have ascertained the breed of dog there is no point in speculating on what offences, if any, may have been committed. But I wish to reassure the public that there will be a thorough investigation.’
The street was cordoned off by police who were interviewing other members of Ellie’s family.
Neighbours said that the dog was the latest in a series owned by Ellie’s uncle, who is known as ‘Binger’.
Neighbour Sarah Callaghan said: ‘Kiel’s well known around here and he has kept dogs all his life. He has had Rottweilers and Alsatians and there has never been any problem with his dogs before. He loved Reuben and the dog went everywhere with him.
‘I have seen Ellie petting Reuben, as did a lot of the kids on the estate. He was very popular and I cannot understand what made him do this terrible thing.’
But another neighbour claimed that he had once been attacked by the dog when it was unaccompanied. The unnamed man, 69, said: ‘It was jumping up at me, really going at me, but I managed to hold it at bay with my walking stick.’ A pit bull terrier has killed a five-year-old girl and seriously injured her grandmother. Police are investigating whether New Year's Eve fireworks may have scared the dog and prompted it to attack the girl.
Ellie's 24-year-old mother and her partner were too distraught to speak to police officers. But neighbours spoke affectionately about Ellie. Dorothy Watkinson said: ‘I've seen her at the gateway with [the dog that killed her], stroking it. It never turned on her.’
The killing in St Helens is the latest in a string of horrific dog attacks in recent months. Five-month-old Cadey-Lee Deacon was killed in September when she was attacked by two Rottweiler dogs in a pub in Leicester. Just three days later, two-year-old Harvey Lawrence had surgery for severe lacerations after being savaged by a Rottweiler in West Sussex. In another Rottweiler attack, 12-year-old Kerry Neary was mauled in Birmingham in September. In late November a three-year-old Warwickshire girl was taken to hospital in an air ambulance after an attack by a family dog.
This led to an inevitable media-fuelled frenzy of calls for the Rottweilers to be included on the list of proscribed breeds under the Dangerous Dogs Act or for dog control laws to be tightened up.
However, the DDA and other dog control laws are currently under review by Home Secretary John Reid following input from a committee appointed by the DEFRA-led Dog Legislation Advisory Committee.
A spokesman for the Kennel Club commented: ‘The Kennel Club is extremely shocked and saddened by the tragic incident that has resulted in the death of Ellie Lawrenson in Merseyside on New Year’s Day. Our thoughts and condolences are with Ellie’s family and everyone who knew her.
‘This dreadful news highlights the need for a revision to current Dangerous Dog legislation in England as the general public are not being sufficiently protected by the law as it currently stands. Breed specific legislation has not proved an effective tool to deal with people who keep dogs like the one that attacked Ellie Lawrenson, and the inability to prosecute owners whose dogs attack on private property such as a family home is also deeply flawed. This incident further demonstrates the need to both educate the public on the vital importance of training dogs correctly and to punish those that fail to do so.’
On Tuesday of this week, when OUR DOGS went to press, post mortem tests were underway on the dog to establish whether or not it was of the pitbull ‘type’.