WHY DID SHE STILL HAVE THAT DOG?
It should’ve been put down for previous attacks
EXACTLY why a woman still had a dangerous dog which injured 12 children in a play park attack remains unclear.
Claire Neal’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier Marley, mauled youngsters in Blyth in terrifying scenes.
But the dog was already subject to a destruction order having attacked youngsters before but Neal, for some reason, still had it.
Last night, a police spokesperson was unable to explain exacty why Neal still had the dog. They said: “A destruction order was issued by the court to the owner of this dog following an earlier incident.
“Once this order was issued it was the responsibility of the owner to hand the dog over for destruction at the earliest opportunity.
“On this occasion it was for the court, not the police, to enforce that order when the owner did not comply.”
Neal and Leanne Patterson were due to stand trial over the attack but after Neal pleaded guilty, prosecutors indicated they will leave the charge against Patterson to lie on file.
Neal, who was already remanded in custody and appeared in court on a video-link, was warned a prison sentence is inevitable.
Judge Sarah Mallett, at Newcastle Crown Court, said: “I will adjourn the case of Claire Neal for a pre-sentence report but a sentence of imprisonment is inevitable.
“The report will go to the length rather than the type of sentence.”
A trial originally began in August but the jury was discharged and it was as the retrial was about to start that Neal changed her plea.
Prosecutors said in the first trial a teenage girl came across Marley in the street on May 18 after he escaped from the front garden of Neal’s home on Chasedale Crescent, Blyth.
The jury heard the dog had got under the gate and got loose twice earlier that day and been returned.
Stephen Grattage, prosecuting, said, on this occasion, the girl decided to take Marley home so her mother could ring the RSPCA and trace its owner as she believed the animal was lost.
He said: “This case relates to a girl who loves animals finding in the street a dog, which seemed friendly.
“It fetched sticks for her. It seemed obedient and she played with it. It had no collar, lead or muzzle and the girl decided to take it home for her mum to call the RSPCA.
“She called it Lady and walked from the Nisa store, in Cowpen, Blyth, towards her home.
“Only the dog she had come across was not any dog. It was a dangerous dog.
“It was a dog, which had got loose before and had been found to be a dog which would attack young children.
“It had done it before. The dog was so dangerous that the defendant Claire Neal had previously been convicted of being the owner of it, a dog which caused injury while dangerously out of control in a public place, and the court had ordered the destruction of the dog and disqualified Claire Neal of having custody of any dog.”
The court heard that as the girl walked past the park on Burns Close, Marley ran inside and grabbed a ball, which a six-year-old girl was playing with.
The ball burst in the dog’s teeth prompting the youngster to try and get it back, jurors were told.
Giving evidence via a video link, the teenager described Marley then jumping up at the child and biting her before it went on the rampage and attacked 11 other panicking youngsters in the park.
Mr Grattage said: “As she [the child] tried to take the ball back, the dog took her to the floor and started to bite her, pulling her along the ground.
“As other children started to run, it chased them, biting arms and legs and pulling them to the ground.
“Some climbed fences and climbing frames in a bid to escape. Some made it to safety but then, when they saw parents running for them, or the dog was distracted biting someone else, they ran from where they were to get out of the park, only for the dog to turn and bite them as well.”
Jurors were told a neighbour heard the screams and ran to the play area, where he saw the children being attacked.
He managed to get some youngsters with injuries over the fence until more adults arrived.
Mr Grattage added: “Eventually more adults arrived and were able to get control of the dog with a lead.
The injured children were left strewn cross the grassy bank and waited for help to come.”
During her evidence, the teenage girl said she had also tried to catch the dog with her jumper but had been forced to back away when it had bitten her on the leg.
A number of the children were taken to hospital, where their injuries were glued or stitched or they were given a course of antibiotics.
The court heard Marley was traced back to Neal’s houses and she was arrested but told officers he wasn’t her dog and that she had given it away.
However, she later changed her story and said the animal belonged to the courts after the earlier destruction order had been made and she had been banned from keeping pets.
Patterson was arrested the following day but claims she was not in charge of the dog when it escaped.
Neal, 48, pleaded guilty to being the owner of a dog which caused injury to 12 people while dangerously out of control in a public place.
Patterson, 35, of Windmill Grove, Blyth, denies being in charge of a dog dangerously out of control in a public place.
Mr Grattage told the latest hearing: “In relation to that plea (by Neal) the Crown are of the view that’s acceptable in relation to Leanne Patterson as well.
“We intend, in due course, for that offence to lie on file. Your honour will remember the extreme upset caused to the young witness in the first trial and that certainly plays on the Crown’s mind.
“The Crown’s view is Miss Patterson is a person who should never have been left in charge of the dog. The culpability lies with Miss Neal for leaving the dog with her.”
Judge Mallett said: “That’s a decision I think is entirely appropriate.”
He told Patterson: “You must return on December 12 when the prosecution will take the course they have indicated, assuming there’s no other change in circumstances.
“If everything goes as expected, the prosecution have indicated they will leave this matter against you to lie on file.”
Neal was further remanded in custody and Patterson was released on unconditional bail.
The dog after the attack
Police and animal welfare at Burns Avenue after the attacks
The aftermath of the attack