Young Girl's Fatal Mauling Nobody's Fault, Says Coroner

Coroner Refuses To Apportion Blame Over Killing Of Four-Year-Old

10.09.2014

The death of a four-year-old girl who was mauled by the family dog was not something that could have been foreseen or which could be blamed on any person, a coroner has ruled.

Trevor Kirkman, the senior coroner for Rutland and North Leicestershire, said there is "no question of apportioning blame" in the case of Lexi Branson, who died in an attack by an Aylestone-type bulldog in early November last year.

However, the coroner said he would be writing a report aimed at trying to "prevent future such deaths", with recommendations of ways that could track whether a dog's behaviour might make it unsuitable as a family pet.

The animal had been acquired by the family from the Willow Tree Dog Rehoming Centre in Barrow-upon-Soar, with the dog having been originally taken there as an apparent stray. However, it transpired that the dog had been through six previous owners.

Willow Tree's owner Michael Watts confirmed no visit had been made by any of its staff to the home, which was a second-storey flat in Mountsorrel. Asked when he felt it would have been appropriate to do so, he responded that this would have depended on a range of factors, not least how much the new owner knew about dogs.

Although staff had not had formal training in the matter, the kennels adopted common practice used by similar centres elsewhere. Moreover, he noted, the dog had shown no previous signs of being aggressive.

In a statement, the girl's mother Jodi Hudson said: "The last ten months have been extremely difficult for me and all who knew and loved Lexi.
"She was a bubbly girl who always had a smile and brought happiness to everyone she met." 

According to the most recent government figures, published in April 2012, there are 210,000 dog attacks on people in England alone each year.

In the previous five years there had been five fatal attacks on children in the home, prompting the government to close the loophole that meant owners were only culpable for attacks by dogs on public land, rather than on private property.

Expert Opinion
“This tragic case highlights the devastating impact dog attacks can have on victims, their family, friends and the local community. From our work in similar cases we have seen first-hand the need for improvements in the rehoming process. It is vital everything possible is done to ensure families adopting dogs are aware of their new pet’s history and behaviours and that their safety is taken into account before dogs are placed in a home, particularly those with young children, who can be extremely vulnerable to dog attacks.

“We welcome the coroner’s decision to write a report to prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future and hope that this will be taken on board by animal shelters and rehoming centres to prevent further shocking attacks.

“We have long campaigned for the government to do more to improve the support available for victims of dog attacks, as well as implement more measures that will help protect public safety, such as the introduction of micro chipping for dogs and the recent closure of a loophole that means owners of dogs that attack individuals on their own property can be prosecuted.”
Matthew Currie, Partner