Owners of dogs involved in fatal attacks should receive life sentences, says Wandsworth Councillor


Jonathon Cook believes harsher punishments are needed.


By Sarah Ward

Owners of dogs involved in fatal attacks should be punished by a life sentence in jail, a Wandsworth Councillor said this week, only a few days before a four-year-old girl was mauled to death by her pet bulldog.

Councillor Jonathon Cook’s comments come as the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a report outlining changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act, which will align the penalties for irresponsible dog ownership with the punishments for other serious crimes: dangerous driving (14 years) and actual bodily harm (5 years).

Currently owners can only be prosecuted when their dog attacks a person in public, facing a maximum of two years in prison, but a spate of incidents involving dogs turning on people in the home has brought the Act under scrutiny and owners will be prosecuted for attacks which occur in private.

Councillor Cook said: “We had hoped the Government would share our view that life sentences should be considered when sentencing a dog owner whose pet has killed a person – but we obviously welcome the fact that a significant increase in sentencing power could soon be available to judges in such cases.”

On November 5, Leicester schoolgirl Lexi Branson, 4, was mauled to death by a ‘bulldog type’ in her mother’s flat. The dog, which was of a breed not outlawed by the Dangerous Dogs Act, had been bought from a rescue centre, which warned it was not suitable for children.

The DEFRA report revealed that 47% of participants in the survey, from which proposals were formed, supported life sentences for owners of dogs involved in human fatalities.

Nigel Yeo, Director of Operations at Battersea Dogs Home, said that more preventative measures were needed, as well as harsher sentencing.

“We’re calling on the Government to take further steps to tackle the owners of dangerous dogs before they ever reach the courts and introduce the right measures that will protect those most vulnerable to attacks,” he said.

He said that the with the introduction of the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, local authorities should be able to serve Dog Control orders on residents whose pets pose a threat to the public. The owner would be forced to neuter the dog, keep in muzzled and on a lead in public, attend training sessions, or face prosecution.

Unneutered dogs are believed to account for 94% of fatal dog attacks by male dogs, who account for 92% of all fatalities, according to the American Humanist Association. On November 6, a judge at Wimbledon Magistrates Court condemned a man whose failure to get his dogs spayed had contributed to an attack which killed his former mother-in-law, Gloria Knowles, 71, in October 2012.

Judge Sheila Bayes told Dylan Mason, the owner of the French Mastiff , that she did not believe he had control over the dog, which was kept in police custody whilst he tried to save it.

Judge Bayes said: “You showed a lack of insight when you kept a female on heat with two unneutered males in the first place.”

Mr Mason’s three other dogs which were involved, another French Mastiffs, an American bulldog, and an Alapaha bulldog- all legal breeds – were destroyed after the attack, and he was fined £500 costs.

Dogs traditionally bred for fighting are outlawed by the Dangerous Dogs Act, but many fatal attacks have happened from other varieties, many bearing similar physical characteristics.  The Blue Cross launched a campaign, ‘Respectabull’, to reduce the stigma associated with anti-social behaviour, which teaches young people in urban areas how to train and care for their dogs.

Photo courtesy of WorldBuyni via YouTube, with thanks.

Follow us @SW_Londoner

Related Articles