A four-year-boy was mauled to death by his family’s terrier at his grandmother’s home soon after midnight yesterday, despite warnings to police months earlier that the house was being used to breed dogs.
Jean-Paul Massey died from multiple injuries at the house in Wavertree, Liverpool, after frantic efforts by his grandmother, Helen Foulkes, to wrest him from the animal’s jaws. Officers shot the dog on the spot.
Merseyside Police have begun a full-scale investigation into the tragedy as it emerged that, in February, a concerned housing officer had telephoned the force to warn them that the address was being used to breed dogs. Chief Superintendent Steve Ashley said that the operator decided it was not a police matter, and did not pass on the housing officer’s concerns.
Mr Ashley said: “We had one complaint in February this year. I have to say we did not respond to that call. The operator decided it was not a police matter. That is not Merseyside Police policy and, as a result, that will form a separate police investigation.”
Mr Ashley said that vets were attempting to establish the exact breed of the dog to see whether it fell within the Dangerous Dogs Act. This was a complex procedure, he said. He described the animal as a family dog. Its ownership forms part of the investigation.
The tragedy comes almost three years after Ellie Lawrenson, 5, was killed by the family’s pitbull in nearby St Helens. Her brother, Kiel Simpson, was jailed for eight weeks for owning a banned dog.
Yesterday’s incident has reopened the debate about the shortcomings of the Dangerous Dogs Act. Merseyside Police said that the force has destroyed a total of 339 dogs deemed to be illegal under the Act since the death of Ellie.
Jean-Paul was being looked after by Mrs Foulkes, along with his brother, Craig, while his mother, Angela Foulkes, was having a night out with her partner. The dog, described by neighbours as similar to a bull terrier, attacked late that evening.
Dog handlers and armed police response officers answered an emergency call at the house at 12.24am yesterday. By then Mrs Foulkes had got the “agitated” dog into the front garden.
While officers held the animal back, paramedics entered the house around the back. They were too late to save Jean-Paul, who died before reaching hospital. After a safety assessment, the dog was shot dead.
Lawrence Crewe, 53, a neighbour, said: “We heard a terrible barking that went on for more than 20 minutes. It was a hellish noise and we wondered what could be going on. A few minutes later we heard two gunshots and the barking stopped. It is a tragedy. He was a lovely, happy little lad. We used to see him playing in the front garden or walking down the street with his grandmother.”
Mrs Foulkes, who suffered bite marks to her leg and body, was treated and discharged later from the Royal Liverpool Hospital. She shares the property with the dead boy’s uncle, Christian, 21, said by locals to be a serving soldier. Neighbours have named him as the dog’s owner.
Amos Ankara, a neighbour, said: “Christian seemed to like parading around the neighbourhood with the dog on a lead and it would snarl at everyone he walked past. It was an accident waiting to happen, keeping that ferocious dog in the house with a young boy. Even Christian’s friends would not go near it. Everyone in the street was wary of it.”
Much of the terraced street remained sealed off by police throughout the day as forensic science experts worked at the scene.
Residents complain that the ownership of fighting-style dogs has long been a problem in the area. The dogs are said to be a status symbol for their owners. Gillian Watson, 46, said: “There are lots of dangerous-type dogs around here. You always see young lads with pitbull dogs roaming around. I have a dog myself and when I take him for a walk sometimes it is quite terrifying because you think your dog is going to be attacked.”
Another neighbour said residents had complained to the local housing association about dogs. “About 12 months ago one of them tore a pet cat to pieces in the middle of the street,” he said.
The Dangerous Dogs Act became law in 1991 and bans four breeds.