The stepfather of a teenage girl mauled to death by a pack of dogs has welcomed proposals for life jail terms for owners of killer canines, but has warned more needs to be done to prevent an "epidemic" of attacks sweeping the country.
Jade Lomas-Anderson, 14, was savaged by four dogs - believed to be two bull mastiffs and two Staffordshire bull terriers - as she was visiting the home of a friend near Wigan, Greater Manchester, in March.
Her stepfather Michael Anderson, 34, said plans for higher sentences for irresponsible owners who allow their dogs to attack members of the public was "going down the right path".
But Mr Anderson said he and his wife, Jade's mother Shirley, 36, who both live in Atherton, Wigan, will continue campaigning in support of early prevention measures - such as dog control notices and microchipping. "Dog attacks have been going for years and it has got worse and worse and worse," he said. "A quarter of a million people were attacked last year alone, this has reached epidemic levels."
No prosecutions were brought against the owner of the dogs that killed Jade as the incident occurred on private property and they were not illegal breeds. Last month, her parents, along with the parents of four-year-old John Paul Massey, who died after his uncle's pitbull attacked him in 2009, handed in a petition at 10 Downing Street. They called for preventive measures and education to put a stop to the 210,000 attacks and more than 6,000 hospital visits caused by dangerous dogs each year. The Government has put proposals for higher jail terms out to consultation.
Reacting to the announcement, Mr Anderson said: "We are still going to be campaigning. It's about early prevention, it's about stopping it happening in the first place. We need dog control notices and microchipping to come into force earlier - at the moment they're planned for around 2016. We do welcome the new legislation being put in place."
For owners whose dogs kill their victims, life imprisonment is an option, while 10 years is the maximum term suggested for injuring a person or killing an assistance dog, like a guide dog for the blind. The new consultation will run to September 1 and be used to inform recommendations put forward in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
Animal Welfare Minister Lord de Mauley said: "Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control. We're already toughening up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place."
Meanwhile, a toddler is being treated in hospital for serious injuries after being bitten by a Rottweiler. South Yorkshire police said the two-year-old girl was injured in Rawmarsh, Rotherham, shortly before 10am on Tuesday. Police said the dog, believed to be a family pet, had been on a lead when the attack happened. The victim had been with a woman and the dog at the time.
The dog has been taken to a secure kennel facility whilst police inquiries continue into the circumstances surrounding the incident. Officers described the girl's condition as stable and not life-threatening.