Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Fury as death dogs owner goes free

A woman has admitted cruelty charges relating to two Staffordshire bull terriers and two other dogs

The family of a 14-year-old girl savaged to death by four dogs said they were "disgusted" after the owner walked free from court with a suspended sentence.

Beverley Concannon kept one of her dogs, a big American bull mastiff, in a tiny cage where it went "stir crazy" along with two other pit bulls and and another bull mastiff which were all kept cooped up in her council house.

The conditions led to them becoming stressed and "hyper aggressive" and they turned on and savaged to death Jade Lomas-Anderson at the house in Atherton, Greater Manchester on March 26.

The girl, who was on half-term school holidays and had stayed the night with Concannon's daughter at the house, suffered "horrific" injuries "from head to toe", Wigan Magistrates' Court heard.

Pc Martin Burkinshaw, who was first on the scene after the 999 call, said: "I will never forget what I saw."

Concannon, 45, who had been warned before about her aggressive dogs and how she kept them, admitted causing unnecessary suffering to bull mastiffs Buddy and Neo and Staffordshire bull terriers Ty and Sky between July 19 last year and March 25 this year, in that she subjected the animals to "an environment that was detrimental to their well-being".

S he sat head down in the dock throughout the hearing just yards from Jade's family, who broke into tears as the court heard distressing details of the incident.

But they marched out of court in unison as Concannon was told she would not be going to jail immediately.

The defendant, who is on benefits, was given a 16 week jail sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs and a victim surcharge totaling £165. She was also banned from keeping dogs indefinitely.

The Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to bring a charge of manslaughter by gross negligence against Concannon.

It also said it could not bring any charges under the Dangerous Dogs Act because the four dogs were not banned breeds and were not out of control in a public place; the attack took place in her home.

Jade's mother Shirley was not in court but other family members were, including her stepfather Michael, who said he was disgusted with the sentence.

"I'm devastated and disgusted in the justice system. Today was just about dangerous dogs. I think she should be held responsible for Jade.

"We have got a life sentence. It has absolutely ripped us apart."

Paul Taylor, prosecuting, read a statement from Pc Burkinshaw, who found Jade dead in the kitchen of the house with the dogs in the yard and the kitchen door open and banging against the door jam.

"There was a large white bull mastiff type dog in the yard," the statement read.

"Its head and mouth were covered in blood and it was bounding around the yard.

"There was also another very large brown coloured bull mastiff type dog. It was also covered in blood, and two smaller pit bulls. They too had blood all over them.

"I felt disbelief and shocked by what had happened.

"I have not dealt with anything as distressing as this incident in my career and my heart goes out to this girl and her family."

Mr Taylor said the way the dogs had been kept led to the tragedy.

Concannon called the most aggressive dog Buddy her "baby" - though it was kept "crated" nearly all the time in a cage not big enough for it to raise its head or turn around properly.

The other mastiff lived in the yard and the pit bulls were confined to the kitchen.

The dogs were not walked despite there being a park two minutes from the house, the court heard.

Mr Taylor said the effect on the dogs of such treatment was "predictable".

A report by canine behaviour expert Annette Conn concluded all four dogs suffered chronic frustration, and physical and mental distress. It described Buddy as "stir crazy".

Mr Taylor said: "Without exercise and stimulation dogs are likely to become hyper-aggressive. The defendant knows this and this is what happened with fatal consequences for Jade."

The court heard an animal charity had offered to take one dog, Sky, off Concannon, but the defendant, who sold the bitch's puppies for £150, declined.

On the day of the incident Concannon had gone shopping, leaving her daughter and Jade alone with the dogs, a "dangerous situation" she should never have allowed to happen, Mr Taylor said.

Concannon said she did not want her dogs mixing with people because she wanted them as guard dogs.

"No doubt she prized them for their aggressive traits," Mr Taylor added.

Locals had complained before to housing and council officials about how the animals were kept and about their barking, but Concannon was allowed to keep them.

Bill Pearson, defending Concannon, said: "She tells me she would give anything to turn the clock back.

"She has a daughter, that young daughter found Jade Anderson, her daughter will never be the same again and neither will Beverley Concannon.

"I ask you not to take a mother away."

Mr Pearson added that the dogs "had never bitten anyone before" and since the incident the defendant and her family have had to move house three times as they became a target of locals' anger.

Passing sentence, District Judge Mark Hadfield said: "The prosecution say the conditions in which the dogs were kept were so inadequate and was a factor contributing to their aggressive and dangerous behaviour.

"You are 45 and have no previous convictions. Through your solicitor today you have expressed remorse and condolences to the family of Jade.

"You are entitled to receive full credit for pleading guilty. You are a sole carer for your daughter.

"In all the circumstances, I have concluded that the sentence I am about to pass can be suspended."

At this point his words were drowned out by the slamming of tip-up chairs from the back of the court as Jade's family got up and marched out of court hissing: "Disgusting!"

Since the incident, Jade's family have campaigned for a crackdown on dangerous dogs.

Jade's mother Shirley and stepfather Michael visited Westminster in June to urge the Government to tighten the law.

They said the Government's Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill should be toughened "to prevent what we are going through from happening to other people".

The Bill aims to remove the immunity from prosecution of dog-owners whose animal attacks someone on private property - as in their daughter's case.

Under the plans for England and Wales, announced in February, dog-owners could be prosecuted if they fail to stop their pets attacking someone on their own, or someone else's, property.

The Bill was designed to protect people who visit houses as part of their job, such as postmen, utility workers and healthcare employees.

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