Coroner urges dog re-homing curbs
A coroner is to recommend strengthening the rules around re-homing stray dogs after an inquest into the death of a four-year-old girl mauled at home.
Trevor Kirkman, senior coroner for Rutland and North Leicestershire, said his report would be directed at "the appropriate authorities" as he closed the inquest into the death of Lexi Branson, today.
Outside the court, the little girl's grandparents welcomed the coroner's move, and said they were "very surprised" no standard set of rules governing the re-homing of strays already existed.
Alan and Kathryn Tait said: "We're glad he's going to recommend some changes be made regulating the law on re-homing stray dogs.
"We're surprised nothing like that already exists," they added.
"I think people, like we did, just assume those rules are in place, but they're not.
"It was a shock."
Lexi was killed by the family's pet Aylestone-type bulldog, Mulan, in an apparently unprovoked attack in the lounge of the two-bed ground-floor flat in Rowena Court, Mountsorrel, Leicestershire, on November 5, last year.
The dog was bought from kennels by Lexi's mother Jodi Hudson, and had only been at the family home a few days before launching its deadly attack.
Recording a short narrative verdict, Mr Kirkman said: "Lexi Branson died as a result of injuries in an attack on her by a dog within her home."
He added: "This must rank as one of the most harrowing cases.
"I know it cannot have been easy to those nearest and dearest to Lexi to have sat through the evidence."
He added: "I offer my sincere condolences to the members of the family and friends who lost a lovely little girl tragically, in the circumstances we have heard."
Mr Kirkman said there was "no question of apportioning blame", but said he would be writing a report with recommendations to try and "prevent future such deaths".
Yesterday, the inquest heard Ms Hudson describe witnessing the attack and how she saw the dog first stare at Lexi, then go "straight for her throat".
Ms Hudson was only able to pry her daughter from the dog after plunging a kitchen knife repeatedly into the animal.
Only days earlier, Ms Hudson had paid £50 to the Willow Tree Kennels, in Barrow-upon-Soar, where the dog had been delivered as an apparent stray.
Staff there said the dog was "placid" with "a lovely temperament".
However, Ms Hudson said the bulldog was advertised as possibly being unsuitable for a home with "smaller children".
But the kennels advised her this was down to its size and "a tendency to jump up".
Both Ms Hudson and Lexi met the dog at the kennels just once, for 15 minutes, before returning on a second occasion to take the animal home.
No home visit was carried out by Willow Tree workers, to check whether Ms Hudson's flat was the right place for the dog to be re-homed, although it did assess the dog as suitable to be offered to a new owner.
Kennel owner Michael Watts said such home visits were only carried out if deemed necessary by staff, and this was in line with industry standards.
The coroner also heard expert evidence from both the RSPCA and a former Metropolitan police dog handler Peter Tallack, who confirmed there were no single set of rules for re-homing strays.
In any case, unknown to both the family and kennel staff, Mulan had recently attacked another family pet at its previous home.
The dog only ended up at the kennels when the previous male owner lied to the council dog warden, telling them it was a stray, so he would not have to pay to have it re-homed.
Detective Sergeant Kenny Henry, of Leicestershire Police, told the coroner the animal had attacked that previous owner's other dog in the back garden of his Leicester home.
That owner also told the RSPCA he was "concerned for the safety of his own children" following the attack.
But while dog warden Jodie Barlow told the inquest Mulan had "seemed ok" when she first picked it up, a note was shown to court where the warden had described the animal as looking "like she has been fighting, with marks all over her face".
In a family statement, read by a police officer outside the court, Ms Hudson said: "The last 10 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.
"We still think about her every day and she lives on in our hearts as we have such wonderful memories of her.
"Her death is still too painful to talk about.
"I would like to thank all my family, friends and the members of the public for their support over the last 10 months.
"Without them the ordeal would have been far worse and I'm taking each day as it comes and hopefully in time the tragic events of that afternoon will ease."
Mr Watts, from the kennels, extended his sympathies to the family.
He added the evidence had shown its re-homing procedures were "in accordance with the principles employed by other similar organisations", and that nobody had "detected the slightest hint of aggression in the dog" prior to its attack.
Mr Watts said: "If we had been told that the previous keepers were concerned about aggressive behaviour and were worried about the possibility of such conduct towards their children, then the animal would have been euthanised in our facility and in any other responsible facility."