A coroner will write to a police force about the tragedy of a nine-year-old boy who was mutilated to death by a dog during a holiday in Cornwall, after his investigation learned that the animal had been involved in previous attacks.
Frankie MacRitchie died after being left alone in a caravan with the 45kg dog, an American bulldog crossed with a Staffordshire bull terrier named Winston.
The boy’s mother, Tawnee Willis, and the dog’s owner, Sadie Totterdell, both from Plymouth, were jailed for the attack, which took place in April 2019.
The Cornish coroner court was told that Winston had been involved in previous violent incidents.
In 2016, a woman was unable to get out of her car because Winston was showing her teeth and gnawing on her car window. He had to call for help and the police spoke to Totterdell about what happened.
In August 2018, a boy playing with the dog was blowing up a balloon when he bit his ear, requiring hospital treatment. The police were not informed of this.
Senior Coroner Andrew Cox said he would write a future death prevention report to Devon and Cornwall police.
He said: “I want to be very clear, I am not saying that the police did not take appropriate action this time. What I think is important is that there is a robust system so that, if there are incidents like this in the future, we can be sure that the dogs that need to be treated will be treated ”.
The coroner added: “It raises the question of whether measures could have been taken earlier that could have prevented this tragic outcome. It is glaringly obvious to us, having listened to all the evidence and learned from the incidents in 2016 and 2018, that there was a risk of this dog attacking Frankie. “
Cox said she accepted that Willis did not know about the dog’s history, but continued: “The same cannot be said of Ms. Totterdell as she must have known of the previous incidents.”
He said Willis made a “grave error in judgment and a grave error” in leaving Frankie alone with the dog, but his negligence was not enough to allow him to record the conclusion of an unlawful homicide.
Instead, he gave a narrative conclusion, saying: “While left unsupervised [Frankie] he was attacked by a friend’s dog and suffered fatal injuries. “
Willis apologized in court for his “foolish actions” in leaving his son with the animal. Addressing Frankie’s father, Billy MacRitchie, and grandmother, Pauline Elford, Willis said, “I’m really, really sorry. I miss him every day and I know they do. From the bottom of my heart, I just wish they have closure and I hope they find some peace. “
Willis admitted to a child neglect charge and was jailed for two years. Totterdell was jailed for three years after pleading guilty to having a dangerously out of control dog. The couple had gone out for the night, leaving the dog and child together.