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Owner of dog that killed three-year-old boy escapes prison sentence

Dexter Neal, 3, died after being bitten by a dog in Halstead.
Dexter Neal, 3, died after being bitten by a dog in Halstead.

A mum whose dog mauled a three-year-old boy to death in Halstead escaped a prison sentence when she appeared in court yesterday. Jade Dunne, 29, was in charge of American Bulldog called Ruby when it killed Dexter Neal.

The dog attacked the toddler as he walked through a lean-to attached to the defendant’s home in Parker Way, a court heard.

Dexter Neal.
Dexter Neal.

The animal was usually kept out of the way but on this occasion it had been let out of the room.

The judge, Mr Recorder Khalil QC, said he believed this meant she was aware of “some risk” from the animal.

As Dexter walked by the dog, it growled, scaring the little boy and then attacked him and bit him on the back of the head.

Dunne attempted to get the pet off by “hitting it repeatedly with a tea towel” - which the judge said was “wholly inadequate”.

However, speaking today at Chelmsford Crown Court her defence said that this was “the action she felt was right in the situation”.

A neighbour who heard screams eventually removed the animal, which was later destroyed, before Dexter was flown to hospital by air ambulance.

His mother Pamela Neal was called to be with the boy and made attempts to resuscitate him as she held him in her arms.

The court heard the three-year-old, who lived with his family in Ronald Road in Halstead, suffered ‘several’ cardiac arrests due to loss of blood and died shortly after arriving at hospital.

Dunne admitted one count of having a dog which was dangerously out of control and was sentenced to 12-months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Recorder Khalil said: “This was not a case as one does hear publicised where a dog was used as a weapon, where it was known to be aggressive to people, or the defendant has been identified as a risky owner of such dogs.

“Attempts were made to control Ruby although they were ineffective.

“There was a momentary lapse of control or attention which led to Ruby meeting with Dexter.

“Nonetheless of course the consequences of that meeting are appalling and tragic.

“She was aware of a risk, but not a risk to this scale, to visitors to her home.

“Clearly Dexter was extremely young and therefore vulnerable.”

Dunne was also banned from owning a dog for ten years, must fulfil 100 hours of community service and take part in 15 rehabilitation requirement days.

This falls at the lower end of culpability for sentencing for being in control of a dangerous dog which causes death - with a maximum penalty being 14 years.

The judge however said that Dunne’s attempts to check the safety of the dog and mitigating factors such as her being a mother stopped him from sending her to jail immediately.

The incident happened on August 19 last year.

Prosecuting for the crown Katherine Daviey said: “Dexter did nothing to provoke the dog.

“It could have been that the boy was in too close proximity to the dog, but he was not of an age to read the negative signs.

“As he [Dexter] was only three-years-old he had not had much of a chance to develop. He was well loved and quiet but sunny in nature. Everybody who had contact with Dexter reported what a sweet little boy he was.

“Every aspect of his family’s life has been devastated. They find it hard to hear the sound of children’s voices when they are out and about.”

It was also said that while the American Bulldog was not a banned breed there was “lots of literature” about their controversial behaviour.

However it was said that Dunne was not aware of this.

The dog was said to have not had any problems with children before and that Dunne asked the rescue home she got it from “on multiple occasions” if it was okay with children.

It has now been put down and was said to have exhibited “unpredictable behaviour” when its behaviour was analysed following the incident.

Ruby was reportedly recommended to wear a muzzle in public - which Dunne admitted she did not.

Prosecutor Daviey added: “Although there was evidence of responsible ownership initially, that she made the checks and had the dog from a registered home.

“But after that there was evidence of inadequate walking and failure for the dog to wear a muzzle.

“Given the facts this is not a person that should own a dog.

“She did try to intervene but hitting a large dog with a tea towel was not adequate.”

Behavioural experts have been unable to, however, link the inadequate walking with its aggressive behaviour.

It was also said that the dog was properly fed and nourished.

Mitigating, Stephen Levy said: “She [Dunne] did what a lot of families do and got a dog. She did not just take the first dog she saw.

“She became tearful and emotional when recalling the incident. Through me she would like to apologise to the family and to the friends.”

It was also established that Dunne has moved away so that she would not be seen by the grieving Neal family.

Her defence argued that she “did what she could to assist the grieving progress”.

She also reportedly was prescribed anti-depressants following the incident.

In a witness impact statement it was said that Dexter’s mother Pamela, 43, still “struggles with guilt” and “remembers how awful it was when she found Dexter”.

Both her and his father Andrew, 36, find it very difficult when they hear other children.

In his closing statement Recorder Khalil said: “I pass this sentence knowing it cannot possibly provide comfort or support to Dexter’s family.”

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