Mum of baby killed by family dog knew the dog was a danger, and knew her grandmother could not look after it says judge
Claire Riley knew the dangers her dog posed to her baby, and knew her grandmother was not capable of stopping the dog attacking a judge has said.
Molly-Mae Wotherspoon died aged six months after being attacked by a family dog in their home in Daventry in October 2014.
This morning Claire Riley, 23, Molly-Mae’s mother was sentenced to 24 months in jail, with Judge Susan Carr reducing the sentence from a possible 30 months due to her guilty plea. Riley had admitted being the owner of a dog that was dangerously out of control.
Riley’s mother Susuan Aucott was also sentenced to 24 months with the same discount, after admitting being in charge of the dog when it was out of control.
They have also both been banned from owning a dog for 10 years.
On the night of Friday October 3, 2014, Claire Riley had the opportunity for a rare night out and asked her mother to look after Molly-Mae and the dogs at their home in Morning Star Drive, Daventry.
Passing sentence Judge Carr said: “It was a six-month-old baby, Molly-Mae Wotherspoon, who died.
“She was your daughter Claire Riley and your granddaughter Susan Aucott.
“She was savagely attacked in the ground floor living room of your house by an American pit bull called Bruiser owned by Ms Riley.
“American pit bulls are a banned breed under schedule 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
“Molly-Mae suffered multiple and deep lacerations mostly to her head and face, although she had bite marks to every limb...she died of excessive blood loss.
“This was a tragic and totally avoidable incident.
“Dog owners and those in charge of dogs carry heavy responsibilities, both for the welfare of the dogs and for the safety of those around them.
“Parents and grandparents owe duties to their children and grandchildren respectively.
“Bruiser was a large, strong and aggressive dog weighing some 33kg.
“He should never have been living cooped up in a small house with a new baby, and the two of them should never have been left alone by Claire Riley in the charge of someone such as Susan Aucott, nor should Susan Aucott have agreed to be left in charge.
“The situation was compounded by the fact that, to the knowledge of both of you, you Susan Aucott, had problems with alcohol.
“Bruiser posed an obvious and overwhelming risk to Molly-Mae.”
Claire Riley bought Bruiser in June 2012, and they lived with Riley’s partner Derri Wotherspoon – Molly-Mae’s father. Molly-Mae was born in March 2014.
Judge Carr said that when Derri was sent to prison in June 2014 he was no longer there to walk or look after Bruiser. Aucott never walked him, while Riley said she did but not frequently enough for her mother, who moved in with her after Derri went to jail, to notice.
Bruiser got some exercise in the house’s small garden, but was largely left locked in a cage in the kitchen. However, the cage was described by experts as too small and too flimsy to contain Bruiser.
At some stage on the night of the attack Bruiser escaped from his cage, but was in the kitchen with the door closed.
He then managed to get the door open, and launched an attack on Molly-Mae who was in her moses basket on the lounge floor.
Judge Carr said: “At some stage you heard Bruiser out of his cage - this does not appear to have unduly alarmed or surprised you.
“You then saw Bruiser in the living room. You say that he had managed to open the door himself.
“He launched an attack on Molly-Mae. Susan Aucott tried to intervene but to no avail. At 10.33pm she called the emergency services.
“Police arrived and forced their way in. Bruiser had to be subdued with PAVA [pepper spray].”
Judge Carr described the attack as ‘sustained and repeated’ adding Aucott would never have been a match for Bruiser based on his size and temperament alone, let alone given the fact she had been drinking that evening.
Bruiser had been described by a vet that saw him as ‘one of the most aggressive dogs’ she had ever seen.
Bruiser was euthanised at the scene, but the court heard this took some time due to his aggression.
Bruiser and Molly-Mae had never been introduced to each other, and one expert quoted by prosecuting barrister David House said her cries would have made her sound like ‘prey’ for an animal like Bruiser.
The Judge said Riley was in an abusive relationship with Derri Wotherspoon, and was pressured by him to keep Bruiser despite her fears.
Judge Carr said: “Derri was in prison and away from you at the time, and Bruiser was your dog. You were capable of separating from him. Molly-Mae’s safety should have been paramount.”
Riley and Aucott, who sat in the dock throughout the hearing crying and sobbing as the details were read out, were taken immediately from the dock once sentenced to jail.
After passing sentence Judge Carr said: “I commend the courage and professionalism of all those who attended the scene and at hospital who dealt with Molly-Mar on the night of October 3, 2014.
“It was a highly traumatic event even for experienced emergency police, medical and veterinary personnel who nevertheless carried out their duties effectively and to the best of their abilities.”
After the sentencing James Allen, head of the complex casework unit for the Crown Prosecution Service East Midlands said: “Molly Mae’s death was a tragedy for all concerned.
“Sadly, the simple truth is that her death in October 2014 was entirely avoidable.
“Molly Mae’s death would not have happened if two of the people closest to her had acted, as any reasonable person would have done, and never allowed such an aggressive and dangerous dog to be in the same small house as a young and vulnerable child.
“Any type of dog that is dangerously out of control, whether a breed of dog banned under the Dangerous Dogs legislation or not, can cause injury. The larger and more powerful the breed of dog, the more serious those injuries can be. As this case tragically illustrates, young and vulnerable children can be killed by dogs regarded as family pets. The onus is on owners and people responsible for dogs to ensure that dogs are kept under control.”
A report from the Independent Police Complaints Commissioner looking at Northamptonshire Police’s actions surrounding the case is due out on Friday.
A serious case review is also due to be held in October looking at the actions of all the agencies and bodies to see if anything could have been done by them to prevent this tragedy.