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Staffordshire bull terrier that mauled five-year-old girl’s face to be destroyed

Stock image of a Staffordshire bull terrier  (Alamy Stock Photo)
Stock image of a Staffordshire bull terrier (Alamy Stock Photo)

A Staffordshire bull terrier that mauled a five-year-old girl’s face after being trained as a fighting dog is to be destroyed, as a judge branded the owner “despicable” and said the attack should have been prevented.

The girl, Elsie, was playing with her older sister when she was set upon by the dog, called Spike. She was dragged across the ground by her hair before it sank its teeth into her face.

A court heard the dog had been mistreated for years, trained to attack children, and turned into a “biting, fighting dog” by its owner and her young son.

Neighbours on the south London estate heard screaming when Elsie was attacked in September last year, and found her with life-changing wounds. She faces medical treatment for life and plastic surgery for her scars.

At Harrow crown court, Recorder Charles Sherrard KC said it was “an incident waiting to happen” and criticised authorities for not acting sooner when there was evidence of a dangerous dog being regularly on the loose. Police had been called to reports of the owner’s son, 11, being left alone with Spike and encouraging the dog to “bite upon command”, and the owner had been investigated for neglect by social services.

Elsie’s mother said: “Any film that has a dog in it that shows its teeth causes her to be extremely scared, even down to watching ... Beauty and the Beast.” She said her daughters previously “adored” dogs, but they now suffer panic attacks and difficulties sleeping.

Finance manager Olwen Knowler, 57, was in court to be sentenced over the attack, as she had let Spike and another dog out of their home that day to relieve themselves.

Knowler told police she had offered to let the dogs out two or three times a day, but had no further involvement in their care. The judge found Knowler should have been aware of the danger that Spike posed when off the lead, as the dog had previously attacked her own cat. But he accepted she was unaware of the animal’s years of maltreatment.

The judge sentenced her to an 18-month community order with 150 hours of community service.

Ordering Spike’s destruction, Recorder Sherrard took aim at the owner who had “cowardly” failed to come to court to support Knowler, not made representations about the future of her pet, or offered to compensate the injured girl.

“Her behaviour throughout this has been despicable,” he said. “I have no doubt the owner was never fit to look after that dog. It was being trained or educated by the owner and her son to turn the dog into a biting, fighting dog.”

Spike is set to be destroyed in 28 days unless an appeal is lodged. Knowler pleaded guilty to being in charge of a dog which caused injury while dangerously out of control.