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Woman jailed after dog attacks 12 children

Claire Neal, who has been jailed. Credit: Northumbria Police

A dog owner has been jailed for four years after her pet mauled 12 terrified children in a "horror" play park attack.

The "dangerous" brown and white staffie, named Marley, mauled a dozen terrified victims, who had been happily playing in a park at Burns Close in Blyth, Northumberland.

The animal had escaped from owner Claire Neal's address on nearby Chasedale Crescent and had followed a teenager along the street, who thought it was "nice".

Newcastle Crown Court heard screaming children clambered up trees and climbing frames in a bid to get away from the animal, who had been trained by Neal's partner to be aggressive.

The frightened victims, who were as young as five, were left bleeding from puncture wounds to the skin and with torn clothes from the dog's teeth.

One little girl was left with wounds that looked like "swiss cheese" due to the amount of punctures.

Neal, who has been prosecuted twice before because of the animal biting children, had initially denied owning a dog dangerously out of control - claiming that Marley belonged to authorities after its destruction was ordered by a court.

The mum-of-two, who was banned from keeping animals as as result of her two convictions, insisted that the dog "belonged to the court or the police".

But the 39-year-old later changed her plea to guilty and has been told by a judge: "It was not the dog's fault, it was not the police's fault, it was the fault of yours."

Neal has now been given a four year jail term and banned from keeping dogs for life.

Judge Sarah Mallet told her: "That dog had, on two previous occasions, bitten children. An order had been made you should have the dog destroyed.

"You ignored that order and made no improvements in arrangements to prevent the dog from injuring others.

"Injuries were caused to 12 people, all children."

The judge said as well as the injuries, which required stitches, staples, surgery and skin grafts, the victims would have been caused serious psychological harm by the ordeal.

Judge Mallett said Neal was responsible for a 14-month old dog having to be destroyed and said the the animal's upbringing played a "significant role" in it's behaviour.

The judge told her: "It is, in my view, ridiculous to suggest Marley was not your dog. You were the owner and you were entirely responsible for her at all times, albeit you never acted as a responsible pet owner."

Neal said, "I'm really sorry, I apologise", as she was led away to start her sentence.

The court heard it was on May 18 the animal escaped from Neal's garden, after being unable to get back into the house, and ended up at a park packed full of children playing.

Prosecutor Fiona Clancy told the court the animal's attention was initially attracted by a ball that a six-year-old was playing with. When the child tried to take the ball back, Marley started to attack.

Miss Clancy said: "It started to bite her, it pulled her along the ground.

"Children started to run and it chased them, in turn, wounding arms, wounding legs and pulling children to the ground.

"Some climbed fences, some climbed climbing frames in a bid to escape.

"Some made it to safety. Children saw parents running for them, they then made a move to get out of the park, only for the dog to then turn on them and bite them as well."

One parent told an earlier court hearing how his step-daughter was injured in the attack.

He said: "Children were scattered about left right and centre.

"It was chaos, kids and adults everywhere.

"People were screaming and crying.

"It was mostly kids but adults were screaming too."

The court heard how the man's child had been bitten by the dog, who was seen with blood on it's teeth, and needed to attend hospital to have her wounds cleaned.

The witness continued: "It looked like Swiss cheese with so many puncture wounds and there was a gash.

"It was deep."

Another witness who saw the attack said at the time it was like a "horror scene".

Jane Foley, defending, said Neal has been "very upset" by what happened to the children and has suffered personal difficulties.

Miss Foley said "feelings running high" in the community would make it difficult for Neal to return after she had completed her prison sentence.

PC Craig Arkley from Northumbria Police said: "This was an extremely frightening incident for the children who were injured when the dog ran amok in a Blyth park last year.

"The court has recognised the serious harm done to the children and families and we are pleased by the sentences handed down," he added.

"I hope it will remind all dog owners to make sure their pets are appropriately looked after and not put in a position where they can harm others."