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Mother who left her son, nine, alone with dog which mauled him to death and inflicted 54 bite marks while she went on a cocaine binge apologises to his father - as inquest hears dog had attacked THREE people before

Daily Mail
Daily Mail
 2021-09-17

A mother who went on a drink and cocaine binge while her nine-year-old boy was mauled to death by an American bulldog cross has apologised to his father - as a court heard there had been three previous incidents with the dog.

Frankie MacRitchie, from Plymouth, received fatal head injuries after being attacked by the American bulldog cross Staffordshire bull terrier at the Tencreek Holiday Park in Looe, Cornwall, in April 2019.

Cornwall Coroner's Court heard the boy had been left alone in a caravan with the seven-stone dog named Winston for two-and-a-half hours while his mother Tawney Willis drank and took drugs in a nearby caravan with friend Sadie Totterdell.

Today, senior coroner for Cornwall, Andrew Cox, said Willis had made a 'serious error of judgment and a serious mistake' in leaving Frankie alone with the dog but her negligence was not sufficient to allow him to record a conclusion of unlawful killing.

Instead, he recorded a narrative conclusion and said he would be writing a preventing future deaths report to Devon and Cornwall Police.

It came as the court heard the dog had previously attacked three people in Plymouth between 2016 and 2018.

Addressing Frankie's father Billy MacRitchie and grandmother Pauline Elford, Willis said: 'To Billy, Pauline and everyone, I am truly, truly sorry. I miss him every day and I know they do, and I know their heartbreak, mine does as well.

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Frankie MacRitchie (pictured), from Plymouth, received fatal head injuries after being attacked by the 45kg American bulldog cross Staffordshire bull terrier in April 2019 
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'I know nothing I will do can ever change what's happened and I understand that. I am sorry for my senseless actions caused them so much heartache, I really am.

'From the bottom of my heart I just wish they would get some closure and I hope they will find some peace.'

Willis later admitted a charge of child neglect and was jailed for two years. She has since been released from prison.

The pair got drunk and Willis also admitted taking cocaine, Truro Crown Court heard previously.

The inquest concluded that Frankie had died from blood loss caused by multiple bites after being left alone with the dog, and had injuries that showed the schoolboy had tried to fight off the animal.

Cornwall Coroner's Court heard Frankie had been staying in a caravan with his mother and her friend Sadie Totterdell, the owner of the dog.

They had all been out for the evening to the park's social club and returned to the caravan around midnight.

Frankie was left playing computer games while his mother and Ms Totterdell, along with the dog, joined friends in a neighbouring caravan to continue drinking.

Willis said she had checked on her son around four or five times and on the last occasion, Winston followed her back to the caravan where Frankie was.

'I was going back and forth checking Frankie was alright. I checked around four or five times and the last time the dog followed out of the caravan door,' she told the court.

'I remember I looked at Sadie and said, 'Is he alright?,' not meaning to go in the caravan but outside, and she said he's fine.

'When I went into the caravan the dog followed me in and Frankie asked me if the dog could stay in and I asked Sadie, 'Is he alright' and she said, 'Yeah, take Winnie, Winnie loves kids.'

'I just didn't think anything of it, and I left them there.'

The court heard Frankie had been left alone with the dog unsupervised for over an hour before Ms Willis returned to the caravan at around 4.30am and discovered her son lying on the kitchen floor covered in blood.

Breaking down in tears, she said: 'I was screaming, I remember crouching over Frankie, and he was on his front and I turned him over.

'I remember screaming and screaming. I was there ages screaming I didn't think anybody could hear me, it felt like a lifetime.

'I was crouching over him and held him in my arms. It wasn't immediate that people came. I was screaming for a long time before people came.'

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The inquest concluded Frankie had died from blood loss caused by multiple bites after being left alone with the dog. Pictured: Totterdell with a similar dog to the one that attacked Frankie
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The nine-year-old (pictured) had been staying in the caravan at the holiday park with his mother and her friend Sadie Totterdell, who owned Winston 

Emergency first responders and paramedics arrived and attempted resuscitation, but Frankie was declared dead at 5.35am.

Dr Deborah Cook, a Home Office registered forensic pathologist, said Frankie had died from blood loss caused by multiple dog bites.

'The wounds have the characteristics of dog bites in a mauling type of attack,' she said. 'The concentration of the injuries over the head and the neck is in keeping with the recognised behaviour of dogs in attack.'

Frankie had appeared to have suffered defensive bite wounds, so may well have attempted to fight off the attack, Dr Cook added.

Frankie had been born with a congenital heart condition and was prescribed warfarin for thinning his blood, but this was not a factor in his death.

'The injuries are so devastating and so extensive anyone, a child or adult, would have died from the blood loss,' Dr Cook said.

'Even if it occurred outside the front door of a large hospital, I doubt Frankie could have survived.'

Frankie bled to death after sustaining 54 injuries, with the most serious to his head and neck, during the attack in the early hours.

After the incident Winston, who had previously bitten another child, was seized by police and destroyed.

Andrew Cox, the senior coroner for Cornwall, said: 'It does raise the question in my mind whether steps could have been taken earlier that may have avoided this tragic outcome.

'It is manifestly obvious now to us having heard all of the evidence and having learnt of the incidents in 2016 and 2018 that there was a risk of this dog attacking Frankie.

'At the time Ms Willis did not know that and I have accepted her evidence.

'The same cannot be said of Ms Totterdell as she must have known of the earlier incidents and was spoken to by the police following the incident in 2016 and spoken to by the mother of the child bitten in 2018.'

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Friends said Ms Willis left the caravan a couple of times to check on Frankie, but the first she became aware of the incident was when she heard screaming. Pictured: File image of a caravan at Tencreek Holiday Park

Friend Jordan Pearce told the hearing: 'We were all sat in our caravan when Tawney went out to check and I could hear something, so I turned the music down and didn't hear anything.

'We put the music back on and heard a scream and she literally ran in through the door and that's when we knew.'

His partner Cheryl Crocker added: 'Tawney came running in screaming. Tawney kept screaming and screaming and she needed to find Frankie's nan.'

Mr Pearce said that after the attack, Totterdell fled the caravan park, taking Winston with her.

Totterdell was jailed for three years, describing leaving Frankie alone with the 'extremely powerful' dog as 'the height of folly'. She was also banned from keeping dogs for ten years.

In a statement read outside court in June 2020, Frankie MacRitchie's family described him as a 'special young boy' who had a heart condition and should not have been left alone.

'As Frankie's family, nothing will ever be enough, no sentence will ever be long enough,' his aunt Danielle MacRitchie said.

'Not today, not tomorrow, not ever will we as a family forgive them for leaving our boy in a caravan with a dog he hardly knew. Frankie was left alone to die in the most horrific way, beyond anyone's imagination.'

Mr Cox said Ms Willis had made a 'serious error of judgment and a serious mistake' in leaving Frankie alone with the dog but her negligence was not sufficient to allow him to record a conclusion of unlawful killing.

Instead, he recorded a narrative conclusion and said he would be writing a preventing future deaths report to Devon and Cornwall Police.

He said: 'I want the police to check the systems they now have in place are sufficiently robust to ensure where that happens, if it is necessary, a dog is dealt with before this sort of incident can happen again.

'I want to be very clear, I am not saying that the police did not take the appropriate steps on this occasion.

'We know there were two incidents in 2016 but the events of 2018 were not brought to police attention.

'What it seems to me is important is that a robust system is in place so that if there are incidents like this in the future, we can be confident that those dogs that need to be are dealt with.'

Comments / 19

Doggone Right
29d ago

Getting bit is 1 thing. Multiple bites is an attack. And the animal needs to be put down the first time this happens and the owner or whoever is in charge of that animal should be jailed and NEVER allowed to own an animal again.

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8
pam
29d ago

How horribly tragic this is….these dogs cannot be trusted PERIOD! A member of my family was mauled to death by an American Bulldog! This is just horrible! After the first time it but someone, it should have been put down PERIOD! 🤬💔

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5
Sharon Washington
29d ago

She is a sad of excuse of a mother. She probably didn’t give the dog nothing to eat. Or the child. It’s so sad. He had to lose his life like that.I feel so sorry for him. May he Rest In Peace. God needed another angle 🌺🌹🌸

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5

Comments / 0