Will fatal dog attacks result in a manslaughter charge?

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Will fatal dog attacks result in a manslaughter charge?

Historically, measures have been implemented to try control specific breeds of dogs and reduce the number of dog attacks. However, it is no secret that the number of dog attacks in England and Wales has risen. In 2023, 30,539 offences of a dog injuring a person, or a guide dog were reported.

The most familiar piece of legislation designed to try and reduce the frequency of dog attacks is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Among other things, this Act banned 4 specific types of dogs:

  • Pit Bull Terrier;
  • Japanese Tosa;
  • Dogo Argentino; and
  • Fila Brasileiro.

Most recently, since 1 February 2024 it has become a criminal offence to own an unregistered XL bully dog. This was as a result of XL bully dog’s being added to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

The Dog Coalition, of which the British Veterinary Association is a member, has raised concerns about this reactive approach. They instead believe that the focus should be on effective enforcement and early interventions. Instead of reacting to the end result, this would bring dogs and their owners to the attention of the law enforcement earlier, before the behaviour escalates.

Frankie’s death resulted in a 3-year prison sentence

At present, it seems the public do not think that the police are taking dog attacks seriously enough. Often the police will attempt to dismiss the matter as a civil matter, as opposed to criminal in nature.

For these reasons, there is a call for the police to do more. One argument is that when a dog fatally attacks a person, the owner of the dog should be charged with manslaughter due to the negligence involved. Pauline Elford has been particularly vocal on this issue.

In April 2019, Pauline’s grandson Frankie Macaritchie was left alone with an American Bull Terrier Cross. When the dog became out of control, Frankie was mauled to death. There is no dispute that Frankie’s death was preventable.

Following his death, Frankie’s mother was jailed for 2-years after pleading guilty to neglect. The owner of the dog, Ms Totterdell was jailed for 3-years and banned from having a dog for 10-years.  

It is on the basis of Ms Totterdell’s sentence that Pauline thinks more needs to be done. She believes that until sentences are increased, dog attacks will continue regardless of the breed. Punishment needs to be increased to cause a shift in the attitudes of dog owners.

The sentencing that resulted following the death of Frankie is not unusual. It seems there is a consistent theme of the owners of dogs in fatal attacks being handed what is regarded by the public and victims’ families as a lenient sentence. The question is, would imposing a longer sentence on dog owners be more proportionate?

How would the punishment be different?

At present, under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, people can be jailed for a maximum of 14-years, be disqualified form dog ownership or have their dog euthanised. This is in stark comparison to manslaughter, which has the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

More recently, there has been cases where the owner of a dog has been arrested for manslaughter. However, therefore are calls for this to be the default position and for the charges to be maintained throughout the prosecution process.

How can JMW help?

If you are the owner of a dog that has been involved in dog attack, our experienced team of criminal defence solicitors can advise. Please call us on 0345 872 6666. Alternatively, request a call back by filling in our online enquiry form.

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