The family of a frail pensioner who died after she was repeatedly bitten by a police dog have spoken of their anger after an inquest jury criticised two forces for failing to highlight the animal’s history.
Irene Collins, 73, was a much-loved grandmother who was attacked in her kitchen by seven-stone German shepherd Dano, which had been deployed to search her garden for a suspected drug dealer.
She died days after suffering bites to her arm, leg and breast, and a broken arm at her home in Penrith Gardens, Middlesbrough, in July 2014.
Dano’s handler Pc Mark Baines had managed to get the dog to release Mrs Collins but it escaped his grasp after being taken into the hallway and returned to bite her leg as she lay bleeding on the floor.
Mrs Collins need an operation and made an initial good recovery, despite being terminally-ill with lung cancer, but then developed pneumonia in hospital and died four days later.
The inquest at Teesside Magistrates’ Court concluded on Friday that she died from natural causes “contributed to by the consequences of the dog bites while the dog was out of control”.
The jury criticised the Thames Valley and Hampshire forces, which sold the dog to Cleveland Police for £500 without fully disclosing that Dano had already bitten 10 people, including one in the face.
The panel said that information “should have been shared as part of the transaction”.
An experienced dog handler who viewed the dog had earlier told the hearing he may not even have travelled to see Dano had he been aware of the facial bite.
Following the hearing, her son Eric Collins told told reporters: “I am very angry with the police. This has been a disgrace on their part.”
He paid tribute to his mother, a retired hospital worker, saying: “She was the most gentle woman you could ever want to meet. She wouldn’t harm a fly and this family loved her to bits.”
The jury, after hearing four days of evidence, made a number of findings, including:
– Mrs Collins was unaware a dog was to be used in the search
– Her back door should have been checked to make sure it was firmly closed
– The dog “engaged” with Mrs Collins four times
– Further action should have been taken to stop the dog going back into the kitchen once his handler had removed him into the hall
Assistant coroner Karin Welsh thanked the jury and those who gave evidence, saying: “I am sure for everyone involved that night it will have been a distressing.”
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said Pc Baines received a written warning after a misconduct hearing in November last year.
The IOPC added the Crown Prosecution Service decided no criminal charges should be brought.
Cleveland Police said since the attack it has altered its policy when acquiring dogs and now asked for full details of an animal’s past.
The coroner asked the force to consider requiring dog handlers to carry two leads after she heard Pc Baines could not control Dano with his leash after it got tangled under Mrs Collins.
Dano was destroyed after the incident.