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20 October 2016, 12:41
The Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board has today published its Serious Case Review into the death of a 6 month-old baby girl, who was fatally injured after being attacked in her mother’s home by an illegal pitbull-type dog two years ago.
Molly Mae Wotherspoon died after she was attacked by the animal in her mother’s home on October 3 2014.
Last month, the baby girl’s 23-year-old mother was sentenced to two years imprisonment after she admitted being the owner of a dangerously out of control dog while her 56-year-old mother was handed the same sentence for being in charge of a dangerously out of control dog.
A decision was taken in the aftermath of Molly Mae’s death to instigate a Serious Case Review to examine properly the roles of professionals involved with her during her short life and on the night she died.
The review concludes that while poor practice could be identified among some agencies, “nothing suggests that any single professional could, or should, have prevented Molly Mae's death”.
The report initially sets out the event of the night itself. Northamptonshire Police received a call from the “hysterical” grandmother who said one of the two dogs in the property had escaped into the lounge and attacked Molly Mae as she lay in her Moses basket.
Police arrived within five minutes, but despite attempts to resuscitate the child, the injuries were too severe to save her.
The report describes the attack as “ferocious” - Molly Mae’s injuries included extensive bleeding to blood vessels around the brain caused by the dog biting through her skull.
It states: “With this level of injury, particularly the bleeding into the brain space, it is the view of an A&E Consultant who provided an emergency response that there was no chance whatsoever she could have survived the attack, irrespective of how quickly first aid was commenced. This concurred with the view of a pathologist that she would have died within one minute of the bite to her head.”
The officers who attended the scene, PC Lewis Judd and PC Nicola Line, are singled out for their bravery and professionalism confronting a scene that was “nothing short of catastrophic”.
Among the considerations of the SCR panel was whether professionals working with Molly Mae and her family could have identified any safeguarding hazards to the baby in her brief life and whether the dog should have been considered in the same way as any other hazard, such as a toddler in close proximity to an open fire.
According to the report, not enough questions were asked in the pre and post-birth period about Molly Mae’s father, who was serving a prison sentence at the time of her death and had significant alcohol and drug issues.
While Molly Mae’s mother had shown a level of deceit around the father’s whereabouts – so-called “disguised compliance” - more “professional curiosity” should have been demonstrated by health visitors when seeing her at home.
A recommendation is made for NSCB Chairman Keith Makin to write to Northampton General Hospital to request that fathers in potentially vulnerable families are afforded the same level of inquiry.
Similarly, while recognising it should not be a requirement of health workers to be trained in identifying dangerous breeds of dog, a recommendation is made that the NSCB should promote the practice of midwives and health visitors proactively asking parents about the presence of pets in the home.
Two complaints about the dog were recorded. One, in relation to noise, was made to Daventry District Council in May 2014 and was dealt with appropriately, via a written response.
The other incident in January 2014 subsequently became the subject of a report published last month by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and centred on the failure by Northamptonshire Police to act on an intelligence log relating to concerns the RSPCA had made about the dog.
Further recommendations surface in connection with the police role, namely that the NSCB should seek reassurance from Northamptonshire Police that safeguarding training for frontline officers recognises aggressive dogs as a potential hazard to children within the home. The NSCB will also write to the College of Policing to lobby for the issue of dog safety in the context of child safeguarding, be included within the national policing safeguarding training curriculum.
Keith Makin, chairman of the NSCB, said: “This was a deeply distressing case which ended with the tragic death of a young baby.
“Fatal dog attacks on children remain exceptionally rare and this made for an especially challenging Serious Case Review. More than two years have passed since this incident and several of the important recommendations made in this report have already been enacted and the NSCB is reassured by the actions taken.
“These include a need for greater professional curiosity by midwives and health visitors about the fathers in vulnerable families they visit as well as to ensure questions are asked about the presence of pets, and dogs in particular in homes which they visit.
“The requirement for all police officers to be made aware through safeguarding training of the dangers which aggressive dogs pose to young children is also a positive outcome and something that has already taken effect within Force.
“I shall also be writing to the College of Policing’s Chief Executive highlighting the lessons learned from this Review with a view to ensuring it be included within national policing’s safeguarding training curriculum.”
Det Supt Steve Lingley, head of safeguarding at Northamptonshire Police, said: “We welcome this important report and the findings into what was a very challenging case on a number of levels.
“Within weeks of the tragedy, Northamptonshire Police had carried out a complete overhaul of its response policy to dangerous dogs. The key driver for this has been to ensure that any report of a dangerous dog is responded to in line with our core aim of protecting people from harm.
“We also embarked upon a review of every dog incident in the 12 months prior to that night to ascertain whether there was any potentially dangerous dog incident that we had not reviewed or taken action against.
“Awareness around dangerous dogs is now part of the Force’s overall safeguarding training and this has been an extremely positive thing to come out of such a tragic episode.”