‘Lessons to be learnt’ from death of Daventry baby in dog attack says report – but concludes no authority could have prevented it

Keith Makin presenting the NSCB report
Keith Makin presenting the NSCB report

A serious case review report into the death of a Daventry baby killed by a family dog has come up with a serious of recommendations.

The report by the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) was released today comes up with eight separate recommendations after examining the situation leading up to the death of six-month-old Molly-May Wotherspoon at her family home in Daventry in October 2014.

Molly-Mae was attacked by a family dog – named Bruiser and later discovered to be a banned ‘American pit bull type’ – which had escaped from the kitchen at their home on Daventry’s Timken estate while her grandmother Susan Aucott was baby-sitting. Molly-Mae’s mother Claire Riley left Aucott in charge while she went on a night out.

The report examines the actions of different organisations and bodies regarding Molly-Mae and her family.

The overall conclusion of the review is that: “Nothing suggests that any single professional could, or should, have prevented Molly-Mae’s death.”

But it goes on to lay out a series of problems and lessons to be learnt surrounding the case.

The recommendations deal with:

- Ensuring health professionals know they can access information on fathers to the same level as mothers in potentially vulnerable families.

- That midwives and health visitors should routinely ask parents about whether there are pets in their home and give advice on how to keep young children safe around pets.

- That the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons should be asked if it is feasible or desirable for a scheme of mandatory reporting of dangerous or aggressive dogs be created.

- And that training for police officers includes recognising dangerous dogs as a potential hazard to children and that referrals are made if police are aware of an aggressive dog in a household where a child lives.

However, NSCB’s chairman Keith Makin pointed out that even if all the recommendations had been in place before Molly-Mae was born, there is no evidence his board received that could show that would have prevented her death.

The report details how during all the visits made by midwives and health visitors after Molly-Mae’s birth, only on one occasion did someone hear the dogs barking. They were never seen by anyone who visited, and therefore had no chance to judge if they were a danger.

The report points out that information was passed from a vet to the RSPCA and then onto Northamptonshire Police about Bruiser after he was brought in by Riley for treatment.

But it goes on to say: “Although Molly-Mae had not been born at that time, if the dog taken to the vet was, as seems likely, the same dog which later killed her, it goes without saying that had the police taken action over the intelligence from the RSPCA they may have been in a position to obtain a magistrates warrant to remove the dog from the house for an assessment.

“This must be considered as potentially a missed opportunity to change the outcome for Molly-Mae.”

The review says more ‘professional curiosity’ should be encouraged among midwives and others visiting new parents at home, to ask questions about pets and other potential hazards rather than relying on seeing them or the parents telling them.

The report also said Claire Riley “engaged in a pattern of deceit” by leading health visitors to believe Molly-Mae’s father was out at work when he was in fact in jail, using different surnames, and failing to take Molly-Mae for immunisations and giving different excuses for this.

As such Mr Makin said it was not clear that even if Riley had been asked about the dogs that she would have told the truth to health visitors.

Keith Makin said: “This was a deeply distressing case which ended with the tragic death of a young baby.

“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 affect within Northamptonshire Police.”

Mr Makin also praised the response from police officers and medical teams called to the scene of the attack on that night in October 2014.

The first police officers arrived on the scene with no dog restraining equipment, and had to pull the attacking dog off Molly-Mae.

The NSCB said: “The officers who attend 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.”

Last month Molly-Mae’s mother Claire Riley was jailed for owning a dog that was dangerously out of control, and Susan Aucott was jailed for being in charge of the dog at the time of the attack.