A pitbull mauled four people after it learned to open a back door just weeks after police deemed it safe to return to the family home.
Dangerous dog Hugo was returned to Rebecca Porteous, who had a three-year-old child, after it was concluded he was good-natured.
Hugo was subject to a suspended death sentence and was supposed to be kept muzzled when in public, a court heard.
But he had developed the ability to let himself out of Porteous’ back door in Hebburn and got out as a youth walked a small dog past the house in October last year.
Hugo scaled the back wall and began to attack the other dog, who was picked up by its owner, who was injured in the process.
Hugo continued trying to bite the other dog and brave passer-by Michelle Green then tried to assist by kicking Hugo.
He then mauled her, leaving her with serious wounds and mental and physical scars.
When Porteous tried to intervene, she too was bitten on the arm and thigh and when her dad arrived at the scene, he was also attacked by the dog.
Eventually police marksmen shot Hugo dead.
Now Porteous – who had assumed responsibility for the dog when her partner, who bought him, died – has been given a suspended prison sentence after she admitted being the owner of a dangerous dog that caused injury.
Newcastle Crown Court heard there had been a query about the breed and a decision was taken to remove him to be assessed early last summer.
Peter Schofield, prosecuting, said: “There was no real concern shown in respect of temperament and personality.
“Rebecca Porteous was considered a fit and proper person to look after it.”
Hugo was returned under a contingent destruction order – described as a suspended death sentence, which was issued on August 14.
On October 15, around 6pm, the youth, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was walking his dog past Porteous’ home on Whickham Road, Hebburn.
Mr Schofield said: “He was confronted by the arrival of Hugo, who had found the ability to open the back door using the handle.
“He got out into the garden and scaled the wall, attracted no doubt by the presence of the other dog. Hugo set about the small dog and started snapping and biting it.”
When the youth gathered his squealing dog up into his arms, Hugo kept trying to bite it. The youth also suffered a injury to his finger in trying to ward off the dog.
At that point kitchen assistant Ms Green saw what was happening and went to help.
She kicked Hugo to try to get him to stop attacking the other dog – but he then turned his attack on her, sinking his teeth into her arm
and thigh and leaving her bleeding and seriously hurt.
Porteous then tried to intervene but she was also bitten, including on the arm and thigh.
She returned inside, where her three-and-a-half year old daughter was.
Eventually Hugo returned to the garden, where he was when Porteous’ father arrived. He regularly exercised the dog and said he couldn’t fault its temperament previously but as he walked to the house, he was
bitten on his arm.
Police marksmen were called to the scene and Hugo, who was “showing an interest in getting into the house by pressing down on the handle” was shot.
Ms Green suffered the most serious injuries, needed surgery and has been left with severe scarring to her arm.
She said in a victim impact statement: “This incident still affects me physically and mentally to this day.
“My scars are a constant reminder when I look in the mirror and I notice people looking and even staring at them.
“If I see a dog coming towards me I now freeze and raise my arms. I previously had no issues with dogs but I’ve now become apprehensive.”
Judge Tim Gittins sentenced Porteous to eight months suspended for 18 months with 80 hours unpaid work.
The judge said: “There was a failure to control Hugo, albeit this was an unexpected event.
“You could have done more to ensure he was behind a locked door when he was not muzzled.”
Judge Gittins said he questioned the wisdom of someone with a young child having such a breed but acknowledged the police had determined he was not dangerous.
The judge said such cases ordinarily result in immediate prison sentences but he was taking the “wholly exceptional” course of
suspending it because Porteous’ child had already been left without her father after his unexpected death.
Fiona Lamb, defending, said it was a sad case for the victims and Porteous, who was also left scarred.
She added that Hugo had been a “loving family pet” and she had no concerns about him being around her child and other children.
Miss Lamb added: “This case has had a profound effect on her, she’s upset about this incident.
“It upsets her a lot to think about what happened and she gets flashbacks.
“She loved dogs before this incident and feels she she is now frightened of them.
“She doesn’t feel there was any more she could have done.
“The police didn’t have any concerns about the dog either. It’s
“There is genuine and deep remorse, I don’t think she will forget about this any time soon.”
A Northumbria Police spokesperson said: “The dog was seized because it had characteristics similar to that of a Pit Bull Terrier which is a banned breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
“The animal was housed in kennels and assessed by a dog expert. It was acknowledged that it was a cross-breed and had shown no previous signs of aggression, so was therefore returned to the owner on an interim basis.”