Two women have been jailed after a retired hospital porter was ‘literally eaten alive’ by their dog which had not been fed for 45 hours before the attack.
Clifford Clarke, 79, from Clubmoor, Liverpool, was savagely mauled in his own garden by his neighbours’ starving pet after he left his kitchen door open while cooking meat.
Liverpool Crown Court was told that the pensioner’s right arm was left ‘hanging by a thread’ and he was ‘literally eaten alive’ by the Presa Canario cross-breed which was later shot dead by police.
Today, owners Hayley Sulley, 30, and Della Woods, 29, of Norris Green, Liverpool were jailed for 12 months after admitting allowing a dog to enter a place where it was not allowed to be and where it injured a person. They also admitted three offences of causing unnecessary suffering to a dog.
The dog, ‘Charlie’ and two other dogs were earlier seen on the loose ‘snarling’ and ‘foaming at the mouth’ by a terrified neighbour who contacted Liverpool council’s dog unit, only to be told it would take four hours to attend.
A neighbour heard Mr Clarke yell ‘get off me’, before seeing the animal savage the former athlete and hospital worker.
The dog was so crazed that it tried to bite the end of a rifle used by police to kill it. After being shot once, it got up and tried to attack again.
One officer later described the incident as ‘the worst thing I have ever seen’.
Both defendants had left the dog unattended in the garden on a hot day last May without water and shade while they went to a barbecue.
Retired hospital porter Mr Clarke had opened his back door to air the kitchen as he cooked food on a day when temperatures peaked at 19 degrees.
The court heard that Charlie and another dog had escaped from Sulley’s garden minutes before and had wandered into Mr Clarke’s garden.
Neighbours called the police when they heard screaming coming from Mr Clarke’s garden, and later saw the pensioner on the ground being dragged and mauled by the dog. Eric Lamb, prosecuting, said the Presa Canario entered through a gap in the fence.
He said Mr Clarke was ‘something of an athlete in his younger days’ but more recently had two hip replacements and suffered from diabetes and arthritis.
On the night before his death, he celebrated his birthday at his local pub and was in ‘good spirits”, said the prosecutor.
At about 6.30pm a neighbour saw Charlie and another of the defendants’ three dogs, Gypsy, in Mr Clarke’s garden and said he was ‘glad he had a hatchet with him to protect himself, such was the conduct of the dogs in the garden’.
Later both dogs ran up to a conservatory on a house backing on to Mr Clarke’s property.
Mr Lamb said: ‘The dogs were jumping up at the window. Charlie was foaming at the mouth.
‘Both of the dogs appeared very hungry.’
He said they were seen eating bird food and dirty water from a bowl containing cigarette butts.
The court heard that at about 8.30pm another neighbour, Michael Rankin, heard a shout of ‘Get off me’.
Mr Lamb said: ‘He ran out and he saw Cliff Clarke lying down and the dog pulling his arm off. Mr Rankin ran back in and with great presence of mind he called the police.’
He returned with a golf club and was straddling the fence when the call operator told him not to cross into the garden for his own safety.
Mr Lamb said: ‘He described it as the dog was basically eating Charlie’s arm and it had a go at his other arm.’ Another witness compared it to watching ‘a horror film’.
He and other neighbours stood by helpless as the police arrived 15 minutes later but they too were unable to assist initally.
The dog jumped up at the 6ft wooden fence when armed officers attended and bit the end of a rifle.
‘I am satisfied this dreadful and forceful attack on Mr Clarke was entirely avoidable. Mr Clarke was literally eaten alive by Charlie’
– Judge Mark Brown
Mr Lamb said: ‘The dog was so aggressive that after it was shot once, the dog got up and was shot again for a second time.’
He said Mr Clarke, who was said to have served in the armed forces, was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness.
Tests by animal experts revealed the dog, which had to be shot following the attack, had not been fed or watered for at least 45 hours before the killing.
Today, both defendants wept in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court as Judge Mark Brown told them Mr Clarke’s death was ‘entirely avoidable’ and jailed them for 12 months.
He said: ‘I am satisfied this dreadful and forceful attack on Mr Clarke was entirely avoidable. Mr Clarke was literally eaten alive by Charlie. Large amounts of tissue were ingested by the dog.
‘Mr Clarke suffered a horrific death and you have taken away from his family the love and companionship he would have provided.’
The judge also banned them from having dogs for life.
Gary Simpson, Senior Crown Prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service Mersey-Cheshire, said: ‘This was a vicious attack on a defenceless man who was powerless to fight back against this large and powerful dog.
‘The guilty pleas of these two women have thankfully brought this case to a relatively speedy conclusion and have saved Mr Clarke’s relatives the ordeal of a trial.
‘Hayley Sulley and Della Woods were both responsible for the dog’s welfare and behaviour on that fateful day. Their failure to make sure the dog was cared for and under control has led to a man’s death and they must now come to terms with that. Our thoughts are with the family of Mr Clarke at this sad time.’