17 September 2021

Mother apologises to family over son’s death in dog attack

17 September 2021

The mother of a nine-year-old boy mauled to death by a dog has apologised to his family for her “senseless actions” in leaving the animal with her son.

Tawney Willis left her son Frankie MacRitchie alone in a caravan with a 45kg American bulldog cross Staffordshire bull terrier.

Frankie, from Plymouth, sustained fatal head injuries after being attacked by the dog, called Winston, in April 2019 at the Tencreek Holiday Park in Looe Cornwall.

Addressing Frankie’s father Billy MacRitchie and grandmother Pauline Elford, Ms Willis said: “To Billy, Pauline and everyone, I am truly, truly sorry. I miss him every day and I know they do, and I know their heartbreak, mine does as well.

“I know nothing I will do can ever change what’s happened and I understand that. I am sorry for my senseless actions caused them so much heartache, I really am.

“From the bottom of my heart I just wish they would get some closure and I hope they will find some peace.”

Ms Willis later admitted a charge of child neglect and was jailed for two years. The dog’s owner, Sadie Totterdell, was also jailed.

Cornwall Coroner’s Court heard Frankie had been staying in a caravan with his mother and her friend, Ms Totterdell.

They had all been out for the evening to the park’s social club and returned to the caravan around midnight.

Frankie was left playing computer games while his mother and Ms Totterdell, along with the dog, joined friends in a neighbouring caravan to continue drinking.

I was crouching over him and held him in my arms. It wasn’t immediate that people came. I was screaming for a long time before people came

Ms Willis said she had checked on her son around four or five times and on the last occasion, Winston followed her back to the caravan where Frankie was.

“I was going back and forth checking Frankie was alright. I checked around four or five times and the last time the dog followed out of the caravan door,” she told the court.

“I remember I looked at Sadie and said, ‘Is he alright?,’ not meaning to go in the caravan but outside, and she said he’s fine.

“When I went into the caravan the dog followed me in and Frankie asked me if the dog could stay in and I asked Sadie, ‘Is he alright’ and she said, ‘Yeah, take Winnie, Winnie loves kids.’

“I just didn’t think anything of it, and I left them there.”

The court heard Frankie had been left alone with the dog unsupervised for over an hour before Ms Willis returned to the caravan at around 4.30am and discovered her son lying on the kitchen floor covered in blood.

“The dog was sat on the sofa just looking at me,” she said.

Breaking down in tears, she said: “I was screaming, I remember crouching over Frankie, and he was on his front and I turned him over.

“I remember screaming and screaming. I was there ages screaming I didn’t think anybody could hear me, it felt like a lifetime.

“I was crouching over him and held him in my arms. It wasn’t immediate that people came. I was screaming for a long time before people came.”

Emergency first responders and paramedics arrived and attempted resuscitation, but Frankie was declared dead at 5.35am.

Dr Deborah Cook, a Home Office registered forensic pathologist, said Frankie had died from blood loss caused by multiple dog bites.

The court heard there had been three previous incidents with the dog.

Andrew Cox, the senior coroner for Cornwall, said: “It does raise the question in my mind whether steps could have been taken earlier that may have avoided this tragic outcome.

“It is manifestly obvious now to us having heard all of the evidence and having learnt of the incidents in 2016 and 2018 that there was a risk of this dog attacking Frankie.

Frankie MacRitchie (left) died after being attacked by a dog owned by a family friend (Devon and Cornwall Police/PA) (PA Media)

“At the time Ms Willis did not know that and I have accepted her evidence.

“The same cannot be said of Ms Totterdell as she must have known of the earlier incidents and was spoken to by the police following the incident in 2016 and spoken to by the mother of the child bitten in 2018.”

Mr Cox said Ms Willis had made a “serious error of judgment and a serious mistake” in leaving Frankie alone with the dog but her negligence was not sufficient to allow him to record a conclusion of unlawful killing.

Instead, he recorded a narrative conclusion and said he would be writing a preventing future deaths report to Devon and Cornwall Police.

“I want the police to check the systems they now have in place are sufficiently robust to ensure where that happens, if it is necessary, a dog is dealt with before this sort of incident can happen again.

“I want to be very clear, I am not saying that the police did not take the appropriate steps on this occasion.

“We know there were two incidents in 2016 but the events of 2018 were not brought to police attention.

“What it seems to me is important is that a robust system is in place so that if there are incidents like this in the future, we can be confident that those dogs that need to be are dealt with.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox