Owner of American bulldogs that mauled elderly woman to death is jailed

Darren Pritchard was at work when his two dogs escaped through a hole in a garden fence and mauled 85-year-old Lucille Downer to death.

A man who admitted being in charge of two American bulldogs which mauled an elderly woman to death in her own garden has been jailed for nearly five years.

Darren Pritchard, 44, was sentenced on Tuesday after earlier pleading guilty to owning two dangerously out of control dogs, possessing cannabis with intent to supply, and producing the drug at an address in the street in Rowley Regis, West Midlands, where Lucille Downer was pronounced dead.

Wolverhampton Crown Court heard that Pritchard’s 85-year-old next-door neighbour, who had dementia, suffered fatal injuries to her neck when she was attacked by the dogs, which are legal to own in the UK, on the afternoon of April 2 2021.

Fatal dog attack in Rowley Regis
Lucille Downer was killed in a sustained attack by two American bulldogs in her own garden (West Midlands Police/PA)

Howard Searle, prosecuting, told the court that Pritchard was at work when the animals got into Mrs Downer’s garden through a hole in the fence and started “mauling” her, leaving her with deep wounds to her left leg and the left side of her neck.

Neighbours reported hearing screaming and thought Mrs Downer may have fallen so, along with the pensioner’s daughter who lived nearby and cared for her mother, went to her house, where they found one of the dogs attacking her.

Mr Searle said: “One of the dogs held her by the neck and dragged her from side to side. The dog was mauling and pulling Mrs Downer. The other dog had blood around its mouth, suggesting a joint attack.”

The neighbours and Mrs Downer’s daughter had to retreat inside the house and block the door with a wheelie bin, while a neighbour tried to distract the animals with dog biscuits.

The court also heard that paramedics could not help Mrs Downer until Pritchard himself returned home and got the dogs away from her.

Darren Pritchard court case
Darren Pritchard accepted that his two American bulldogs had escaped into neighbouring gardens before the fatal attack on Lucille Downer (Jacob King/PA)

When Pritchard was arrested and his house searched, police discovered bags of cannabis with an estimated street value of just under £20,000, as well as 10 to 12 cannabis plants in the loft and around £35,000 in bundles of cash.

Neighbours had previously witnessed Pritchard hitting one of the dogs “repeatedly” on one occasion, and “goading” one of the animals while it was on a rope leash on another, Mr Searle told the court.

Another neighbour reportedly informed the RSPCA after seeing the dogs left outside in the cold.

During a police interview, Pritchard said he kept the dogs in the house and did not muzzle them because he did not think they were aggressive. He accepted that the dogs had escaped into neighbouring gardens before.

Defending Pritchard, Morgan Pirone said the defendant was “under no illusions” that he would be going to prison and was remorseful for what had happened.

He said: “On April 2 2021, his actions destroyed the Downer family. Nothing can repair the damage he has done. He knew Mrs Downer for seven years. He cannot forget or forgive himself for what happened.”

Sentencing Pritchard, who wore black jeans, a black T-shirt and black trainers and carried a holdall into the dock with him, Judge Michael Chambers KC said Mrs Downer was the victim of a “dreadful and sustained attack”.

He said: “Only a matter of weeks previously, the dogs had escaped into another neighbour’s garden. What occurred was entirely foreseeable. Lucille Downer was an 85-year-old lady who lived a much-respected and long life.

“For anyone to die in such circumstances is truly tragic, but, suffering from dementia, she must have found this most shocking and upsetting.

“She was entitled to feel protected in her own garden, but the dogs forced their way through the fence and mauled her. You left them free to roam.

“No-one was able to get near them until you returned home and intervened. It is a measure of their ferocity and the injuries were dreadful.”

Pritchard was jailed for 45 months for the offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act and for 12 months for drug offences, to run consecutively.

He was ordered to serve half of the sentence in prison and the second half on licence.

West Midlands Police have previously said the dogs were humanely destroyed after the incident.

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