Ava-Jayne Corless: Coroner calls dog death horrendous

Ava-Jayne Corless Image copyright lancashire police
Image caption The coroner said it would be inappropriate to call the 11-month-old's death an accident

A coroner has said the case of a baby being mauled to death by a dog was the "most horrendous" he has dealt with in 20 years.

Eleven-month-old Ava-Jayne Corless was attacked while sleeping at a house in Blackburn, Lancashire in February.

Her inquest heard she suffered multiple injuries to her chest and neck.

Coroner Michael Singleton said her death met the coronial definition of an accident, but such a verdict would be "an affront" to her memory.

"While every death I deal with represents a personal tragedy for someone, in more than 20 years of doing this job I have to say the circumstances of the death of Ava-Jayne represent by far the most horrendous that I have had experience of," he said.

The hearing at Blackburn King George's Hall was previously told Ava-Jayne's injuries were "unsurvivable", the pattern of which was "compatible with her sustaining a number of dog bites".

The attack happened at her mother Chloe King's then boyfriend Lee Wright's house.

The inquest was told Ms King and Mr Wright were asleep on a sofa and thought the pit bull terrier-type dog was in the kitchen, blocked in by a golf bag stand and a speaker.

Both Ms King and Mr Wright were both initially held on suspicion of manslaughter but in April were released without charge.

'Grievous loss'

Addressing the hearing, Det Insp Peter Simm said he released Ms King because "I was of the opinion she was a victim herself of what happened that night".

"She was a very young mother who cared deeply for her child," he said.

He told the coroner neighbours had not expressed worries about the dog being aggressive and no concerns about it were raised by the RSPCA.

However, vet Sian Smith told the inquest the dog had shown signs of aggression to male members of staff while being treated for a broken leg.

Returning his verdict, Mr Singleton said it would be inappropriate to call the 11-month-old's death an accident.

"The conclusion I shall use is this was an attack by a pit bull terrier-type dog," he said.

The coroner said he had considered whether a verdict of unlawful killing could be returned by reason of gross negligence manslaughter, but that needed to be looked at with foresight rather than hindsight and required a gross breach in duty of care, which amounted in law to a criminal act.

He also needed to consider whether there was an obvious and immediate risk of serious injury to Ava-Jayne, he said.

As a result, he said, he shared the view expressed by the Crown Prosecution Service that the facts did not amount to gross negligence.

"I offer my heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of Ava-Jayne for their most grievous loss [and] to those people directly involved in the aftermath of these most horrific events," he said.

"I recognise that those circumstances were life changing."

In a statement released following the hearing, Ms King said she was "relieved that the inquest has finally concluded".

She said she and Dean Corless, her daughter's father, were "still grieving for the loss of Ava-Jayne who we loved very, very deeply".

"There is still a hole in my heart. I now want to be left to pick up the pieces of my life."

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