United Kingdom

Mother who left son with dog that mauled him to death apologises to his father and grandmother

A mother who went on a drink and cocaine binge while her nine-year-old boy was mauled to death by an American bulldog cross has apologised to his family for her 'senseless actions' in leaving the animal alone with her son.

Frankie MacRitchie, from Plymouth, received fatal head injuries after being attacked by the American bulldog cross Staffordshire bull terrier at the Tencreek Holiday Park in Looe, Cornwall. in April 2019. 

Cornwall Coroner's Court heard the boy had been left alone in a caravan with the seven-stone dog named Winston for two-and-a-half hours while his mother Tawney Willis drank and took drugs in a nearby caravan with friend Sadie Totterdell.

Now, Willis has apologised to her family and, addressing Frankie's father Billy MacRitchie and grandmother Pauline Elford, 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.'

Frankie MacRitchie (pictured), from Plymouth, received fatal head injuries after being attacked by the 45kg American bulldog cross Staffordshire bull terrier in April 2019 

The boy, nine, was left alone in a caravan in the Tencreek Holiday Park in Looe, Cornwall, with the dog named Winston, while his mother Tawney Willis (right) and friend Sadie Totterdell (left) drank and took drugs in a nearby caravan

Willis later admitted a charge of child neglect and was jailed for two years. She has since been released from prison. 

The pair got drunk and Willis also admitted taking cocaine, Truro Crown Court heard previously. 

The inquest concluded that Frankie had died from blood loss caused by multiple bites after being left alone with the dog, and had injuries that showed the schoolboy had tried to fight off the animal. 

Cornwall Coroner's Court heard Frankie had been staying in a caravan with his mother and her friend Sadie Totterdell, the owner of the dog.

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.

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 inquest concluded Frankie had died from blood loss caused by multiple bites after being left alone with the dog. Pictured: Totterdell with a similar dog to the one that attacked Frankie

Police on the scene at the holiday park in 2019. After the incident Winston, who had previously bitten another child, was seized by police and destroyed

The nine-year-old (pictured) had been staying in the caravan at the holiday park with his mother and her friend Sadie Totterdell, who owned Winston 

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 wounds have the characteristics of dog bites in a mauling type of attack,' she said. 'The concentration of the injuries over the head and the neck is in keeping with the recognised behaviour of dogs in attack.'

Friends said Ms Willis left the caravan a couple of times to check on Frankie, but the first she became aware of the incident was when she heard screaming. Pictured: File image of a caravan at Tencreek Holiday Park

Frankie had appeared to have suffered defensive bite wounds, so may well have attempted to fight off the attack, Dr Cook added.

Frankie had been born with a congenital heart condition and was prescribed warfarin for thinning his blood, but this was not a factor in his death.

'The injuries are so devastating and so extensive anyone, a child or adult, would have died from the blood loss,' Dr Cook said.

'Even if it occurred outside the front door of a large hospital, I doubt Frankie could have survived.' 

Frankie bled to death after sustaining 54 injuries, with the most serious to his head and neck, during the attack in the early hours. 

After the incident Winston, who had previously bitten another child, was seized by police and destroyed.

Friend Jordan Pearce told the hearing: 'We were all sat in our caravan when Tawney went out to check and I could hear something, so I turned the music down and didn't hear anything.

'We put the music back on and heard a scream and she literally ran in through the door and that's when we knew.'

His partner Cheryl Crocker added: 'Tawney came running in screaming. Tawney kept screaming and screaming and she needed to find Frankie's nan.' 

Mr Pearce said that after the attack, Totterdell fled the caravan park, taking Winston with her.

Totterdell was jailed for three years, describing leaving Frankie alone with the 'extremely powerful' dog as 'the height of folly'. She was also banned from keeping dogs for ten years.

In a statement read outside court in June 2020, Frankie MacRitchie's family described him as a 'special young boy' who had a heart condition and should not have been left alone. 

'As Frankie's family, nothing will ever be enough, no sentence will ever be long enough,' his aunt Danielle MacRitchie said.

'Not today, not tomorrow, not ever will we as a family forgive them for leaving our boy in a caravan with a dog he hardly knew. Frankie was left alone to die in the most horrific way, beyond anyone's imagination.'

The inquest continues.

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