A newborn baby was fatally savaged by his family’s pet dog which may have thought the child was “a small prey or squeaky toy”, an inquest heard.
Reuben McNulty was just two weeks old when he was attacked at a property in Yaxley, near Peterborough, on 18 November, 2018, and died in hospital three weeks later.
The coroner concluded Reuben died due to head injuries from the attack.
Both the family’s Staffordshire bull terrier-type dogs were destroyed.
The inquest held earlier in Peterborough heard that Reuben was sitting on a teddy bear ring on the sofa where his mother Amy Litchfield had fallen asleep, when he was attacked by their dog, called Dotty.
‘I just heard crying’
Reuben’s father Daniel McNulty had been outside at the time smoking a cigarette, and went back upstairs to the flat to discover the scene.
Cambridgeshire’s area coroner, Simon Milburn, said Mr McNulty told a 999 call handler he thought their dog had attacked the baby.
“My partner was asleep,” Mr McNulty said.
“I just heard crying.”
In a police interview summarised by the coroner, Mr McNulty had said “on picking [Reuben] up he saw the injuries, and saw the dog Dotty licking its lips”.
Simon Newbury, a specialist in veterinary forensics, said there were 23 individual puncture marks on Reuben’s body.
He said they came from “at least four to five bites or engagements” and “quite possibly as many as 18 to 23 if single punctures are single engagements each time”.
“I suspect Reuben was shaken between engagements,” Mr Newbury said.
He said the attack “would have lasted a minute or longer”.
“It’s possible Dotty was stimulated into prey drive by a certain movement.”
He said he believed Dotty “saw Reuben as a small prey or squeaky toy”.
Reuben had been placed on a child protection plan in August before he was born.
In written evidence, Sophie Bradley, a social worker with Cambridgeshire County Council, said it was agreed the parents would keep the dogs in the kitchen behind a stairgate.
Ms Bradley said the dogs had been observed repeatedly in their home environment prior to and following Reuben’s birth, and that “during these times they were very friendly”.
However, it was noted during a child protection conference that the dogs were unpredictable and could get jealous.
It was recorded that the mother and father must not leave the dogs with Reuben on his own.
An independent Serious Case Review carried out by Jonathan Chapman in 2019 found the risks posed by the pets should have formed a strand of a more robust parenting assessment.
Mr Chapman concluded the most important piece of advice was never to leave a dog with a baby unattended, no matter how well known the animal might be.
Coroner Mr Milburn said: “It’s clear on any reading of the evidence there had been no previous issues or concerns with either of [the family’s] dogs.
“There’s evidence that both parents were suffering from tiredness, understandably, as a result of caring for a newborn baby and evidence they had agreements as to who would have a turn at sleep, and look after Reuben at various times.”
The coroner said that he accepted the explanation that the baby’s mother had taken some sleeping tablets and fallen asleep after Reuben’s father went outside for a cigarette.
“Reuben was asleep in the same room in his ‘doughnut’, the dogs were either asleep in the same room or on the dog bed,” Mr Milburn said.
“Amy recalls in her police interviews [Mr McNulty] told her he was going out for a cigarette but unfortunately she fell back asleep and it was when Daniel came back inside a short time later he found Reuben seriously injured and one of the dogs, Dotty, covered in blood.
“I think the best way to characterise that series of events is that it was an unintentional short period of inadvertent inattention which sadly had horrific and tragic consequences.”
Recording a narrative conclusion, the coroner said: “Reuben died as a result of head injuries caused when he was attacked by a dog which was a family pet inside his home address.”
Reuben’s maternal grandmother, Ruth Hinchey, said she had “never seen or known Dotty to be aggressive towards anyone”.
Sophie Bradley, a social worker who had dealt with the family before the incident, said Ms Litchfield described the dogs as “her babies” and had been “warned dogs can be unpredictable and can get jealous”.
She said that on visits “both dogs were very friendly and didn’t show signs of aggression”.
She said that, as part of a child protection plan by social services, it was agreed that the couple “would keep the dogs in the kitchen behind the stairgate, which they already had in place”.
Cambridgeshire Police confirmed no further action would be taken against Mr McNulty or Ms Litchfield, and said the couple had “separated as a result of the trauma”.