MORE than 150 innocent people were bitten by police dogs in three years across the country, it has been claimed.

The issue is in the spotlight after Irene Collins, 73, was bitten by a police dog in her Middlesbrough home last week and subsequently died in hospital.

However Cleveland Police was not able to reveal how many non-criminals were bitten by police dogs in its own district.

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No decision has been taken by the force on the future of the dog involved in last Wednesday's incident. It has been taken off duty after the attack on Penrith Road, Park End, Middlesbrough.

The dog handler, who is on pre-planned leave, was said to be “absolutely distraught” by Paul Brown, chairman of the Cleveland Police Federation.

Mr Brown said the Federation’s thoughts were with Mrs Collins’ family.

He said: “It is an absolute tragedy that this has happened and our sympathy is with the family of Irene Collins.

"Dog handlers and the dogs are given a vast amount of training but this is a tragic incident. It is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

James McNally, solicitor at Blackwell Solicitors, who specialises in animal injury cases from across the country, said cases of non-criminals being bitten by police dogs were more common than might be expected.

He said that in his experience not every police dog is put down, even after a successful compensation claim, as they are expensive to train.

He said: “We calculate that about £800,000 has been paid out in compensation in the last three years.

“Just last week I had the case of an 18-year-old lad who let the police release a dog in his garden, similar to the lady in Middlesbrough, and was bitten on the leg.

“A dog bite is ragged and often can’t be stitched and can carry quite serious infections.”

A recent BBC report claimed that children as young ten have been bitten and there were 150 cases of innocent people being attacked by police dogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

A spokeswoman for the IPPC confirmed an investigation in the case of Mrs Collins was underway.

Cleveland Police has 15 dogs who each must undergo an intensive 13-week training course.