A POLICE dog was in ‘fight mode’ when it attacked a frail pensioner, who later died, an inquest was told today.

Irene Collins, 73, who was suffering from lung cancer and COPD, died just a few days after the dog savaged her in her own home, during a search for a suspected drug dealer in her Middlesbrough garden.

Police were hunting for a suspect involved in organised crime who absconded from a vehicle which had been found to contain £100,000 of heroin and cash.

The dog’s handler PC Mark Baines, of Cleveland Police, who was giving evidence at Teesside Coroners Court yesterday, said he lost sight of the dog before he realised Mrs Collins’ back door was open, when previously it had been closed.

“I followed him (the dog),” he said. “He was out of my sight for a matter of seconds.

“I saw the outer door giving access to the house was now open.”

He said the door had been closed before, although he was not sure if it had been properly latched.

When he entered her home he found Dano, his German Shepherd, "locked on" to Mrs Collins’ arm.

He said when he gave the command to let go the dog immediately did so.

PC Baines said he was not sure what had happened but he had been led to believe during the investigation that Mrs Collins may have shooed the dog away, which could have led to it attacking as it had been trained to do, but he did not know this.

However, he said it "re-bit" the pensioner after she stumbled forward towards the officer, catching the dog’s lead under her as she fell to the floor.

PC Baines said the dog must have believed she was a threat after she fell towards him.

She fell to the floor and he again gave the command, which he said the dog obeyed.

But at this point he said the dog was in "fight mode" and despite his efforts to calm it in another room, it wriggled free of its collar and went back a third time, biting Mrs Collins’ leg.

PC Baines said a fellow officer, Sergeant Neil Yeats, who had come in to help deal with the situation, was "exacerbating" it by shouting and he found it difficult to give the dog the space it needed to calm down.

The German Shepherd lived with its handler but was not treated as a family pet. It was assigned to PC Baines after being transferred from Thames Valley and Hampshire Police joint dog unit, where it was said to be an exceptional operational police dog, and had passed all its assessments with flying colours. After the incident the five-year-old dog had been destroyed.

The inquest continues.