A WOMAN has been jailed after three dangerous pit bull dogs she was walking without leads killed two terriers and injured their owner in a savage attack.

Teesside Crown Court heard today that Sharni Stephens, 29, was taking her ex-partner’s American XL pit bulls to his home in Redcar when they set upon a Cairn terrier and a Yorkshire terrier on Cotswold Drive at around 5am on April 9.

The terriers were being walked by their owner, a nurse, who threw herself on top of them in a desperate bid to save their lives.

She suffered bites to her arms and hands before the pit bulls dragged her dogs away from her and killed them both.

Stephens pleaded guilty before magistrates in August to being in charge of dogs dangerously out of control that caused injury.

Prosecuting at Teesside Crown Court, Paul Rooney described how the first pit bull lunged at the Cairn terrier, grabbing it by the throat and pulling it to the floor, before the two other dogs joined in the ‘frenzied and sustained’ attack.

After the mauling, the terriers’ distraught owner placed them on a car roof to avoid them being completely torn apart by the pit bulls.

She was unable to call the police due to her hand injuries, so a member of the public called officers who arrived and got the dogs under control.

Mr Rooney told the court that all three pit bulls were placed under a contingency destruction order by magistrates in October 2017 and were under restrictions including that they should not be out in public without leads or muzzles.

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A file photo of a Yorkshire terrier dog, the same breed as the dog attacked (file photo) Picture: Pixabay

He said: “She (Stephens) accepted that the dogs were not muzzled or on leads at the time of the attack and she accepted that she didn’t have leads or muzzles.

“She knew the risk they posed to other dogs, but she took the risk.”

Mr Rooney said that the victim has suffered significant psychological damage from the shocking incident which has made her want to move away from the Redcar area.

He said she had to take two months of sick leave from her nursing job at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and still suffers pain from her injuries.

Mr Rooney said it may be that the victim has PTSD and she described in her personal impact statement how much she misses her dogs and that her house feels empty without them.

Mitigating, Stephen Littlewood said that the offence came against the backdrop of a particular set of circumstances for Stephens, who had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

He said that the pit bulls belonged to an abusive ex-partner who had left them with her as a form of control over her.

Mr Littlewood said Stephens was not left with any leads or muzzles for the dogs and the reason she was walking them so early was to minimise the risk of coming across anybody as she attempted to return them to her ex-partner.

He said: “She wasn’t aware of the full restrictions of the order.

“She was aware of the destruction order in place, she had never seen the dogs behave in an aggressive way and she genuinely never thought that something of this nature would ever occur.

“But she was aware of the risks and she accepts that.”

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A file photo of a Cairn terrier dog, the same breed as the dog attacked (file photo) Picture: Pixabay

Mr Littlewood said that Stephens, a mother of two, was ‘ incredibly remorseful’ over the incident.

He said that during the attack she had kicked and punched at the dogs to try and stop them, but once it had started, it was impossible to prevent it.

Sentencing, Judge Stephen Ashurst said he accepted that Stephens was in a ‘toxic relationship’ at the time of the offence and noted that she has no previous convictions on record.

However, Judge Ashurst said Stephens was aware of the potential dangers of the dogs and knew about the order they were under.

He added: “Members of the public will wonder why, in the circumstances, you did not seek help from the police, local authority, the RSPCA or any other animal welfare group who would have understood the position and been in a position to help.”

Judge Ashurst said he accepted Stephens’s genuine remorse and the particular circumstances behind the incident, but said its ‘horrifying nature’ and the ‘horrifying consequences’ of her decision to take the dogs out without leads or muzzles merited an immediate custodial sentence.

He sentenced Stephens, of Micklow Close, Redcar, to 12-months in prison, half to be served in custody and half subject to supervision from the probation service.

The court heard that all three pit bulls had been destroyed following the incident.