'She didn’t stand a chance,’ says woman who watched her mother being mauled to death by American bulldog

14 June 2023, 09:43 | Updated: 14 June 2023, 10:13

Lucille Downer was mauled to death by Darren Pritchard's American bulldogs
Lucille Downer was mauled to death by Darren Pritchard's American bulldogs. Picture: Handout/Alamy

By Kit Heren

The daughter of a woman who was savaged by a drug dealer's dogs after they burst through her garden fence has said she misses her every day.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Lucille Downer, 85, who had dementia, died after the attack at her home near Birmingham in April 2021.

Her daughter Beverley, who witnessed the Rowley Regis attack, said she relives the image of the American bulldogs biting Ms Downer's blood-covered neck every day.

It came after the dogs' owner Darren Pritchard, 44, who was running a cannabis factory next door, was jailed for his role in her death.

Beverley, who has never previously spoken about the attack, told the Mirror: “I miss my mum every single day. But every time I think of her, I can just see the image of her lying covered in blood with two dogs at her neck.

Listen and subscribe to Unprecedented: Inside Downing Street on Global Player

Lucille Downer was killed in April 2021
Lucille Downer was killed in April 2021. Picture: Handout

"She was a wonderful woman and doesn’t deserve to have died in that way.

"She didn’t stand a chance against those animals, they were terrifying.“I ran straight to her, but the dogs came for me and the neighbour who was there pulled me back inside.

"My mum had lived on the street for more than 40 years.

"She knew everybody and everyone liked her and looked out for her, especially after she developed dementia."

Pritchard, 44, was sentenced at Wolverhampton Crown Court on Tuesday after earlier pleading guilty to owning two dangerously out of control dogs, possessing cannabis with intent to supply, and producing the drug.

Read more: Victim of fatal dog attack pictured after man charged for deadly mauling at house in Derby, as brother pays tribute

Read more: Woman attacked by three dogs who drag her to the ground screams for help as South London residents left terrified

Darren Pritchard was sentenced on Tuesday
Darren Pritchard was sentenced on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy

Howard Searle, prosecuting, told the court that Pritchard was at work when the animals got into Mrs Downer's garden through a hole in the fence and started "mauling" her, leaving her with deep wounds to her left leg and the left side of her neck.

Neighbours reported hearing screaming and thought Mrs Downer might have fallen.

They and Beverley went to her house, where they found one of the dogs attacking her.

Mr Searle said: "One of the dogs held her by the neck and dragged her from side to side. The dog was mauling and pulling Mrs Downer. The other dog had blood around its mouth, suggesting a joint attack."

The neighbours and Beverley had to retreat inside the house and block the door with a wheelie bin, while a neighbour tried to distract the animals with dog biscuits.

Pritchard arrives in court
Pritchard arrives in court. Picture: Alamy

The court also heard that paramedics could not help Mrs Downer until Pritchard himself returned home and got the dogs away from her.

When Pritchard was arrested and his house searched, police discovered bags of cannabis with an estimated street value of just under £20,000, as well as 10 to 12 cannabis plants in the loft and around £35,000 in bundles of cash.

Neighbours had previously witnessed Pritchard hitting one of the dogs "repeatedly" on one occasion, and "goading" one of the animals while it was on a rope leash on another, Mr Searle told the court.

Another neighbour reportedly informed the RSPCA after seeing the dogs left outside in the cold.

During a police interview, Pritchard said he kept the dogs in the house and did not muzzle them because he did not think they were aggressive. He accepted that the dogs had escaped into neighbouring gardens before.

Defending Pritchard, Morgan Pirone said the defendant was "under no illusions" that he would be going to prison and was remorseful for what had happened.

He said: "On April 2 2021, his actions destroyed the Downer family. Nothing can repair the damage he has done. He knew Mrs Downer for seven years. He cannot forget or forgive himself for what happened."

Sentencing Pritchard, who wore black jeans, a black T-shirt and black trainers and carried a holdall into the dock with him, Judge Michael Chambers KC said Mrs Downer was the victim of a "dreadful and sustained attack".

He said: "Only a matter of weeks previously, the dogs had escaped into another neighbour's garden. What occurred was entirely foreseeable. Lucille Downer was an 85-year-old lady who lived a much-respected and long life.

"For anyone to die in such circumstances is truly tragic, but, suffering from dementia, she must have found this most shocking and upsetting.

"She was entitled to feel protected in her own garden, but the dogs forced their way through the fence and mauled her. You left them free to roam.

"No-one was able to get near them until you returned home and intervened. It is a measure of their ferocity and the injuries were dreadful."

Pritchard was jailed for 45 months for the offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act and for 12 months for drug offences, to run consecutively.

He was ordered to serve half of the sentence in prison and the second half on licence.

West Midlands Police have previously said the dogs were humanely destroyed after the incident.