Heartbroken family of ‘beautiful’ Bella-Rae pay tribute after toddler is mauled to death by dog

Robert Hundley

The ‘devastated’ family of a ‘beautiful’ baby girl who was tragically mauled to death at her home by a dog bought just last week have today emotionally paid tribute to the ‘much-loved’ 17-month-old, saying: ‘She will be sadly missed but never forgotten’. 

Bella-Rae Birch was attacked by the family pet on Monday afternoon at her home on Bidston Avenue in Blackbrook, St Helens, Merseyside at around 3.50pm on Monday. Emergency services took her to hospital, where she sadly died from her injuries.

Neighbours today described her ‘devastated’ mother Treysharn Bates ‘crying hysterically’ outside the house moments after yesterday’s horror attack, while heartbroken loved ones were pictured leaving flowers on the street this morning.

Merseyside Police said that officers destroyed the dog and are currently investigating whether the animal was an illegal breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. They are also trying to track down the dog’s previous owner, they announced at a press conference outside the home. Locals claimed the animal was either a Staffordshire Bull Terrier or Pitbull Terrier.

In a statement released through police, Bella-Rae’s family said: ‘As a family we would like to thank the community for their support. We would ask that we are now allowed some space and time to try and come to terms with the tragic loss of our much-loved Bella-Rae. She will be sadly missed but never forgotten.’

Speaking this morning, a hero neighbour, who identified herself only as Jordan, described the moment she pulled up at the house and gave CPR to Bella-Rae.

The trainee paramedic said she had picked her children up from school and saw the commotion when she returned home. She said there were ‘around 20 police cars’ outside the house and she rushed over to desperately perform CPR on the tragic tot until the paramedics took over.

She said: ‘I pulled up in my car. I had been getting my kids from school. I heard screaming, and I ran over. I tried to help. People were everywhere. They were crying and screaming. The baby wasn’t well. I tried to help her. ‘I started CPR, which I did for around 30 seconds. It was just myself. Then the paramedics took over. The parents were hysterical.

‘I didn’t see the dog. We don’t really go up there. I don’t know how I feel now.’

It comes just months after Jack William Lis, 10, was killed by a vicious dog nicknamed ‘Beast’ while playing with a friend after school in Penyheol, Caerphilly.  

Bella-Rae Birch, just 17 months old, was attacked by the family dog on Monday afternoon at home on Bidston Avenue in Blackbrook, St Helens at around 3.50pm on Monday 

Emergency services took her to hospital, where she sadly died from her injuries

Emergency services took her to hospital, where she sadly died from her injuries

Pictured: Dog victim Bella-Rae being held by her parents in a family photo

Pictured: Dog victim Bella-Rae being held by her parents in a family photo

A woman lays flowers at a house in St Helens after a 17-month-old girl died after being attacked by a dog

A woman lays flowers at a house in St Helens after a 17-month-old girl died after being attacked by a dog

Merseyside Police Superintendent Steve Brizell at a press conference outside the home on March 22, 2022

Merseyside Police Superintendent Steve Brizell at a press conference outside the home on March 22, 2022

The scene at Bidston Avenue in St Helens, Merseyside on March 22, 2022

The scene at Bidston Avenue in St Helens, Merseyside on March 22, 2022 

Merseyside Police giving a press conference outside the home of the dog attack on March 22, 2022

Merseyside Police giving a press conference outside the home of the dog attack on March 22, 2022

Merseyside Police said officers received a report that a child had been attacked by a dog at an address on Bidston Avenue

Merseyside Police said officers received a report that a child had been attacked by a dog at an address on Bidston Avenue

What’s the Dangerous Dogs Act? Which dogs are banned? And why is it controversial? 

WHAT IS THE DANGEROUS DOGS ACT?

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 bans or restricts certain types of dogs and makes it an offence to allow a dog of any breed to be dangerously out of control.

It was introduced 30 years ago by Home Secretary Kenneth Baker ‘to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs’ after a string of attacks.

WHICH DOGS ARE BANNED IN THE UK?

It is illegal to own four breeds of dogs without an exemption from a court. They are:

  • American Pitbull Terriers;
  • Japanese tosas
  • Dogo Argentinos;
  • Fila Brazileiro  

The law also criminalises cross-breeds of the above four types of dog – meaning that whether a dog is prohibited will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics, and whether they match the description of a prohibited ‘type’.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers look similar to Pitbull Terriers, but they’re legal and common pets.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S A DOG ATTACK?

You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months if your dog is dangerously out of control. 

You may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.

If you let your dog injure someone you can be sent to prison for up to five years or fined. If you deliberately use your dog to injure someone you could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.

And if you allow your dog to kill someone you can be sent to prison for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine. 

WHY IS THE ACT CONTROVERSIAL? 

Both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association have protested against the ban, insisting there is no scientific evidence that all individuals of a breed are dangerous.

However, Met Police data suggests that in incidents involving ‘dangerously out of control dogs’, banned breeds account for about a fifth of offences.

At a press conference, Merseyside Police Superintendent Steve Brizell said: ‘Bella-Rae has lost her life in the most unimaginably terrible circumstances and our thoughts are first and foremost with the family and the wider community at this devastating time.

‘Our specialist family liaison officers are providing the family of Bella- Rae with support, and officers will remain in the area in the coming days to provide further reassurance and support for the wider community. 

‘At this stage we understand the family dog they bought just a week earlier has attacked Bella-Rae inside the family home. 

‘Bella-Rae was taken by ambulance to hospital by paramedics but despite the best efforts of police officers at the scene and the paramedics and doctors, sadly Bella-Rae died as a result of her injuries yesterday afternoon. It’s left the family and the community grieving and in complete shock. 

‘During the incident, the dog was handed over to police at the address and has been humanely destroyed. Detailed investigations are continuing into this tragic event, forensic examines to determine the dog’s breed are ongoing and we are working to identify the previous owners of the dog so we can establish its history. 

‘We want to continue to support the family and the local community, and officers will remain at the scene on Bidston Avenue during the day today.’

One eyewitness who was close to tears told MailOnline: ‘It’s awful. I went over to help. I don’t want to go into what happened but all I will say is that they were doting family. They doted on that little girl. They were always out together.’ 

Another neighbour said: ‘You see it on the news, but when it happens on your doorstep it’s devastating for the whole community.

‘It’s just heartbreaking. The brother of the little girl is in my boy’s class at school. My dad ran over and tried to perform CPR, he’s really devastated. He’s still in shock and won’t speak.’

One resident said: ‘We pulled up from school and heard screaming. I just ran over to try to help and started CPR until the paramedics took over.’ 

Joanne Matthews, 53, said: ‘She was such a beautiful little girl, toddling about. I’d see the family in passing, just to say hello, and they were always very pleasant.’

Describing the scene of yesterday’s attack, she told MailOnline: ‘I saw them bring the dog out. I couldn’t tell what breed it was but from the back it looked like a Staffordshire bull terrier or pit bull. It looked fully grown and not like a puppy.’

Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, said she got home from the shops at about 4.30pm, when the area was busy with police. She said: ‘The mum was on the field at the front of the house crying. She was hysterical. 

‘It is usually very quiet here and safe for children, but when you hear something like this has happened it is so distressing. It was heartbreaking to see her crying. She was inconsolable. I don’t want to imagine what she is going through.’  

Neighbour Pauline Sharratt said: ‘It was such a shock. She was a 17-month-old baby, it’s heart-rending, it really is.’

Another neighbour Linda Burchill said she saw the dog being taken away by police. She added: ‘It seemed so placid at the time. The police put it in the back of a van on a leash.’

One neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Everybody is devastated. All the avenue was out, there was a helicopter but it couldn’t land.’

In a statement on Twitter, local Labour MP Conor McGinn said: ‘The close-knit community in Blackbrook and across St Helens are in deep shock after yesterday’s tragedy. 

‘Our thoughts and prayers are with the little girl’s family, who are devastated. I know everyone locally will respect their request for privacy as they grieve.’  

A police officer wipes her eyes outside a house in St Helens on March 22, 2022

A police officer wipes her eyes outside a house in St Helens on March 22, 2022

The scene at Bidston Avenue in St Helens, Merseyside on March 22, 2022

The scene at Bidston Avenue in St Helens, Merseyside on March 22, 2022

Police at the house where a baby girl was mauled to death by a dog, Bidston Avenue

Police at the house where a baby girl was mauled to death by a dog, Bidston Avenue

A police car (bottom centre) outside a house in St Helens after a 17-month-old girl died

A police car (bottom centre) outside a house in St Helens after a 17-month-old girl died

Officers received a report that a child had been attacked by a dog on Bidston Avenue in Blackbrook, St Helens, Merseyside on Monday afternoon

Officers received a report that a child had been attacked by a dog on Bidston Avenue in Blackbrook, St Helens, Merseyside on Monday afternoon

Officers remained at scene on Bidston Avenue this morning and extensive CCTV, witness and house-to-house enquiries are being carried out

Officers remained at scene on Bidston Avenue this morning and extensive CCTV, witness and house-to-house enquiries are being carried out

Detective Inspector Lisa Milligan said: ‘This is a tragic incident and our thoughts are with the child’s family at this devastating time. 

‘The little girl’s parents and wider family are absolutely devastated and our specialist Family Liaison Officers are providing them with support at this horrendous time. 

‘Whilst we are in the very early stages of the investigation into this extremely tragic incident we can confirm that the dog was only bought by the family a week ago and officers are working to identify the previous owners of the dog concerned and establish its history. 

‘Our officers will remain on Bidston Avenue this evening and in the coming days to provide reassurance to the local community and we will work tirelessly to establish the full circumstances. If you were in the Bidston Avenue area this afternoon and witnessed anything, or have any information about the dog in question then please come forward speak to one of our officers. 

‘Our officers take the issue of dangerous dogs very seriously. Over the past years we have worked proactively with the five local authorities in Merseyside to ensure prohibited dogs are taken off the streets.’

Anyone with any information is asked to contact us via our social media desk @MerPolCC or Merseyside Police Contact Centre on Facebook, with reference 22000196837.

Alternatively, you can call the independent charity @CrimestoppersUK anonymously, on 0800 555 111. You can also use their online form at: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/give-information.

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