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A week-old baby boy died of head injuries after being attacked by a normally placid pet dog as he slept in his cot, an inquest has heard.

Telford coroner's court was told the family of Harry Harper, who suffered a fractured skull, had an unblemished record of caring for and controlling dogs over many years prior to the tragic accident last November.

Harry was pronounced dead in hospital about 90 minutes after being bitten by his family's seven-year-old jack russell.

The infant was taken to Telford's Princess Royal hospital by ambulance on 20 November after being attacked in the living room of his mother's family home in the Ketley area of the town.

Members of Harry's family, including his mother, Mikayla Bell, 19, and his grandmother, Teresa, did not give evidence in person to the inquest.

But their statements and those of a paramedic who attended the scene were read to the court by a coroner's officer.

In her statement, Harry's mother, who works as a sales assistant, described jack russell PJ and the family's German shepherd cross as "mild-mannered" pets.

Bell said: "There have never been any issues with the dogs and young children they are never aggressive towards people or other dogs.

"As a family, we were all very mindful of the dogs."

On the morning of 20 November, Bell said she was woken by an alarm at 6.30am and later heard her mother screaming and shouting.

"I immediately ran downstairs and saw mum holding Harry over the sink," she said. "Mum was repeatedly saying: 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry' and I heard mum say: 'He's been bitten.'

"I think at some point mum said it was PJ that had bitten him."

In her statement, the baby's mother continued: "I feel angry about what happened but I don't blame anyone I am shocked to know it was PJ because he wasn't vicious at all.

"I understand that no one is to blame and what happened was a really tragic accident."

Detective Inspector Phil Shakesheff, of West Mercia police, told the inquest that a criminal inquiry had found no evidence that either of the family's dogs had previously been dangerous or out of control.

The senior officer said: "The family have an unblemished history of caring for and controlling many dogs over a period of many years. On this occasion this jack russell has not followed [Harry's grandmother] back into the kitchen for a gate to be closed and remained in the sitting room to attack the baby.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the death of Harry is anything other than a tragic incident that can't be ruled out from occurring in any other dog-owning household where children are present."

In her statement to the coroner, Teresa Bell said she saw PJ, who was later put down, sitting near her injured grandson in his carrycot, which had been placed on the living room table.

Describing her dogs as placid and not prone to snarling, she added: "They had certainly not bitten anyone before. I know it was a tragic accident, but I will always wonder if I could have done something differently that morning."

Since 2007, the inquest heard, dogs have killed eight people around the country, including six children.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Telford's assistant deputy coroner, Andrew Barkley, urged dog-owners to recognise the dangers posed to children by their pets.

Praising Harry's family for their dignity and courage in attending the inquest, Barkley said: "There is no evidence to suggest that the dog responsible for the attack sustained by Harry had in the past been dangerous or dangerously out of control."

The coroner added: "One can only hope that if anything positive can come out of what has been a deeply distressing case, it's that the public recognise the dangers associated with babies and small children being around dogs."

In a statement read out on their behalf by Shakesheff following the inquest, Harry's family appealed for the media to respect their privacy and thanked wellwishers for sending messages of sympathy.

The family statement read: "As a family, we remain absolutely devastated by Harry's death.

"Although he was only with us for eight days, he had brought enormous happiness to us all and his loss is a tragedy that we will carry with us forever.

"We will treasure every single moment we enjoyed of him and we will never forget the joy he gave us when he arrived."
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