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Michael Thornton jailed after his banned pit bull 'scalped' toddler in Chatham

The cowardly joint owner of a dangerous dog that “scalped” a young child has been sent to jail after previously failing to appear for sentence.

Michael Thornton was sentenced in his absence to two years in prison on October 10. Hayley Eldridge was jailed for 21 months for the dog offence and 16 weeks consecutive for perjury.

A warrant was issued for Thornton’s arrest and he was detained 27 days later.

Dangerous dog owner Michael Thornton, standing with Hayley Eldridge, has been jailed after failing to appear for his sentencing. Picture: Steve Finn
Dangerous dog owner Michael Thornton, standing with Hayley Eldridge, has been jailed after failing to appear for his sentencing. Picture: Steve Finn

Imposing 28-days imprisonment for breaching his bail, consecutive to the two years, a judge told him: “You didn’t have the guts to turn up to your sentencing hearing.”

The 18-month-old victim was left disfigured after the banned pit bull breed, called Max, flew at her and attacked her in a park.

The toddler’s skull was left exposed and her scalp could not be reattached. She was too young at the time to have skin grafts from other parts of her body and will need major surgery in future.

Thornton, 27, and 29-year-old Eldridge had admitted being the owners of a dog which caused injury to a child while dangerously out of control in a public place.

“You didn’t have the guts to turn up to your sentencing hearing...” - Judge David Griffith-Jones QC

Eldridge also admitted perjury by lying at a family court hearing that she was not facing a charge over the dangerous dog.

At the time of the horrifying attack, Max was in the care of a 15-year-old girl who had been paid in cannabis by the couple to walk the dog.

She admitted the offence at youth court and was given supervision for 12 months with 150 hours unpaid work.

The teenager, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was walking the dog in Jenkins Dale, Chatham, on April 4 last year.

Police cover up the pitbull cross after the attack in Jenkins Dale in Chatham. Picture: Steve Finn
Police cover up the pitbull cross after the attack in Jenkins Dale in Chatham. Picture: Steve Finn

Thornton, of Ryde Close, and Eldridge, of Gorse Avenue, had told the teenager they would pay her in either cash or cannabis to walk the dog.

She opted for cannabis and took the animal to the nearby children's park.

The girl did not see the sign banning dogs from the park, and took it into the area. Max then attacked the child, ripping off her scalp.

It mauled the toddler's face before clamping its jaws around her head in front of other children, who tried to fight it off. It became loose and was later shot dead by police.

Prosecutor Catherine Donnelly said the child’s scalp could not be replaced and left her skull exposed.

The scalp could not be reattached because blood vessels had died and she was too young for “large muscle” and skin grafts from other areas of her body.

The play area around Jenkins Dale, Chatham
The play area around Jenkins Dale, Chatham

Judge David Griffith-Jones QC said when sentencing Eldridge: “Frankly, an idiot in a hurry would know such a dog should be looked after with the greatest care and circumspection because of the forseeability of such a dog running amok.

“It was utter folly, and showed reckless disregard, to the public to place such a dog in the charge of a child, aged only 15.”

John Fitzgerald, defending, said after Thornton’s arrest in Chatham on Tuesday that his client did not have the courage to attend for sentence.

Judge Griffith-Jones told Thornton: “This was deliberate behaviour on your part in an attempt to delay the inevitable day of reckoning.

“Included in your appalling previous history are numerous offences of failing to surrender or other failures to comply with court orders.”

The court head Thornton had also failed to appear before magistrates on November 5 to face charges of stealing meat and using racially aggravated language.

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