A WEST Cumbrian woman was left traumatised after she was savaged by a German Shepherd dog as it was being walked by its Sellafield police handler.

The horrific incident, which left the woman with ‘life-changing injuries' to a hand and one of her legs, happened a month after the same dog was involved in a similar attack which the police officer had failed to report.

The Civil Nuclear Constabulary officer involved, 39-year-old Andrew Harkison, is now likely to lose his job, Carlisle’s Rickergate court heard.

The defendant, of Queens Drive, Egremont, admitted two charges of being in charge of a dog that caused injury while it was "dangerously out of control".

Prosecutor George Shelley outlined the facts.

The more serious attack happened between 3pm and 4pm on April 16 last year as the victim was walking her two pet dogs – a chow chow and “an elderly poodle” – in Uldale View, Egremont. 

At the time, Harkison, a trainee dog handler with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary at Sellafield, was walking the German Shepherd, called Atlas, and another dog, a springer spaniel.

“The Alsatian was being aggressive,” said Mr Shelley.

As Harkison tried to pull back Atlas, it unfortunately slipped its lead and “charged” towards the victim and attacked. The woman fell and the Alsatian bit her right leg on the calf muscle, puncturing the flesh and exposing a large wound.

“She tried to kick the dog away but the Alsatian continued biting [her] right hand, causing puncture wounds,” said Mr Shelley.

Harkison was eventually able to pull Atlas away. Seeing her bloodied leg and hand, the woman was in a state of shock.

She was helped by another off-duty Sellafield police officer and then taken first to Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital and transferred to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, where her wounds were stitched.

Only after the attack did Harkison’s Sellafield bosses became aware that Atlas had bitten another person.

It happened in Queen’s Drive, Egremont, on March 13 last year, when Atlas bit a man who intervened to protect his border collie as the Alsatian ran along a path outside his property and began attacking his pet.

That person suffered puncture wounds to his hands.

Mr Shelley said Harkison failed to report the first attack to his Sellafield trainer. “The Constabulary accepts he failed to take the appropriate action by muzzling Altas before the second incident."

In a lengthy statement, the woman, in her 40s, detailed the impact of what happened.

She suffers continuing physical effects and is reminded of the attack whenever she sees her right lower leg, from which a large piece off flesh was torn. That and her hand injury made everyday tasks a challenge.

She developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Closing her eyes, she would suffer flashbacks, reliving the moments she fought off the Alsatian and seeing the chunk of flesh fall from her leg.

Living in such a small community, she also saw the defendant, and this reminded her of her ordeal, which also affected her dogs. Her hand still had only limited function, and she would need further surgery, she said.

Her leg was left numb and standing at work was a struggle.

The victim directed criticism at Sellafield, saying that she had received a letter on June 20 last year from the Chief Constable of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, inviting her to view the organisation’s dog training facility.

With this happening within weeks of the attack, it had not helped, she said. The woman said she felt the prosecution process “lost sight of the victim.” She called for Sellafield to review its dog safety process and risk management in public areas.

“Nobody should suffer what I endured,” she said. “This was an attack by a police dog, which was meant to protect us… I can’t begin to imagine the pain and suffering in the community if it had been one of the many children who live on our estate.”

A child would not have survived such a brutal and sustained attack, she said.

The woman, who has attended numerous medical appointments and therapy, estimated that her lost earnings were more than £12,000. “The last 12 months have been life-changing in a negative way,” she added.

Richard Black, defending, said the safety strap which should have prevented Atlas’s slipping his lead was not present on the lead when it was given to Harkison. “There was no negligence on his part,” said the lawyer.

That type of lead was no longer used by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary as a direct result of the incident, said Mr Black.

Currently suspended from his job, Harkison’s case will now go before his Chief Constable but it was likely he will lose his job. If he were to keep his job, he would not continue as a dog handler, said the lawyer.

Referring to the defendant’s former military service, and character references which spoke of his positive good character, Mr Black said: “This is somebody who has given a lot to public services and probably deserves something in return, not that he expects it.

“I ask the court to look at everything he has done in the past, serving as a dog handler in Afghanistan.  He has served the community a great deal, and this is a huge blot of his reputation.”

Until now advised against offering the victim an apology, Harkison wished to do so now.

District Judge John Temperley said the offences clearly crossed the custody threshold and it was clear that the victim of the April 16 attack suffered a serious physical and psychological impact which would continue.

But it was Harkison who pulled away Atlas and he had been a man of previous and “positive” good character, who served his country.

“I take into account the potential and likely loss of employment,” said District Judge Temperley.

He imposed a total of ten months jail, suspended for two years. Harkison must perform 240 hours of unpaid work in the community and he was banned from owning or controlling a dog for five years.

He must pay £85 costs and a £187 victim surcharge.

* A statement issued by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary after the April 16 attack confirmed that Atlas has been destroyed.  The dog had been placed with Harkison as a puppy ahead of undertaking an initial 13-week course with the police force