'Kind and bubbly' animal lover died aged 40 because she wanted to stroke dogs

Marie Stevens died on September 3
-Credit: (Image: Mark Stevens)

A "kind, caring and bubbly" animal lover died aged 40 because she wanted to stroke dogs.

Marie Stevens was killed in a "frenzied" attack by Rachel and Brian Walshe's Rottweilers, with the latter allegedly telling her: "Get up will you? There's nothing wrong with you."

Ms Stevens spent two weeks in hospital and required a skin graft following the gruesome incident. But, having been discharged, she collapsed and died at her home on Holden Road in Brighton-le-Sands after suffering from a blood clot.

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The Walshes walked free from court over the incident this week. Statements were read out on friends and family of Ms Stevens' friends and family during their sentencing hearing.

Her husband of 20 years Mark Stevens described himself as "heartbroken" and added: “I’m struggling to find the exact words to describe the utter turmoil I have been left in. I can still see her lying on the floor, gone.

"No matter what I'm doing and where I am, I can't get that vision out of my head. I've always been a strong person, but not any more.

"I hate being in our home alone. At night time when it's me on my own, I can't bear it."

Mr Stevens outlined how he still keeps out-of-date food in the cupboards of their former marital and cannot bring himself to move his wife's possessions. He said: "I'm scared that if I start moving things I'll forget about her, it's like I can't admit she's gone.

"I hate being at home. I hate the silence.

"It's lifeless. I haven't had time to grieve yet.

"Saying goodbye to Marie is the hardest thing I've had to do. We should be planning our future, not picking flowers for her funeral.

"Marie was a really bubbly person. She would do anything for anyone.

"She was so kind. Marie loved animals, especially dogs.

"Our dog Max died a year ago. I know that's why she would have wanted to say hello to those dogs."

Mark Stevens has paid tribute to his much loved wife Marie
Mark Stevens has paid tribute to his much loved wife Marie -Credit:Mark Stevens

Ms Stevens had been walking to have her tea at her sister's Nicola Newton's house at the time she was attacked by the dogs. She said in her statement: "This happened to the biggest dog and animal lover.

"She died stroking someone's dogs. I can still hear her screams and see her lying in the street.

"Why didn't she get off at the other bus stop? Why didn't I pick her up?"

Ms Newton stated that her sister had "showed nothing but affection and no fear" towards the Rottweilers, but was "attacked as if she was nothing. She added: "We all have a Marie shaped whole in our lives."

Ms Stevens' mum Carole Campbell said of the mental health nurse: "She had her whole life ahead of her. Now she's gone.

"Marie was such a caring person. She would give you her last penny.

"She died doing something she loved. I'm completely broken."

Marie was a "huge animal lover"
Marie was a "huge animal lover" -Credit:Mark Stevens

Ms Stevens' best friend Stephanie Tomlinson meanwhile said in her statement: "I only spoke to Marie the night before. I didn't know that would be the last goodnight message to my bestie.

"I told her how proud I was of her and she could be proud of how far she had come. I feel lost without her.

"We were always there for each other. We were only a voice note away.

"I feel like I'm keeping her alive by not thinking about her as gone. We planned to do so many thing, but never found the time.

"I can't understand how the most kind, funny, genuine caring person can be gone. I miss her and nothing can ever replace her."

Marie was a "bubbly" woman who made everyone happy
Marie was a "bubbly" woman who made everyone happy -Credit:Mark Stevens

Liverpool Crown Court heard on Thursday that the Walshes had been walking their Rottweilers along Park Lane West in Netherton at around 5.45pm on August 18 last year. Rachel Walshe was holding the lead of one of the dogs, Frankie, while Brian Walshe was in charge of the other, Rocky.

Robert Dudley, prosecuting, described how they stopped on a grass verge as Ms Stevens approached from the opposite direction, at which stage she placed her bags down on the floor and took a step towards their pets before putting her right hand out to stroke them. But Frankie slipped from Rachel Walshe's grasp, bit the victim near to her left wrist and dragged her to the ground.

Both dogs then began attacking a screaming Ms Stevens as Brian Walshe, of The Marian Way in Netherton, attempted to restrain them. Witness described them as "attacking whoever was near them", including their owners.

The son eventually managed to regain control of Frankie and Rocky, who bit the complainant to the leg. One witness reported having heard Brian Walshe telling Ms Stevens: "Get up will you? There's nothing wrong with you."

Brian Walshe outside Liverpool Crown Court
Brian Walshe outside Liverpool Crown Court -Credit:Liverpool Echo

He then took both dogs away from the scene as retired nurse Rachel Walshe, of Grosvenor Close in Netherton, tended to the casualty after she had collapsed on the grass verge. Mr Dudley said the incident amounted to a "frenzied attack by two dogs acting independently but as part of a pack".

Ms Stevens was rushed to Aintree Hospital by ambulance after suffering "extensive injuries to her limbs", including a "degloving" to her lower left leg and lacerations to her right ankle, both arms and lower right abdomen. She later told Merseyside Police that she had "asked if she could stroke the dogs" and that Rachel Walshe had "indicated that was ok".

Her injuries resulted in her requiring a skin graft operation on August 24, before she was released on September 1. Ms Stevens was described as having "limited mobility" and "walking on her tiptoes" after this.

On the evening of September 2, Mr Stevens had prepared her evening meal before helping her to bed. He did not go to sleep until 2am with an eye mask on and ear plugs in as he was working night shifts.

When he went downstairs shortly before 9.30am the following morning, he found his wife collapsed near to the back door with a broken plate and food underneath her. Ms Stevens was pronounced dead at the scene, with a neighbour having "heard screaming at some point during the night".

A post-mortem investigation subsequently found that a blood clot had formed in her left calf as a result of the dog bite then broken off and travelled to her lungs, blocking her blood supply. A pathologist concluded that there was "direct causation of the death of Marie Stevens and the dog attack which occurred approximately two weeks prior to her death".

Brian Walshe was first interviewed by detectives the day after the incident. He claimed that he had "told Mrs Stevens to stay away", although CCTV footage was said to have shown him "motioning her to approach".

During a second interview following her death, the 42-year-old said that he and his mother had bought Frankie and Rocky two years previously from a breeder in Blackpool and that he "never had any reason to be concerned about the temperament of either dog". Walshe again maintained that he had told Ms Stevens not to stroke the dogs and stated that she had approached them in an "animated way", although this was not captured on the video.

Rachel Walshe said in her initial interview on August 19 that Frankie "often barked at other dogs but was not aggressive towards them", although he "did not like to be stroked for too long and could be temperamental at times". The 69-year-old also claimed that the deceased had asked to stroke the dogs but her son "had said no and not to go near them".

Rachel Walshe outside Liverpool Crown Court
Rachel Walshe outside Liverpool Crown Court -Credit:Liverpool Echo

Jamie Baxter, appearing on behalf of Brian Walshe, told the court that his client "vehemently denied" making the reported comments towards Ms Stevens and said: "It is inconsistent with his actions and inconsistent with the footage. As soon as he regained control of the dogs, he left the scene - that simply cannot be right.

"It was his mother who lost control of Frankie first. That appears to send Rocky into somewhat of a frenzy, leading him to also bite Mrs Stevens.

"What is clear from the footage is Mr Walshe desperately tried to control both animals. In a short amount of time, he managed to regain control and took both dogs away as his mother waited at the scene for the ambulance to arrive.

"Mr Walshe is of the opinion that he will never get over this himself, but recognises that this is something Mrs Stevens' family will not get over also. There is profound insight into what happened and, in my respectful submission, he has shown genuine remorse."

John Rowan meanwhile said on Rachel Walshe's behalf: "Ms Walshe details how deeply ashamed, devastated and remorseful she is. Not a day has gone by on which she has not replayed this incident, and she wishes it could have happened wholly differently.

"The events of that day have also had a massive effect on the life of Ms Walshe. In 2022, Ms Walshe lost her husband of many, many years to sepsis.

"She can, in some way, relate to the loss of a loved one who has been with the family for many years. She wishes to offer her sincere apologies and remorse to the family.

"She has no intention, due to her age and her physical mobility issues, to ever own a dog again. At this stage in her life, she does not feel able to own a dog."

Both defendants, who have no previous convictions, admitted owning a dangerously out of control dog causing death. They were handed 10-month imprisonments suspended for 18 months with rehabilitation activity requirements of up to 20 days.

Rachel Walshe was seen to reach out for her son's hands as he stood in the dock with his head bowed. One member of Ms Stevens' family said "taking the p***" before he stormed out of the courtroom as they were spared prison, while a woman left in tears once the hearing had ended.

Rachel and Brian Walshe outside Liverpool Crown Court
Rachel and Brian Walshe outside Liverpool Crown Court -Credit:Liverpool Echo

Sentencing, the Honorary Recorder of Liverpool Judge Andrew Menary KC said: "There is no sentence that I can pass that will begin to equate in any real sense with the loss that has been suffered. The reality is that there is nothing that this court can do or say that will alleviate or reduce the immeasurable suffering.

"Some will think any sentence is inadequate. But my task is to ensure that the sentence I pass is just and proportionate, consistent with the sentencing guidelines and reflecting all of the relevant circumstances of this very sad and tragic case."

Both defendants were also told to pay £3,500 each towards the costs of keeping the dogs in police kennels to this date. Brian Walshe was ordered to give £500 towards prosecution costs, with Rachel Walshe made to contribute £150.

She was banned from keeping dogs for life, while he was disqualified for five years. Judge Menary ordered that both Frankie and Rocky be destroyed.

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