A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder after another man was killed in a dog attack involving an XL bully in Sunderland.
The victim was taken to Royal Victoria Infirmary with serious injuries after he was attacked in Shiney Row, Houghton-le-Spring, on Tuesday.
Northumbria Police said the man was declared dead after arriving at hospital.
Police initially arrested a 44-year-old man on suspicion of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, but following the man’s death he was re-arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in police custody.
It is believed to be the first time a dog owner has been arrested on suspicion of murder after an attack.
The dog, suspected to be an XL bully, was shot dead by police at the scene to ensure public safety while a second was seized by officers as a precaution.
On Wednesday the victim was named locally as Ian Langley. Police have yet to announce a formal identification and say his next of kin have been informed.
The 54-year-old father-of-one, who was known as Scouse to his friends, was said to have been protecting his Patterdale terrier puppy at the time he was attacked.
Rachael Barron, 31, a friend, said: “It’s absolutely devastating that this has happened to him, he is a lovely, kind man.
“He’s very slight of build and could not hurt a fly, he would have stood no chance against a dog as big as that, it makes me feel sick to think about it.”
Ms Barron said Mr Langley “absolutely loved” his dog Beau, and she had encouraged him to take the puppy after the recent death of his previous dog.
“I don’t know exactly what has happened but if another dog was trying to get at Beau, Scouse would have done anything to protect him.
“We have been devastated, I haven’t even been able to tell the kids yet, they will be so upset. Everyone knew and liked him, he was a lovely guy.
“He didn’t work but spent all his time with Beau or helping out in people’s allotments. He just liked to be around people.”
The victim’s puppy, which ran away during the attack, is said to be back in safe hands after it was spotted shivering in the street by a neighbour, near where its owner was killed.
Beau is now in the care of Mr Langley’s friend Janice Gonzales.
She said: “Beau is such a lovely little dog and she was Ian’s pride and joy.
“She’s safe with us now and I wanted people to see she’s safe and sound because many people thought she’d died as well.”
‘There was so much blood’
One witness said Mr Langley was attacked as he bent down to pick up Beau after an XL bully “ran up and went for his pup”.
They said: “He picked up the pup to protect him and the XL bully bit his throat. The police shot the dog in the street and apparently removed a litter of pups from the house.
“The guy who was bitten lives for his dogs. He had an old dog that was aged 17 which died last year, he’s a dog lover and would do anything to protect them.”
“His injuries were horrific, I’ve never seen anything like it. There was so much blood.”
Janice Gonzales, 65, added: “Ian was here at 3pm on Tuesday, chatting and helping to weed my back yard. He said he’d come back today to help me with my allotment because I suffer from arthritis. That’s the kind of man he was, kind and helpful and friendly.”
Ms Gonzales said she had taken in Beau after the attack.
Linda Blyth, 56, the victim’s neighbour, said: “It was really awful, it’s a tragedy for everyone involved, but especially the family of the man who was attacked.
“It happened on the grassed area in front of the houses and we’re not sure exactly what started it.
“It seems as though the man was trying to get his puppy out of the way when the XL bully took hold of him.
“The streets were very quickly filled with police, there were blue lights everywhere and they were working to try to make the area safe.”
Police ‘knew about this dog from other attacks’
Neighbours living close to where the attack took place said the XL bully involved in the fatal attack had previously been reported to the police for attacking other dogs.
One claimed: “The police knew about this dog, there had been a number of reports from dog owners about it attacking their dogs. Nothing was done about it and now this has happened.”
A Northumbria Police spokesman said it would conduct an investigation into the circumstances of the attack and it is believed the two men were known to one another.
Det Chief Insp Angela Hudson, of Northumbria Police, said: “First and foremost, I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the man’s family and loved ones.
“This is an absolutely tragic incident, and we will continue to offer them support in any way that we can.
“A full investigation has been launched to determine the circumstances of what has happened.
“I would like to reassure the wider community that there is no ongoing risk to them, and officers will remain in the area to offer reassurance and carry out enquiries.
“While our investigation is at an early stage, we do believe those involved were known to each other.
“I would also continue to ask people not to speculate about the incident online, including on social media, while enquiries are ongoing.”