Essex dog attack: Dogs which fatally mauled grandmother Esther Martin confirmed as XL bullies

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Esther Martin had been visiting her 11-year-old grandson when she was attacked, family members say

Police have confirmed two dogs which mauled a woman to death in Essex were XL bullies.

Esther Martin, 68, was fatally injured by two dogs at an address on Hillman Avenue, in Jaywick, while visiting her 11-year-old grandson last weekend. The dogs were destroyed at the property by specialist officers, and a 39-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of Dangerous Dog Act offences.

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Ms Martin's family told the BBC she was attacked while trying to break up a fight between puppies in the house with a broom, which she had been directed to do by their owner. A family member said at the time she believed the dogs which attacked her were unregistered XL bullies. As of this month, it is a criminal offence to own an unregistered XL bully-type dog.

(Photo: Martin family / SWNS)(Photo: Martin family / SWNS)
(Photo: Martin family / SWNS) | Martin family / SWNS

In an update on Friday (9 February), Essex police confirmed that both dogs involved in the attack were XL Bullies. Chief Superintendent Stuart Weaver said while there had been a lot of speculation about the dogs' breed, it was important they got the information right. “We owe it to Esther and her family to ensure we are thorough, professional and, above all, fair," he said.

“XL Bully is not a breed of dog in itself, but a sub-category of the American bully, and identifying categories of a breed can be a complex process. It requires a police-trained dog expert to examine the physical features of the dog against specific measurements, in line with the guidelines published by the government," he continued.

A forensic post-mortem was also carried out by a veterinary scientist, Superintendent Weaver said, and through this combination it was confirmed that the dogs were XL bullies. “A team of experienced detectives are continuing their investigation into Esther’s death and continue to make good progress. They are committed to getting the answers her family need about what happened and why.”

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Chief Superintendent Weaver again thanked the members of the public who bravely tried to save Esther before officers arrived on scene. "What you did was hugely courageous and a reflection of the values of the community of Jaywick. I also want to again praise the unflinching bravery and professionalism of the officers who attended and whose actions ensured the community was safe.”

As of last Thursday (1 February), the government's ban on XL bully-type is in full effect. It is now a criminal offence to own a dog meeting the XL bully criteria without an exemption, and owners must have insurance in case their dog hurts someone. All XL bullies already need to be muzzled and on a leash when out in public, and can no longer be rehomed at all under phase one of the ban, which kicked in on 31 December.

MPs first took aim at American XL bullies, a fairly new breed derived, in part, from pit bulls, in late September 2023. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak later announced the breed would be banned on the back of two high-profile attacks, one of which was the death of Staffordshire man Ian Price.

A Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) spokesperson said the ban came after an increase in dog attacks in recent years. Up until 2021 there were around three fatalities per year, but there had been 23 since the start of 2021 – with the XL bully being disproportionately involved in this rise.

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