Inquest hears popular Fareham dog walker 'Wiggy' Symes mauled to death by 'aggressive' XL American Bully - with warning issued to public

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A ‘chilling’ warning has been issued over a vicious ‘super breed’ dog at the inquest into the death of a popular man who was mauled to death.

Well-known Fareham dog lover Ian ‘Wiggy’ Symes was killed last year while walking an XL American Bully that ‘quickly became aggressive’ after its predatory instincts kicked in following ‘rough play’, an inquest heard.

Now, with five of the 10 fatalities from dogs in the UK in 2022 from the ‘super breed’, a warning has been delivered that the breed will ‘continue to do damage until the public is educated’.

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Mr Symes, 34, was killed by the animal shortly before 10.25am on August 10 at Henry Cort Playing Fields on a sweltering summer’s day. Paramedics and police were called by horrified locals who had gathered to help Mr Symes, who was pronounced dead at 11.04am.

Ian Symes. Picture: Hampshire ConstabularyIan Symes. Picture: Hampshire Constabulary
Ian Symes. Picture: Hampshire Constabulary

A dog expert said the XL American Bully was ‘genetically modified’ from the banned pitbull-type dogs. The Bully is not a banned breed in the UK.

Portsmouth Coroner’s Court heard that the powerful 52kg dog, called Kong, was purchased by Mr Symes’ friend Callum Jones on August 9 for around £600 from a Wickham travellers’ site after watching a video on Snapchat. Mr Jones’ friends Mr Symes and Paul Keltie had quizzed the man who dropped Kong off before Mr Jones returned - with all three men deciding it was safe to keep Kong.

Mr Jones, giving evidence, said he was ‘surprised by how big the dog was’ when it arrived and that it was ‘very strong’ but he said it showed no ‘signs of aggression’ and was as ‘good as gold’. Mr Keltie described the dog as being ‘very gentle’, that it ‘liked to be licked’ and was a ‘big friendly mutt’.

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The shrine that was set up to Ian 'Wiggy' Symes, inset, last year after he died in a dig attack in Fareham 
Mr Symes' picture released by Hampshire ConstabularyThe shrine that was set up to Ian 'Wiggy' Symes, inset, last year after he died in a dig attack in Fareham 
Mr Symes' picture released by Hampshire Constabulary
The shrine that was set up to Ian 'Wiggy' Symes, inset, last year after he died in a dig attack in Fareham Mr Symes' picture released by Hampshire Constabulary

However, Mr Jones was given an insight into Kong’s strength after he was forced to turn back from a walk that evening due to its ‘strong’ pulling. Mr Jones went to stay at his girlfriend’s that evening and left the dog to stay with Mr Symes and Mr Keltie - but warned his friends not to walk Kong alone.

The following morning, though, Mr Symes took Kong out by himself when tragedy struck. Prior to the attack, Mr Symes was seen by an old school friend Stacey Marsh playing with the dog before telling it: ‘That’s enough now.’

PC Andrew Holmes said he was later approached by Ms Marsh who said she saw Mr Symes with the dog. ‘She saw Mr Symes playing with the dog. She saw him wind the dog up and getting it in a headlock,’ he said.

Mr Jones discovered the horrific aftermath of the attack while walking back to nearby Valentine Close from his girlfriend’s place through the playing fields. He saw Kong standing by Mr Symes with his collar and lead nearby. ‘I walked up the field and Ian was laid flat. I ran over…he was covered in blood…I was freaking out,’ he told the hearing. He called for ‘help’ and held onto Kong before a nearby neighbour, Julie Abbott, came running over with others quickly following.

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A shrine set up at the recreation in Hillson Drive, Fareham, in memory of Wiggy Symes, who died after a dog attack there Picture: Steve DeeksA shrine set up at the recreation in Hillson Drive, Fareham, in memory of Wiggy Symes, who died after a dog attack there Picture: Steve Deeks
A shrine set up at the recreation in Hillson Drive, Fareham, in memory of Wiggy Symes, who died after a dog attack there Picture: Steve Deeks

‘I was holding Kong back as I was worried,’ Mr Jones said before deciding to take the dog back to his flat.

He added: ‘It was really weird how the dog was acting so calm. The dog did not seem aggressive. When I walked over to him and pulled him back he wasn’t retaliating.’

Ms Abbott said Mr Jones was ‘holding the dog on its hind legs saying, “It’s Wiggy, it’s Wiggy”’ before continuing: ‘The dog had blood around its mouth. It didn’t look like it had (killed Wiggy). It looked like a soppy dog and was just wagging its tail. It wasn’t growling or barking.

‘(Mr Jones) pointed to Wiggy. I said, “it can’t be”. It looked like a mannequin. (The body) was so still.’

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The hearing heard from nearby resident Leah Biles whose child and a friend had also seen Mr Symes ‘covered in blood with a large dog being held by a man’.

Det Insp Daniel Sanzen-Baker said police attended Mr Jones’ flat before he was arrested and the dog seized, and told the inquest it was unprecedented: ‘We’ve not had a fatal dog attack before in the county.’

The detective said that following enquiries no action was taken against Mr Jones. ‘There was no evidence that (Mr Jones) was present at the time of the attack,’ he said. ‘This was a tragic accident following an unforeseen dog attack.’

A Home Office pathologist said the death was caused by a fatal dog attack, the detective added.

Dog behaviour expert Dr Candy d’Sa was part of a team that tested Kong in the days after the incident before it was put down. She said: ‘I believe Mr Symes was having rough play with Kong. (The dog) became over-aroused and quickly became aggressive. If the dog has not been trained to stop it won’t stop. The dog weighed more than the victim and standing up it would have been at face height on its hind legs.

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‘I would think (Mr Symes) fell down quickly which would have increased its predatory drive.’

The expert described the dog as ‘super breed’ with an ‘extreme bite force’. The breed had only been around for 15 years and even less in the UK, she said, and had arisen out of the banned pitbull and was bred for ‘hunting, baiting and killing other animals’.

‘In 10 fatal dog attacks in 2022, five were from the American Bully XL,’ she said, describing it as a ‘genetically modified pitbull’.

Dr d’Sa said there were other ‘warning flags’ over the unknown dog that may have contributed to the attack, such as it being dehydrated in hot weather, having no exercise and being on a car journey the day before, as well as it not being socialised with humans due to it having lived in kennels before.

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She said the dogs require a ‘high level of expertise’ before adding a stark warning: ‘They are a specialised breed and will continue to do damage until the public is educated.’

Coroner Sarah Whitby described the warning as ‘chilling’ before adding: ‘Mr Symes engaged in some play with Kong who responded with default behaviour aggression and bit his neck and torso repeatedly, severing the voice box and puncturing all four major blood vessels of the neck and severely damaging his spinal column.’

Delivering a narrative conclusion, she added: (Mr Symes) died of catastrophic aggressive injuries inflicted by a dog.’

Following the attack last year, tributes were paid to Mr Symes. His brother Martin posted: ‘The facts are he was out walking a dog, something he loved to do and as sad as it is least he passed away doing something he loved.’

A female resident said: ‘He always had a dog with him. He was good with dogs and would help train them.’

Another said: ‘He would walk so many dogs, you would always see him. Everyone knew of him. He was never seen without a dog.’

Another woman said: ‘Wiggy had a heart of gold.’

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