Once upon a time dog attacks on postmen conjured up jokey Tom and Jerry-style cartoon images of uniformed men fleeing yappy household terriers as envelopes of mail dropped behind them.

But in reality such assaults have become a major issue in Britain with almost 15,000 posties mauled over the past five years whilst doing their rounds.

Attacks have led to over 4,000 working days a year being lost due to injury at a cost to the Royal Mail of almost £500,000 a year.

Yet when postman Stephen Oxtoby was left with his arm ''ripped to shreds'' after being mauled by a bull mastiff cross, Royal Mail officials lodged a private prosecution against the dog's owner when police issued her with a caution.

In the first case of its kind, they took Stephanie Brice, 51, to court so she could be formally punished - and so they could also highlight the number of dog attacks suffered by postmen each day.

Manchester magistrates heard how Brice's dog Barney had been standing near the open front door of his owner's home in Radcliffe, near Bury, when Mr Oxtoby was delivering mail to next-door houses.

On seeing the animal, Mr Oxtoby decided against posting any mail at Brice's house after being made aware from colleagues the dog might cause problems.

But despite him backing away, the dog jump over a four foot high garden fence and mauled Mr Oxtoby's arm leaving what he described as a deep open wound with a flap of skin hanging from his limb (see picture).

He needed 18 stitches and was forced to work on ‘light duty’ for six weeks and said the wound was ‘incredibly painful’.

Brice, a mental health worker, voluntarily had the animal destroyed after the attack.

She pleaded guilty to owning a dog which was dangerously out of control and was ordered to pay £750 compensation to Mr Oxtoby plus £740 in other costs. She was also banned from keeping dogs for 18 months.

In a statement, Mr Oxtoby said of his ordeal: “The dog bite affected me in ways I never imagined and knocked my confidence. I am now overly concerned when out on delivery duty fearing I may be the victim of another attack. I have struggled to sleep and the pain has continued. I shouldn’t be attacked in these circumstances when performing a public function.”

And Royal Mail lawyer David Morton added: “This is the first prosecution by Royal Mail of a dog bite in this country. The reason this has been brought, and there has been pressure to bring it, is because there have been 3,000 dog bites on postal workers per year - about ten per day.

''Because police don’t always regard these incidents in the same way as employers, this will now be a matter of public policy and they will be appropriately prosecuted.”

Cavendish Press' coverage of the court case featured in the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror.

Last May changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act mean dog owners are prosecuted if their animal attacks a person in their home or on any private property, except if they attack a trespasser. The maximum prison sentence for allowing a dog to injure someone has also been increased from two years to five.

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