A HAMPSHIRE dog responsible for savagely attacking a string of victims has been spared a death sentence.

It has been a year of “hell” for owner Paul Ward, who has not known if his beloved Japanese Akita cross-breed named Samson would live or die.

But Southampton Crown Court has ruled that the eight-year-old dog, which left a four-year-old boy with cuts to his leg, can live to see another day as long as he wears a muzzle whenever he goes out in public.

The ruling has come as a huge relief for the 50-year-old, of Laundry Road, in Shirley Warren, who always insisted that Samson, who he affectionately calls “his baby”, never deserved to die.

Mr Ward said: “It has been 15 months of hell, not knowing whether Samson was going to live or die.

“It has been terrible leaving him in the morning and saying goodbye, not being able to tell him if he is going to be here tomorrow.

“He is just a normal dog and this all happened because of the circumstances we were forced into at the time. We were homeless and all we had was the caravan. We didn’t want to be there but we had no choice.

“Now we are in a house which has 6ft metal fencing around the garden so he is safe there and he has plenty of room to run around.”

As previously reported in the Daily Echo, Mr Ward was given a three-month suspended sentence for 12 months when he admitted two counts of owning a dog which caused injury while dangerously out of control in a public place.

One of the victims, bailiff Timothy Walker, 62, needed 37 stitches after being mauled when he attempted to evict Mr Ward outside Chilworth Science Park, in February 2011.

Hours after the attack police and dog wardens ordered Mr Ward to muzzle Samson and to keep him under control in public. A month later 17-year-old student Harry Barron was bitten on his hand, when Mr Ward’s caravan was pitched on a grass verge in Bracken Place, Chilworth. Since then Samson has had a destruction order hanging over his head but Judge Nigel Pascoe ruled that as long as the dog wears a muzzle whenever he is out in public, Mr Ward could keep him.

Mr Walker, whose hand is now seven per cent disabled, said: “I have never had anything against the dog. I have always said that if the dog could be saved that would be the best outcome.

“But I do think Mr Ward has got off lightly and if his record is anything to go by, I wonder how long it will last before someone else is attacked.”