AN AMERICAN Pitbull owner who set his dog on his new girlfriend has been jailed for two years.

James Guilfoyle, aged 22, had denied assault but a jury at Truro Crown Court convicted him after hearing how the dog called Marley had jumped onto his victim and bitten her arm and leg.

Giving evidence from behind a screen, 24-year-old care worker Gemma Nicholls told the court that she met Guilfoyle through a social internet site about four months before the attack and moved in with him in Oakfield Road, Falmouth, in November last year.

On February 13 last they argued after he had gone upstairs to his sister's room and refused to let her in. He did not come down for about two hours by which time his mood had changed.

He pushed her in the chest, punched her on the chin and threw a nearly empty bottle which struck her on the head.

“Miss Nicholls went to the ground and was kicked, and Guilfoyle told Marley to 'get her'” said Mr White. “She leapt out of the lounge window and ran down the road to a neighbours, wearing only her pyjamas and nothing on her feet. Guilfoyle and the dog followed her.”

In the witness box Guilfoyle told the jury that he had been upstairs with his sister planing a surprise Valentine's Day card and present for Miss Nicholls. She had drunk about three quarters of the bottle of wine before they argued.

He alleged that his girlfriend had picked up a knife and threatened him. He had not set Marley on her and had not run after her down the road. Marley, he explained, was afraid of knives because it had suffered four stab wounds in the previous November.

Neighbour David Wicks said he had been awakened by loud banging on the door and found Miss Nicholls distraught and crying. The dog followed her into the house but was quite calm, pet-like.

Defence counsel Brian Fitzgerald said that Guilfoyle had a drink-driving conviction but none involving violence. A factory worker in Falmouth, Guilfoyle had taken courses while in custody and he was supported by his mother and loving family.

Judge Graham Cottle told Guilfoyle he had committed a sustained and vicious attack in which he had encouraged his dog to bite Miss Nicholls, who was terrified.

“It was not the first time you had attacked this young woman,” he declared.