Report highlights failures by authorities before son brutally murdered his mother (From Dorset Echo)
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Report highlights failures by authorities before son brutally murdered his mother
Updated 9:36am Wednesday 26th March 2014 in News
AUTHORITIES missed opportunities to act before the brutal murder of a Weymouth mum by her 16-year-old son, a review has found.
An independent domestic homicide review into the fatal stabbing of Leah Whittle by her son Kieren Smith says numerous failings were made by Dorset authorities in the lead-up to her death in 2012.
It reveals she told social services she was nervous and scared of him but nothing was done.
Dorset Police are also criticised for not sharing information with social services after Smith was arrested twice for burglary and throwing a brick through a dinner lady’s window in retaliation for an incident at school.
The review said steps must be taken to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Smith was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in jail after being convicted of murdering his mother in the pair’s flat at Fiveways Court in Benville Road.
The review into Ms Whittle’s murder was commissioned by the Dorset Community Safety Partnership, in line with Home Office guidance.
It finds that it would have been impossible to predict accurately that Ms Whittle was at risk of being murdered by her son.
But it also reveals that a number of errors were made by authorities after Ms Whittle phoned Dorset Social Services in June 2010 and told them she was ‘no longer able to control her son’s behaviour’ and was ‘nervous and scared of him’.
The failings of Dorset’s education system are highlighted in the review, which reveals that Smith was not in education for two years and was never referred by his school for psychological testing.
The review reveals that Smith fell through the net of the education system and spent most of his time from the end of 2010 until the summer of 2012 watching horror films in the Weymouth flat where he then stabbed his mother 94 times.
The review criticises the ‘lack of monitoring’ of Smith’s attendance at a pupil referral unit – which he was sent to after being expelled from school – as ‘the factor that had the most difference in this case in the year leading up to the murder.’ The review says Smith remained out of education for ‘the best part of two years’.
After being expelled from school three times between 2007 and 2010 for assaulting other pupils, for drinking and taking drugs and for disruptive behaviour, Smith’s lack of attendance at the pupil referral unit he was sent to was ‘not monitored and addressed’.
Instead, he spent most of his time watching violent horror films in his room from the end of 2010 to when he was arrested, the review says.
The review concludes that Smith isolated himself in order to ‘self-manage’ his behaviour and through spending time alone in his room, watching horror movies, frustrations built up.
The review said dual registration was agreed for Smith’s attendance at the pupil referral unit, known as the Education Centre, and ‘no one organisation’ saw themselves as responsible for Smith’s attendance.
There was ‘confusion’ over who had overall responsibility for Smith’s education once he was in alternative provision, the review says before stating: “It is unacceptable that his lack of school attendance was not picked up.”
Smith should have been referred for psychological testing at school, the review says, because testing after his arrest showed he has an IQ of 69-79, placing him within the category of ‘borderline learning disability’.
As a result ‘there was insufficient attention paid to meeting his specific learning needs’, the review added.
The report said that the family’s social services case file was closed on December 26, 2010, as Ms Whittle was ‘deemed able to meet Smith’s needs’ and did not want to engage with services.
A month earlier, work undertaken by the Specialist Preven-tion Adolescent Support Service – part of Dorset Social Services – was concluded.
The closing summary on the case file said the situation between mother and son was thought to be ‘calmer’ with ‘a considerable reduction in conflict’.
Social services again comes under fire in the review after Smith was known to be spending time with a sex offender.
Social workers’ decision to send Ms Whittle a letter advising her there should be no contact between the sex offender and Smith is described as ‘insufficient’.
The review says an assessment should have been carried out at that point because it would have revealed ‘continuing problems with educational attendance’.
A fuller assessment of parenting behaviour should have been made by authorities, the review said.
“There were aspects of parenting behaviour that could be described as neglectful,” the review said.
It said Smith’s habit of sleeping in a shed from the age of 13 was ‘particularly concerning’.
Ms Whittle and her son, aged 11 at the time, moved to Weymouth from Doncaster in November 2006.
The review said Dorset Social Services made ‘every effort’ to trace Smith’s records from primary school and a children’s centre he attended but they couldn’t be found because they were ‘possibly destroyed in a flood’.
The review calls for an education system which can always fully assess young people’s learning needs and one which takes full responsibility for identifying young people who are not attending any education provision.
It says there should have been recognition of the ‘potential impact’ on Smith of early childhood experiences of domestic violence.
It concludes that there needs to be a better understanding of parent abuse from children by practitioners and there should have been better access to children’s mental health services as a possible source of help to Smith and his mother.
It describes Ms Whittle’s murder as ‘an extremely tragic case for all concerned’ and says it is important all possible steps are taken to learn lessons and improve practise in the future.
Although practitioners generally acted in ‘good faith’, there were ‘lost opportunities to act differently’.
The review says lessons can be learned which should ‘improve’ the response to similar situations in the future.
• Force is criticised
DORSET Police are criticised in the review for not sharing information about Smith with Dorset Social Services.
The review tells how Smith as a 13-year-old was arrested for throwing a brick through the window of a school dinner lady’s home after she reported a playground fight he was in to a teacher.
Smith was never charged with an offence and although a safeguarding referral form was completed by police officers, it was never copied to social services, the review says.
Again, police failed to share information with social services when Smith was arrested for burglary in 2009 and when he was arrested for assault during the same year, the review says.
It also notes that Smith’s hospitalisation in 2009 after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on a beach was not recorded in a police incident log system and a child safeguarding report was never completed.
• ‘Regular partner at 13’
ALSO coming under fire was the role of health services in the case.
The review notes that Smith asked for condoms from a sexual health clinic at the age of 13 stating he had a regular partner.
The review says: “The lack of evidence of any exploration of the circumstances surrounding this is worrying.”
The nurse at Smith’s school was also criticised for not reading his records, which would have led to more understanding of his ‘alcohol issue’ and ‘angry and abusive behaviour to his mother’.
• Training for care staff
DORSET County Council says it has already made changes to its social care assessments and has trained staff to deal with more complex family situations.
The council says it has also made sure that young people who are not going to school regularly and who are not being seen by a professional, are subject to a multi-agency planning meeting to assess their whole situation.
• ‘Vital to report abuse’
CLLR Ray Nottage, chairman of the Dorset Community Safety Partnership, said: “This was a very tragic case and I’d like to express our condolences to the family.
“The review, which examines the circumstances of this case and agencies’ involvement with the family, allows us to look at how organisations work with families and highlight where lessons can be learned – in particular, improving agency knowledge of and response to, parental abuse.
“We want to create safer communities, so it is vital that victims of domestic violence, their friends, family and the wider community report abuse to the police or some other local agency.”
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