The fact is that overwhelmingly these children were killed by violent fathers, or in a few cases, by mothers, mostly under the influence of violent fathers. In some cases family court judges had allowed the men to have residence or unsupervised contact with the children – they must be named and shamed. In nearly every case the police and/or social services knew about the danger mothers and children were in, but did nothing to help them to safety. They too must be held to account before even more children are killed.
EXCLUSIVE: The Sunday Mirror can reveal six more cases where professionals failed to take steps to protect young victims – we are demanding the law is changed to save lives. By Geraldine McKelvie, Investigations Editor 20 Feb 2021
The tragic toll of children killed at the hands of parents known to be abusive has risen once more. The number killed since child protection laws were last overhauled in 2004 now stands at a horrifying 69. That is six higher than 2019 when the Sunday Mirror launched the Save Kids From Violent Parents campaign in a bid to change the law, which presumes contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child.
We acted after finding 63 children had died – and kids were allowed to live with convicted killers and paedophiles. Now investigations have concluded into a further six cases where professionals failed to take steps to protect young victims. The true figure is expected to be even higher as investigations are ongoing into dozens more deaths.
Some 12 children died in domestic homicides in London alone last year, amid fears lockdown caused a spike in killings. Our fight is backed by Chelsea Chambers, who escaped through a window when her stepdad David Oakes killed her mum Christine, 38, and two-year-old sister Shania in Braintree, Essex, in 2011. Oakes, sentenced to life, has since died. He was allowed to see Shania every weekend despite Christine making numerous reports to police about his violence. Chelsea, now 20, said: “I back this campaign 100%. This man was never fit to have a two-year-old in his care. “My mum had a non-molestation order, but we still had to meet him to collect Shania.”
The Children Act was updated in 2004 in the wake of the Victoria Climbie tragedy and was supposed to make it easier for local authorities to step in when they know a child is at risk. Victoria, eight, was starved and tortured by great aunt Marie Therese Kouao, 63, and boyfriend Carl Manning, 46, after agencies missed numerous chances to save her. She died in 2000 and her murderers were jailed for life. The legislation, introduced in 1989, says welfare of the child must come first. Yet even violent criminals are not automatically banned from having time alone with their kids. And under human rights laws, both kids and their parents have a right to a family life.
The government is currently carrying out a review with a view to changing the law. As part of our ongoing probe, we reviewed the cases of Leo Tompsett, five, Amelia Crichton, seven months, Hope Smith, six months, Kayden Walker, six months, Blake Barrass, 14, and his 13-year-old brother Tristan. Kayden died of “catastrophic” injuries after being attacked in 2018 by dad Ricky Walker, who got six years for manslaughter. Previous abuse allegations were not probed. Hope’s dad Neil Smith got life for her 2017 murder.
Authorities were aware he had a history of “significant domestic abuse”. The Barrass brothers were murdered in 2019 by mum Sarah and dad Brandon Minchin. He was Sarah’s half brother and the family was known to social services.
In total, 54 children have been killed by dads with a documented history of abuse and six by mums. In nine cases, both parents were complicit. Some 21 children died after being left with convicted and violent criminals. In 11 cases, unsupervised contact was ordered directly in the family courts. In the remaining 58, the decision to allow unsupervised contact was made by local authorities.
Justice Minister Alex Chalk said: “We are determined to ensure that children are safe, whilst ensuring they have the best possible family life. “This is a complex, sensitive area and any action we take following the review must be rooted in solid evidence. That is why it’s so important we take time to consider this with the utmost care.”
Amelia Crichton, seven months old.
Amelia Crichton died of head injuries and her mum Jennifer was jailed for 21 years for the 2017 murder. She was also convicted of causing serious injuries to a child in a case dating back to 2004 – and known about at the time by the authorities. Crichton, 37, of Leyland, Lancs, had a child in 2015 and, despite a risk assessment, was allowed to move out of foster care. Amelia was born in 2016 at just 24 weeks with serious health problems.
Her grandad Nicholas Quested, 63, said: “I support this Mirror campaign. With Amelia, it’s like history repeating itself. A carbon copy of 2004. It sounds harsh but I would have preferred her to have been taken away altogether. She would have been safe.”
Leo Thompsett, five years old
Playful Leo Tompsett was killed by his mum Cheryl, 42, in a murder-suicide at Beachy Head in East Sussex in 2018. Weeks earlier, police were called to the family home and two of Tompsett’s older children disclosed past abuse. Officers were called out the next day and Tompsett said: “All my kids are dead to me.” Police learned of incidents in which she threw a wooden toy at Leo’s dad Mark Woodhams and a laptop at an older child. A court ruled contact with Leo should be supervised – but then ordered Tompsett, from Maidstone, Kent, should be allowed time alone with her son. Weeks later, she killed him then took her own life. Mark, 47, backed our campaign and said: “You’d think the people a child can trust most with their life are their parents. Leo’s mum betrayed that trust.
The Sunday Mirror demands
■WE demand a change to the legal presumption that contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child
.■We want to see those with a proven history of violent crime or child abuse presumed unsafe for unsupervised contact.
■We also call for better training for decision makers.