'Lost Opportunities' Says Murder Review Inquiry
7:44am 26th March 2014
An inquiry into the murder of a Dorset woman who was stabbed to death by her 16 year old son - has found there were 'lost opportunities' to help the family beforehand.
Kieren Smith was jailed for 15 years for murdering Leah Whittle at their Weymouth flat in 2012.
Commissioned by the Dorset Community Safety Partnership, in line with Home Office guidance, the review set out to establish what can be learned from the events leading up to the victim's death.
The murder was committed in July 2012 and the son was convicted in December of that year. He was sentenced to detention for a minimum of 15 years.
The report concluded that although the crime would have been impossible to predict, there were lost opportunities to act differently and that lessons can be learnt which should improve the response to similar situations in the future.
Since the review began, agencies across the county including Dorset Police, local healthcare organisations and Dorset County Council have all made changes to their services to try and minimise the chance of such a tragic case happening again.
Chair of the Dorset Community Safety Partnership Cllr Ray Nottage 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."
As the perpetrator was under eighteen, and the son of the victim, the review also considered the involvement of children's services, as well as those working with the mother.
Dorset's Safeguarding Children Board (DSCB) is responsible for making sure that any recommendations relating to children's services as part of the review are carried out.
Independent Chair of the DSCB, Cliff Turner, said:
"Although there were many agencies and services working with both the mother and son, it appears that there was not one particular service or agency that looked at the whole picture.
"Since this devastating case, agencies have been working very hard to address the areas highlighted in the review and change the way they operate to make sure the right information is shared with the right people, at the right time, to reduce the risk of a similar case happening again."
Dorset County Council has already made changes to its social care assessments and has trained staff to deal with more complex family situations.
The council 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.
Cllr Rebecca Knox, Dorset County Council's Cabinet member for children's safeguarding and families, said:
"This was a terrible case that was extremely distressing for the family involved. Although such cases are very rare, it has made us review how we support families, particularly with teenagers, find new ways to work with those that are harder to reach and improve the way we respond to the more complex cases.
"We are committed to supporting children, young people and their families across Dorset, and are doing everything in our power to minimise the chance of such a tragic case happening again."
The full report is available at: www.dorsetforyou.com/domestic-homicide-reviews.