The failure of child welfare agencies to share information will inevitably feature in a serious case review into the murder of two-year-old Keanu Williams in Birmingham, a senior police officer has said.
Detective superintendent Clare Cowley, of West Midlands Police, said it was “inevitable” one of the key lessons to be learned would be a need for better inter-agency communication, with Keanu already known to social workers and the police before his death in January 2011.
Mrs Cowley said it was “very hard for us as professionals to understand that messages didn’t get through or the bigger picture wasn’t seen” as the child protection agencies now undertake a serious case review.
She described the case as “an absolute tragedy” and said the key was to try to prevent it happening again.
The case review, launched whenever a child is suspected to have died as a result of neglect or abuse, is being handled by Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board.
A similar inquiry into seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq’s death in Handsworth, Birmingham, in 2008, recommended a need for better communication between child protection agencies, among other findings.
Mrs Cowley said it would be up to the review panel to look at the role of all agencies, including the police and Birmingham City Council’s social services, both of which she said had “come into contact” with Keanu’s family in the months and weeks leading up to his death.
Relatives had described how Keanu would often have a soiled nappy, while concerned nursery staff had spoken with his mother Rebecca Shuttleworth about marks on his body.
Mrs Cowley, from the police’s public protection unit, said: “It is almost inevitable that looking back at the bigger picture, there is something that could have been done differently.”
Asked if better communication would be one of the case review’s findings, she added: “I think, without having seen or been involved in that process, that will inevitably be one of its findings.
“I know that sounds a little counter-intuitive because the case review has not concluded yet but that is the assessment in many previous serious case reviews across the country.
“So, inevitably someone has a piece of information and doesn’t realise its significance until it’s placed in that bigger picture in the bigger context.”
Keanu suffered horrific abuse at the hands of his mother in what senior investigating officer detective chief inspector Caroline Marsh called the “worst” child abuse case she had dealt with.
Her former partner Luke Southerton was cleared by the jury of murder, manslaughter and causing or allowing Keanu's death, but convicted on one count of cruelty.
Mrs Cowley said there had been “a wide number of people who had come into contact with Keanu in his short life”.
She went on to say: “Young children are protected in their hundreds and their thousands in the West Midlands by those multi-agency arrangements.
“In the wider context, child protection arrangements do prevent serious harm coming to many children in the West Midlands area.”
The toddler’s death came three years after that of Khyra Ishaq who was starved to death at the family home.
Her mother and stepfather Angela Gordon and Junaid Abuhamza were jailed in March 2010 after being convicted of her manslaughter.
A serious case review into her death set out 18 recommendations to try to prevent such a case happening again, including a call to look at how to improve “effective professional communication”.
The Government commissioned the Munro Report off the back of that inquiry and pledged to adopt its recommendations, published in 2010, aimed at increasing child protection measures.