Saturday 24 March 2018

Baby killed by father not on child protection list

Three people arrested in Wales after reportedly selling baby boy to couple for £11k
Three people arrested in Wales after reportedly selling baby boy to couple for £11k

By Claire Hayhurst

A baby killed by her father was never on a child protection plan despite authorities knowing of "horrific domestic abuse, drug-taking and injuries to the child", a damning report has revealed.

Paris Vince-Stephens was just 16 weeks old when she suffered fatal injuries after being shaken by father William Stephens, 27, in Southmead, Bristol in January 2013.

Stephens was jailed for six years after being convicted of manslaughter following a trial at Bristol Crown Court while Paris's mother, Danah Vince, was acquitted of the charge.

Miss Vince, 20, took her own life a year later, in November 2014, having suffered depression, flashbacks and being branded a "baby killer" by her local community despite the verdict.

Now - two days after Miss Vince's inquest - a serious case review has been released, comprising of 11 recommendations and lessons for authorities involved with Paris's family.

The review's author, Joanna Nicolas, wrote that it was "absolutely clear" from the family's plan that Paris should have been treated as a child protection case.

However, the head of Bristol Safeguarding Children's Board said she did not believe the tragedy could have been prevented or caused by an "act or omission".

"We are still no nearer to understanding why this case was not seen as child protection," Ms Nicolas wrote.

"Everything seemed to be minimalised - the horrific domestic abuse, the drug-taking and injuries to the child.

"There seems to have been inertia amongst staff from other agencies, who were not reporting high levels of concern to social care, despite the high level of risk.

"It may have been that there was a false sense of security amongst agencies, that if there is social work involvement they will know when to escalate.

"This feeling can abdicate professionals of their role of challenge and scrutinise the safeguarding process."

Ms Nicolas said it "could not be overlooked" that critical lessons from previous serious case reviews in the city did not seemed to be learned from those working with Paris's family.

"The most significant factor of this serious case review remains that this case was not seen, by any agency, as child protection," Ms Nicolas added.

The review said Miss Vince should have been treated as a victim of child sexual exploitation, as she was aged 13 and Stephens aged 20 when they began a sexual relationship.

She first suffered violence at his hands three years later, in January 2011, when she claimed he pulled her by the hair, punched her in the eye and hit her with a bicycle chain.

The pair signed four "partnership agreements" with social services promising not to smoke cannabis, not live together and engage with authorities - but these were all broken.

It was later established that Stephens had an IQ of 52 and could not read, while Miss Vince admitted the agreements had been signed to get social workers "off their backs".

Paris was born on September 21 2012 and by October 4 that year, social care workers smelt cannabis in the home. Stephens tested positive to a Class A drug three weeks later.

Miss Vince's mother contacted social care in November 2012, reporting that another family member had seen Stephens throw a talc bottle at Miss Vince, which hit Paris.

Later that month, Stephens admitted to smoking between cannabis each day and snorting cocaine at the weekends, adding that Miss Vince did the same.

Paris was attacked by Stephens on January 11 2013, when he was in an "agitated" state after running out of cannabis. She died three days later.

Sally Lewis, chair of Bristol Safeguarding Children's Board, described Paris's death as "the saddest of circumstances" and said the report's recommendations were already being implemented.

"I don't think at any point before all the evidence was brought together there was enough evidence to take the child into care," she said.

"But there was enough evidence to escalate this to a child protection level. I would absolutely accept that there should have been a child protection conference.

"That doesn't mean that would have prevented this tragic death."

She added: "Having looked at this very carefully, I cannot point to an act or omission within this that happened or didn't happen where I can say that would have prevented it."

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