December 2011

Toddler beaten to death by violent stepfather a month after police and social services hand him BACK to abusive parents

A toddler was beaten to death a month after he returned home to the parents whose abuse led to him being in hospital.

Two-year-old Joshua Jones, from Runcorn, Cheshire, died on November 6, 2007.

His mother’s boyfriend, Wayne Davenport, was jailed for six years in 2009 after he was convicted of manslaughter.

Davenport’s trial heard that he spent months punishing the toddler and unleashing a horrific catalogue of abuse on the boy.

Joshua’s mother, Nichola Bowman, was convicted of causing or allowing her son’s death and was given a suspended sentence.

Following a five-day inquest at Warrington Town Hall, the coroner for Cheshire, Nicholas Rheinberg, today recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

He said Joshua’s death ‘probably would have been avoided’ if Warrington and District General Hospital, Cheshire Police and Halton Borough Council had preventerd him from returning to an ‘unsafe environment’.

He said: ‘Joshua’s death probably would have been avoided if the three agencies concerned with his safety had taken steps which did not involve returning him to an unsafe environment.’

The inquest heard that Joshua was taken to Warrington General Hospital on October 26 2007 by his mother and grandmother, Michelle Littlemore, with a broken arm and a ‘constellation of other injuries’, including bruises to his back and penis.

But, despite the injuries ‘ringing alarm bells’ with numerous doctors, social workers and police officers, after six nights in hospital Joshua was allowed back into his mother’s care.

Bowman, who had come up with three different stories to explain Joshua’s injuries, lied to social workers about her new boyfriend Davenport – saying that he was not living with them, the inquest was told.

The inquest heard that both Dr Rachel Webb, consultant paediatrician at Warrington Hospital, and social worker Vikki Irons took the mother at her word and full checks on Davenport were not carried out.

Mr Rheinberg was critical of the quality of information that was brought to the two ‘strategy meetings’ held by the three agencies regarding Joshua’s safety.

He said a ‘proper investigation’ would have informed the meetings that Joshua’s injuries were ‘non-accidental’ and that alternative care arrangements ‘were necessary in the interests of Joshua’s safety’.

The coroner said he accepted that lessons had been learned, particularly at Cheshire Police, but said he would be writing to Halton Borough Council and the director of nursing at Warrington Hospital regarding specific issues.

After the inquest, Audrey Williamson, independent chairwoman of Halton Safeguarding Children Board, said: ‘We are going to study very carefully what the coroner has said.

At the time we did an in-depth review and looked in detail at the individual agencies and what agencies did collectively in their work with Joshua.

‘We learned some lessons and the coroner has heard that.

‘If there is more to learn I would like to assure you that we will take those lessons on board, we will implement them and make sure they will continue to be implemented.’

Bowman did not attend today’s hearing but her mother, Michelle Littlemore, said after the inquest that her daughter had ‘taken responsibility’ for what happened ‘on her own shoulders’ and said she hoped the agencies involved would do the same.

She said it was ‘good’ that the ‘errors’ that were made in relation to Joshua’s care were uncovered but said ‘they shouldn’t have happened at all’.

‘If the agencies had done their jobs correctly and acted accordingly I think Joshua would still be here.

‘Changes have been made but there has been no official apology to Joshua and his family for the way the agencies have let him down.’

Miss Littlemore also said that she as a grandmother ‘should have noticed’ what was happening.

Mr Rheinberg highlighted a number of specific failings in relation to the joint safeguarding inquiry carried out by the three agencies after Joshua was brought to hospital on October 26.

These included expert evidence not being sought, the agencies ‘did not sufficiently communicate’ with each other and with members of their own organisations and ‘Critical information’ within the medical notes was not checked, analysed or disseminated.

Other failings included photographs of Joshua’s injuries not being taken to strategy meetings, police officers did not log or communicate information important to the investigation and social workers did not log information of significance reported by family members.

Last week the inquest heard that both Dr Rachel Webb and social worker Vikki Irons took the mother at her word and full checks on Davenport were not carried out.

Under cross-examination from Leslie Thomas, counsel for the inquest, Miss Irons said they should have carried out further checks.

Mr Thomas said: ‘There was a record against Wayne Davenport in respect of a previous assault.

‘This is on the system. It is even more important to check him, isn’t it? He is the new partner?’

Miss Irons said: ‘Yes.’

She then said they followed the medical advice of Dr Webb who had written a report which seemed to accept some of the explanations given by Bowman to account for her son’s injuries.

Cross-examining Dr Webb, Mr Rheinberg said that, on reflection, ‘was it not surprising’ that Davenport was not one of the ‘priorities’ in terms of investigation?

The doctor replied: ‘He was never at the top of the list because of the timings we were being told about the injuries.’

Following the cross-examination about one of the strategy meetings in which key information was not conveyed by all three agencies, Mr Rheinberg said: ‘It looks as though you are, figuratively, walking away whistling from this meeting.’

Davenport’s trial heard that on the evening of November 6 Joshua’s mother went out for a drink, leaving her son alone with Davenport, who was smoking cannabis.

Bowman knew Joshua was scared of Davenport and that the O2 worker regularly abused him.

Yet she did nothing about it – she even lied to authorities investigating her son’s treatment, the trial was told.

That night Davenport – who has a history of violence – flew into a rage when the youngster woke up and deliberately beat him.

Joshua was taken to hospital where he died from a swollen brain.