The week long inquest into the death of Rebecca Watkins today recorded a conclusion of suicide after what the coroner called ‘a cascade of failure’ by Essex Social Care.
The inquest into the death of Rebecca ‘Becky’ Watkins at the Evergreen Children’s Home in Bury Road, Brandon, heard in Bury St Edmunds that she had a history of self harm before being sent there by Essex Social Care in April 2009. She was found hanging from a cupboard by a scarf in her room on June 16 2009,in spite of staff having upgraded the level of observation to a higher level than required by Essex Social Care.
Today Paul Secker, director for safeguarding care at Essex County Council, apologised for a series of failures but said the service was ‘in a different place now’.
Mr Secker, who took the job in April 2012, told the inquest: “I would describe it as systemic failures.
“I think there were missed opportunities to support the family on issues of neglect. I think there was a lack of curiosity in tending to believe the mother’s account of things. I don’t think we listened enough to Becky’s point of view.”
Coroner Dr Peter Dean read from Mr Secker’s statement that Ofsted declared social care in Essex to be inadequate in 2007 and the Government had put it into special measures, which continued until 2011. There were unallocated cases and a high staff turnover with high workloads.
Mr Secker and Dr Dean both stressed that while he serious case review by Essex Social Care questioned Evergreen’s ability to give Becky all the care she needed, it was done without ‘input’ from the home, which had closed voluntarily, because Essex had failed to contact the owners.
Mr Secker said it was known that Becky’s father Darren Watkins, who was separated from her mother and attended the inquest every day, had told her primary school he wanted to be told of any problems with Becky and her brother, but letters were sent to an old address and no follow up was made.
On questioning from Mr Watkins, he agreed such letters would have been better sent by recorded delivery so they would know whether they were received. He said there was now greater emphasis on seeking family members who might have parental responsibilities.
Summing up, Dr Dean said the system had not worked for Becky apart from several individuals, including staff at Evergreen, who had done their best to help her.
He described the attempts to contact Mr Watkins as ‘too superficial’ even though Becky had repeatedly said she wanted to be in contact with him.
He added: “We simply don’t know what the outcome might have been if Mr Watkins had been in contact. Becky had great troubles and would probably have continued to test Mr Watkins, probably a decreasing intervals. But she was never given the opportunity and he was never given the opportunity to care for her.”
He said he felt lessons had been learnt since her death.
“I genuinely believe that these authorities that have accepted the failures that took place have tried, in good faith now, to prevent or reduce the chance of this sort of tragedy taking place again,” he said, adding that it was Becky’s legacy to others.
He said he had no doubt from a conversation she had with another resident and from three notes she left on her bed that she intended to take her life and that this was not a self-harm attempt that went wrong.
For last week’s evidence, see our earlier story