Tot death shock sparks tough warning to medics

PUBLISHED: 12:27 20 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:57 25 August 2010

MURDERED: Bobby Louch, who was 21-months-old was killed by his mother in Bexleyheath.

MURDERED: Bobby Louch, who was 21-months-old was killed by his mother in Bexleyheath.

THE head of children s services has demanded more vigilance from healthcare professionals after they were condemned in a report into the horrific murder of a baby by his mother.

THE head of children's services has demanded more vigilance from healthcare professionals after they were condemned in a report into the horrific murder of a baby by his mother.

Collette Harris, 30, was found guilty of killing 21-month-old Bobby Louch. She inflicted the tot with 40 injuries at their home in Halcot Avenue, Bexleyheath.

Harris from Dartford, was convicted of murder at the Old Bailey last Friday and ordered to serve a minimum of 16 years, whilst her boyfriend, James Phillips, of Dale View, Erith, was cleared of murder, manslaughter and causing the death of a child.

A Serious Case Review published this week found that staff at Darent Valley Hospital (DVH) in Dartford should have referred the toddler to Social Services, when he went to hospital with a broken leg, three weeks before his death.

The abuse, at the height of the Baby Peter scandal, left defenceless Bobby with severe brain damage, ruptured internal organs and two fractured ribs.

The Chair of Bexley Safeguarding Children's Board, Deborah Absalom, told the Times: "Everybody needs to be more vigilant and take responsibility, healthcare professionals and all professionals that come into contact with children, as well as society.

"People should not make assessments based on family stereotypes around that. If they suspect something they should refer that.

"The Serious Case Review says that this was not foreseeable. Had absolutely everything been done, it still might not have been foreseen. The judgement was that the injuries were not accidental so the child was not referred. The procedure says the child should have been referred."

Bexley children's councillor, Jane Slaughter, who is tasked with scrutinising the council's Children and Young People Services, said: "He was never referred to Bexley council. The child wasn't known to Bexley council.

"It simply goes to show that everybody has to be vigilant and any concerns about children should be referred to the authorities. We can't be in every house checking what happens. In this case it is clear that people did not have any concerns.

"It was a very tragic case in which people have come to the conclusion that it could not have been preventable."

Hospital staff had concerns about whether Bobby's leg injury was accidental, so he was kept in overnight to complete further tests but was discharged the next day.

He was still wearing the plaster cast when his lifeless body was found in his cot by his violent mother on December 29, 2008, as the country was left devastated by the Baby Peter case.

During sentencing, the Recorder of London, Judge Peter Beaumont QC said: "This was a terrible thing you did for reasons that are quite incomprehensible.

"I take into account his age, the suffering that was inflicted on him before death and the abuse of your position of trust."

Despite the Serious Case Review, the director of nursing at the hospital claims a referral to Bexley Social Services would not have prevented the murder.

Director of Nursing Ms Kay at DVH said: "We are sorry that a referral to Children's Services was not made. Medical staff had met the mother on a number of occasions before. She had always appeared caring and concerned for her children.

"There weren't many flags of concern by other agencies - neighbours, friends, health visitors - these were all reassuring. The only opportunity was the one attendance to DVH. The only thing staff didn't do was refer that child to Social Services. It terms of it being unpredictable there weren't lots of flags coming up.

"This was a ferocious attack on the child that was not predictable. The referral would not have made a difference to the outcome. There would not have been lots of raised concerns from the referral."

Despite charities' calls for the new government not to slash spending on social services, the new administration could not rule this out.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, formally know as the Department of Schools, Children and Families told the Times: "We are five days into a new administration. There is going to be a spending review in the autumn. No decisions have been made."

MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford David Evennett did not return the Times' calls.

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