How many times must people be so tragically, and often avoidably, let down by the authorities?


I started writing this from my point of view as an Officer in the London Fire Brigade and actually, to do that would imply that my anger, upset and disappointment at the issue in this blog are all as a result of me being an employee of the London Fire Brigade and I think that that fails to cover the issue or to do it adequate justice. I’m upset by all of these things as a human, I’m let down by these things as a parent, a man, a husband, so on and so forth…oh yeah and as an employee of an emergency service.

And what is the issue?  Well the title will certainly point to it…it is the fact that so many members of public, often those who are more vulnerable, are being so disgustingly let down by the authorities, by the emergency services, by the government and even, at times, by the community itself.  For years and years safeguards have been put into place, authorities have tackled child abuse, child poverty, neglect, exploitation along with other crimes of neglect, bullying and violence towards others.  Yet, even now in 2015, we hear of Authorities failing to respond to calls for them to pick up an elderly lady with dementia who was lost who subsequently died as a consequence of their failings.  We also hear of a woman who lay beside her dead partner in their car after it plummeted off of a road in Scotland.  The sighting of the vehicle had been reported, the fact that the two people were missing was reported and yet the Authorities again failed to respond.

Why?  Was it incompetence?  Laziness?  Lack of development?  Lack of resources?  Lack of communication?  Who knows, perhaps if there is an inquiry they may get somewhere near the bottom of the issue, but yet again, no doubt, the main issue will be lack of money and lack of communication.

When the death of Victoria Cilimbie, who died at the hands of her relatives, was reported back in 2000 the authorities took a good hard public look at themselves and promised to do more.  “Never again” everyone cried.

In 2007 when Baby P died after being starved and physically beaten, and after repeated visits by local services, the Authorities yet again claimed that “There were lessons that could be learned.”

Even as recently as this year a couple were left for three days in their car, one of whom was already dead, one of whom died later in hospital.  And yet again the Authorities “apologised” and claimed that things could have been done better.  No f%$&ing shit Sherlock!

Back in 2013 it was revealed that West Mercia Police had failed to adequately identify, 5 years previously, that the man who lured a young woman to his flat and hanged her by the neck had posed a threat to members of the public.

Now this is not necessarily me attacking individual members of any of the authorities.  Some work under incredible stresses and are massively under resourced.  That said, just because we work for the Authorities, just because we wear uniforms doesn’t make us infallible.  It doesn’t mean that we are incapable of making mistakes, becoming complacent and failing to serve those people who put their trust in us.

The Government also should be held to account as we have seen budgets constantly eroded year after year after year.  It is simply not sustainable and can only lead to more deaths which will again be apologised for by someone who likely had nothing to do with the issues and is trained instead to do public speaking.  They will then explain that there were failings by all services and that there was a severe lack of communication.  “What a f*&^ing surprise” we all think.

And what will the Authorities actually do about all this?  They’ll probably put into place some fancy tick box form that “Must be completed on every occasion that this is identified in future” bla bla bla.  They won’t adequately correct the lack of training, they won’t address the huge work schedules that some people have been given.  They won’t fix the problem.  What they’ll more likely do is simply to redirect the spotlight onto the perpetrators.  And though that might seem obvious, how many times have you seen the newspapers reporting that “The poor old man was killed by Joe Blogs who went on the rampage because he had schizophrenia.” or “He was known to have mental health issues.”  Of course they report on the tragic death of someone who has been killed or attacked and quite rightly so but then they will concentrate on reporting about “The Nutter” rather than actually raising the real questions about what support was that person with mental health issues being given?  What drove that person to commit such a violent crime when they ‘apparently’ had a support plan in place?  What services have been cut that has left that person out on the street without any support whatsoever?  Oh, and also, why is it acceptable that the newspapers still sometimes refer to people who have mental health issues as being nutters?

Yes, yes, I know, another ranty blog by Ned.  I know, sorry, it’s not the most palatable of subjects and I know that there are some out there that might be reading thinking, “Hang on, my wife is a Police Officer and she does a bloody good job thank you very much!”  Well, if that is the case then clearly my finger is not pointing at her, is it?  I know people from other emergency services including the police force and also know people from social services and they have some really hard working, dedicated people in their teams.  I’ve also met people from all services including social services that I wouldn’t trust to look after my Goldfish whilst I went away for the weekend.

I saw the headlines again about Janet McKay and read how reports of sightings of her were not acted on by the Police after she went missing.  She had dementia.  She must have been lost, cold, afraid, hungry and eventually died because she was let down by the very people who charged with keeping keep us safe, the very people we all turn to when things go to rat poo, the emergency services.

Rarely are people from authorities held accountable for these deaths, a few of which I’ve included below with extracts from reports at the time, and though it would be difficult to sometimes narrow down exactly who was to blame and why, we still must look honestly at ourselves and be prepared for what we might see.  The Government seems to have been spending the last few years either dumbing down or removing child protection systems and arrangements.  Austerity measures, though needed to a degree, are leaving our services dangerously depleted of experience and resources and WILL lead to more of these deaths.

We as a community need to be more vigilant.  We need to be more prepared to make that call that we might not be comfortable making.  If you feel there’s a problem with a neighbour being neglected by their parents, consider whether or not you should call the authorities to inform them of something they may have missed.  If you have an elderly neighbour who might be vulnerable, pop in on them every now and then and treat yourself to one of their biscuits while you sit, keep them company for a while and check that everything’s okay with them.  If you keep hearing screaming through your walls coming from next door, report it.  And yes I know that sometimes even this isn’t enough but if people start to learn that the community will step in when the Police cannot or that they will be reported by neighbours when the social services have missed something themselves then maybe, just maybe people will think twice about neglecting their parents.  Maybe they’ll think again before raising a hand to their child.

Is this a pipe dream?  Maybe.  But what would you rather I do, roll over, give up and accept it or cling on to this hope that I have?  Believe me though, those of you who think you can’t make a difference, trust me, you can!

BELOW ARE IMAGES AND SHORT EXTRACTS FROM NEWS REPORTS AND WEBSITES TALKING ABOUT SOME OF THE MORE HIGH PROFILE CASES FROM RECENT YEARS.  THIS IS NOT AN EXHAUSTIVE LIST AND IN FACT ONLY SCRATCHES THE SURFACE.  FOR THOSE WHO HAVE LOST LOVED ONES IN THIS WAY MY SYMPATHIES ARE WITH YOU AND I HOPE YOU GET THE SUPPORT YOU NEED IN ORDER TO MOVE ON FROM YOUR LOSS.

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2000:  The inquiry investigated the circumstances surrounding the tragic and horrific death of Victoria Climbie in February at the hands of her aunt, Marie-Therese Kouao and her boyfriend, Carl Manning, who were both found guilty of her murder. The Inquiry, chaired by Lord Laming, took evidence from all those involved in the case, from social services, health, housing and the police and a series of seminars with invited contributors were also held. The findings of the Inquiry (the Laming Report) were damning, not only about individual practice failings, poor or non-existent inter-agency working and the lack of focus on the child, Victoria, but also, for the first time, about the failure of senior managers in various organizations to account for the shortcomings of their departments and their resistance, in most cases, to accept responsibility for them.

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2007:  “Baby P” was a 17-month-old English boy who died in London after suffering more than FIFTY injuries over an eight-month period, during which time he was repeatedly seen by Haringey Children’s services and NHS health professionals.

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2013:  Jamie Reynolds murdered Georgia Williams, 17, after luring her into his home in Shropshire.  The then 23-year-old invited her to his home for a photo shoot but killed her in a carefully planned trap, hanging her from a length of rope attached to the loft hatch.

Now, it has been revealed West Mercia Police were responsible for a number of failings which could have prevented Georgia’s murder.

A serious case review into police and social services’ contact with murderer Jamie Reynolds criticised a “confused” inquiry into a previous attack in which he attempted to strangle a 16-year-old girl in 2008.

The serious case review said Reynolds came to the attention of police five years before the murder, when he tried to attack the girl in a “bizarre, potentially serious and unprovoked” manner.

Police treated the incident as assault, did not take photographs of the injuries and did not search Reynolds’ home. He was given a final warning and offered counselling.

Chief Constable of West Mercia Police, David Shaw, said: “We could and should have done better. It is as simple as that.

“We let Georgia down. We let Steve and Lynnette down. And as you’ll see in the report – some other young people, we let them down as well.

“What that report reflects is a whole series of things that the police and other agencies can do to improve, and make sure the failings do not happen again.”

After the attack in 2008, a doctor then assessed Reynolds as being a significant risk to others “on the basis that he seemed to have progressed from viewing sexually violent pornography to acting upon it” when he attacked the teenager.

Eight agencies were involved after the attack, but the report says there was a “confused and uncoordinated approach to the case” among the people looking after Reynolds.

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2015:  Lamara Bell tragically died a week after crashing near Bannockburn, Stirlingshire.

The Mother-of-two lay next to her partner’s body for three days before help arrived.  The crash had been reported on the Sunday but officers did not attend until the following Wednesday.  An urgent review of all police call handling in Scotland was subsequently launched and Police Scotland apologised to the families.

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2015:  A body thought to be that of a missing 88-year-old woman has been found – days after police ignored reports of a possible sighting of the pensioner.

The possible sighting of dementia patient Janet McKay was not passed on to officers investigating her disappearance, Police Scotland admitted.

Ms McKay had not been in contact with her family since leaving her home in Dykebar Avenue in the Knightswood area of Glasgow on September 16.

The last reported sighting of her had been on CCTV leaving a bus in Glasgow Road, Clydebank, on the day she went missing.

A body found in Clydebank early on Thursday – nine days later – is believed to be that of Ms McKay and her family have been informed.

Police said a member of the public reported of a possible sighting of Ms McKay on September 18 – but the information was not passed to the call handling centres or to the inquiry team.

As always, if anyone wishes to leave a comment or wishes to get into contact please feel free to.  ned@thewayofthesquirrelbooks.com