Murder reviews tell familiar story of multi-agency failures


Two major inquiries into the brutal murder of a disabled man have again highlighted the failure of public bodies to share information and take action over disability hate crime.

Michael Gilbert was held captive by members of the Watt family in Luton for 10 years and was regularly beaten, stabbed, tortured, treated like a slave and had his benefits money stolen. He was eventually murdered in January 2009, and his body dismembered and thrown into a lake.

Four members of the Watt family, and two of their girlfriends, were sentenced last year to a total of 93 years in prison for offences connected with the murder.

Following the trial, Gilbert’s mother contacted the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and alleged that three police forces had failed to investigate incidents involving her son and the Watts: an assault in Luton in 2002 and abductions in Cambridgeshire in 2007 and in Lancashire in 2008.

She believed her son’s murder could have been prevented if the police had intervened on any of these occasions.

This week, an IPCC report concluded that all the allegations had been investigated, but each investigation had been “flawed” because of “misinformation, failures in communication and human error”.

On the same day the IPCC report was published, a serious case review was published by Luton Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Board.

The review considered information from councils, housing associations, the probation service, police forces, the NHS and the Department for Work and Pensions.

It found an “array of professionals” had had contact with Gilbert as a result of his troubled upbringing, which included convictions for burglary, criminal damage and shoplifting. But each of those organisations had an “incomplete picture” of the troubles he was facing.

The review says the evidence “endorses the case for inter-agency working”.

It also suggests that Gilbert had an undiagnosed mental health condition, and that he was failed by Luton social services and other agencies after he left care at 16.

It concludes that the “array of risks” he was exposed to “as a care leaver, a young adult and an offender were known to more than one agency” and that his ordeal might have come to light – preventing his eventual murder – if there had been a multi-agency system in place that monitored such “adults at risk”.

Katharine Quarmby, whose ground-breaking new book Scapegoat investigates some of the most shocking disability hate crimes of recent years, including the Gilbert case, said both reports show that Michael Gilbert was failed by a number of agencies, which “never gave him the diagnosis that might have triggered extra support”.

She said the key police failure was in 2002, when Gilbert’s mother told police her son had been assaulted by the Watt family.

Quarmby said: “If they had taken it seriously, then he might be alive today.”

She said the serious case review shows the “sheer lack of multi-agency working” by the many organisations that had contact with Gilbert and that “no-one did anything, none of the agencies cared enough about Michael to step in and save him”.

She said she believed the case showed that serious case reviews should be mandatory for all such cases involving “vulnerable adults”, and that public bodies should be forced to share information.

But Quarmby said the case also provides further evidence that many serious disability hate crimes are being “hidden” and instead dealt with as “safeguarding referrals”, rather than being passed instantly to the police for investigation.

Luton council said it accepted all of the serious case review’s recommendations and that it was “determined to learn the lessons”.

The council said the support offered today was “very different” to that offered to Gilbert 20 years when he was a child in care and that there was now “much closer partnership working and much higher levels of professional intervention throughout the lives of vulnerable children, both in Luton and nationally”.

7 July 2011

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