A new report has highlighted the missed opportunities and failures of local agencies in the lead-up to the “truly abhorrent” hate crime murder of a young disabled woman.
The serious case review, published this week, concluded that there was “no evidence” that Gemma Hayter’s murder could have been prevented by the many agencies that dealt with her in the years leading up to her death.
But the review details a series of missed opportunities for the local council, police, health and other agencies to have taken action to protect her from a string of hate crimes.
Gemma Hayter had been diagnosed with learning difficulties and autism as a child, and attended a special school and residential college, but her diagnosis was over-turned as a young adult.
This lack of an “official diagnosis” became a “key factor” in preventing her receiving “timely and effective social care support” during the last four years of her life, the review concludes.
It describes how Hayter’s life became increasingly “risky and chaotic”, with several contacts a month with the police during 2008, mostly because “friends” – although not the five young people later convicted over her death – were repeatedly stealing from her, forcing her to give them money, and exploiting her.
At one stage, in 2008, Warwickshire police referred her to social services for a “safeguarding referral”, but their concerns were not investigated.
No “safeguarding” action was taken to protect her, despite “clear evidence that she was at risk of significant harm”, says the review, while there was “little evidence” that the various agencies were working together and sharing information about her case.
Effective intervention might have prevented her from becoming “sucked into the company of people who were leading such chaotic lifestyles and who were not going to be mindful of her welfare”, the review adds.
On 9 August 2010, Hayter was lured to a flat in Rugby, Warwickshire, where she was subjected to a horrifying series of physical assaults.
During the four-hour ordeal at the hands of five young people she thought were her friends, she was violently and repeatedly assaulted, including being head-butted, hit with a mop, and forced to drink urine from a can of lager.
She was later led to a disused railway line, where she was again violently beaten, stabbed, kicked, stripped and had a plastic bag placed over her head. Her badly beaten body was found the next morning by a jogger.
Three of the five young people who attacked her – Daniel Newstead, Chantelle Booth, and Joe Boyer, all of Little Pennington Street, Rugby – were found guilty of murder. Two others – Jessica Lynas, of Little Pennington Street, and Duncan Edwards, of Rounds Gardens, Rugby – were convicted of manslaughter.
The review makes a series of recommendations for local agencies, including Warwickshire County Council, Warwickshire police, various health bodies, and Warwickshire Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board (WSAPB), which described the crime as “truly abhorrent”.
They include recommendations on safeguarding, care assessments, the need for agencies to work together more effectively, and community safety and disability hate crime.
A county council spokeswoman accepted that it should have carried out a safeguarding investigation in 2008, but the system at the time “placed too much emphasis on formal diagnosis, and… did not easily identify multiple vulnerability concerns”, a system which it said has since changed.
Wendy Fabbro, WSAPB’s chair and the council’s strategic director of people services, said there was “a shared determination amongst all agencies to learn the lessons from this review and act upon the recommendations”.
She said the council apologised “sincerely” for the failings identified in the report “and are determined to do everything we can to work with other agencies and the community to improve the safeguarding of vulnerable adults”.
A Warwickshire police spokeswoman said the force had “appropriately” recorded and investigated each alleged offence against Hayter, while there was “no indication that the crimes reported were disability hate crimes so they were not investigated as such”.
She said: “Officers did, however, recognise that Gemma was potentially at risk of harm due to her circumstances, details of which were referred to the appropriate agencies.
“The serious case review acknowledges this but has recommended that in future those referrals from the police should be followed up to ensure that action has been taken.
“It also recommends that when advice is given to an individual reporting a crime we should record exactly what advice has been given [rather than just recording ‘advice given’, as the review states].”
She added: “There is no evidence that Gemma’s murder could have been prevented or predicted, but the safeguarding adults partnership, which includes Warwickshire police, agrees that if she had had better support from all the agencies the risk of her being harmed by people who took advantage of her vulnerability would have been reduced.
“Warwickshire police fully supports and accepts the findings of the serious case review and will implement the specific recommendations within it.”
17 November 2011