Social work staff admit errors over killer lodger

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The Independent Online
Social services officials admitted yesterday that they had made a "procedural failure" and were guilty of a "non-existent risk assessment" in the weeks before a lodger killed a mother and her two daughters when he set fire to their home.

Health officials had notified Oxfordshire County Council that Darren Carr, 24, was living as a lodger with a family in their area. He had earlier been released from a psychiatric unit at Fairmile Hospital, near Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

Carr's plea of being guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was yesterday accepted by the prosecution at Birmingham Crown Court after an earlier adjournment. Sentencing was adjourned until next week. Susan Lowell, 24, and her two daughters Kylie, six, and four- year-old Julie-Anne were killed last June when an explosion and fire ripped through their home in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

West Berkshire Priority Healthcare Trust warned the social services department in February last year that Carr had moved into the area and was living as a lodger with a family. His address was not known. Ms Lowell had advertised for a live-in babysitter to help look after her children.

A spokeswoman for the county council said: "They told us he had a history of difficult behaviour and they were concerned about his position in this family. He had been discharged from the hospital. But he was unwilling to give his address and we had no right to demand it. It was agreed we would hold the case on file."

Last May, the authority was alerted by teachers at Kylie's primary school. She had complained that Carr had hit her across the back of the hand with a wooden spoon. A social worker was appointed to the case and should have drawn up a risk assessment of the family within two days. But he failed to notice the warning given earlier in the year about Carr.

The spokeswoman said: "He failed to take an adequate risk assessment. What he should have done was to go through a procedure whereby information from all relevant agencies was checked. Had he done that he would have noticed the information about Darren Carr. That would have made it a very high risk case."

The social worker did visit the school and two weeks later saw Kylie at home. Her mother asked for help with the child, saying she was difficult at home. Both children had been on the child protection register for more than 18 months but were removed from the list in October 1994 after work with the family.

A family social worker was appointed but the case was still such low risk that no visit was made before the fire on 26 June last year.

The social worker later resigned after disciplinary procedures were started against him.

The spokeswoman added: "There was a procedural failure and an inadequate, a non-existent risk assessment. What would have happened if there had been a proper assessment we cannot say, that is only speculation. It was a very unpredictable case."

Mary Robertson, director of Oxfordshire Social services, later said: "Mistakes were made but the deaths lie in the hands of Darren Carr."