Two little girls with a psychopath for a child minder

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The Independent Online
When Oxfordshire social workers were warned that a psychopath was acting as a live-in childminder to two little girls at 19 Preston Road, they took no action when they could find no such family at the address.

Had they bothered to check with the housing department they would have found that Kylie, 6, and Julie Anne, 4, lived at number 109. But they didn't check, and an independent inquiry following the deaths of the girls and their mother, Susan Hearmon, concluded that this "particular tragedy might have been averted".

The inquiry into the case of Darren Carr, who is serving a life sentence for manslaughter after killing the mother and daughters, found that a "more rigorous approach" by social services could have removed Mr Carr from the house and distanced him from his victims.

As it was it was only months later when Kylie told her school teacher that Carr, diagnosed as having a psychopathic disorder, was hitting her with a wooden spoon until she went to sleep that connections began to be made. Even then it took seventeen days for social workers to respond to a warning from the school and, after they visited the house, they did not carry out a full risk assessment.

Professor Genevra Richardson, one of the panel of three brought into conduct the inquiry, told a press conference yesterday: "Despite the vulnerability of the family it was decided there were no child protection concerns. Within a month the family was dead."

Carr set light to the family's home after spreading petrol around the property. Susan Hearmon and her two children died through suffocation and Carr was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for life at Birmingham Crown Court in May last year.

Yesterday's report urged that local authorities in Berkshire and Oxfordshire - both of whom had cared for Carr since 1993 when he first received psychiatric care after attacking his mother with a hammer, should take action to review the provision of housing for former mental patients moving into the community, and increase the number of medium-secure beds "as a matter of urgency".

Two weeks before Carr moved into Preston Road a Mental Health Act assessment was carried out on him after he had appeared at a local hostel in a disturbed state, but there was no suitable in-patient facility available locally.

The inquiry found that the provision of medium-secure beds was "totally inadequate" and there had been "inordinate and continuing delay" in purchasing new beds. It also advised a reassessment of housing plans for patients moving out into the community.

Oxfordshire County Council accepted that child protection measures were not adhered to and said an independent expert would conduct a further review of the case. The findings will be made public. Mary Robertson, director of Oxfordshire Social Services, said two social workers had been disciplined and had received a final warning after an examination of the mistakes they had made. One chose to resign while the other remains working for the authority in a lower position.

However, the inquiry noted that "there are very clear limits to the ability of mental health services" to deal with people such as Darren Carr.