Inquiry into care home girls who leapt to their deaths holding hands

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two girls who held hands before plunging to their deaths from a bridge had walked out of a care home for troubled teenagers, it emerged last night.

The girls have been named locally as 15-year-old Neve Lafferty, from Helensburgh, and 14-year-old Georgia Rowe from Hull. Last night tributes began pouring in to social networking sights as fellow residents of the Good Shepherd Centre in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, could be seen crying and comforting each other.

The Scottish Care Commission said it would be launching an investigation into whether any negligence led to the two youngsters - aged 14 and 15 - disappearing from a close support unit to which they had been entrusted from local authority care.

The two girls were last seen in their pyjamas going to their rooms to watch television at the care home. Staff carrying out routine checks on Sunday evening noticed they were missing and began to search the campus and surrounding area.

A short while later they received a call from Strathclyde police to say that the bodies of the two youngsters had been pulled from water beneath nearby Erskine Bridge, a notorious suicide spot.

The pair, witnesses said, had been seen holding on to each other before jumping 100 feet into the River Clyde near Glasgow just before 9pm.

A coordinated rescue operation by Strathclyde Police, Fire and Rescue, Coastguard and RAF was launched, scouring the water and the shoreline. One of their bodies was pulled from the water by a fire boat while the Coastguard helicopter pulled the other one out. An RAF helicopter transferred them to Southern General Hospital.

Last night a Strathclyde police spokesman confirmed: “Inquiries are ongoing, however, it would appear there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. A report will be sent to the Procurator Fiscal.”

Jim Sheridan, Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, said: "This is a terrible tragedy. People here are in shock. There will need to be questions answered. The Good Shepherd is a fine organisation, but we need to see an internal inquiry to find out why these two girls were out unsupervised at that time.”

A spokesman for the Good Shepherd Centre said the girls, who had been passed into their care from local authorities in Hull and Argyle under two months ago, had been on apparently happy and productive weekend outings with relatives before returning on Sunday. They were not kept under lock and key but were supposed to seek authorisation before leaving the unit, which they had not done.

A spokesman for the home said that managers, staff and pupils were devastated by the news and cooperating with the police inquiry, adding: “The thoughts and prayers of all at the Good Shepherd centre are with the families and friends of the girls who have died. Counselling is being offered to the other residents at the unit who have been shocked and traumatised by what has happened.”

The centre comprises three sections - a St Francis Day Unit, for girls who are excluded from the mainstream school system, a secure unit for those convicted of crimes including violent offences, and a close support open unit which looks after nine residential pupils and 21 girls from foster homes. The two girls were both residents.

Last night Nigel Richardson, chair of the Hull Safeguarding Children Board, said: “We are aware of the incident and are working closely with authorities in Scotland to understand what has happened.

“Our sympathies go out to the friends and family of both of the young women.”

Meanwhile an Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that one of the young people involved in this tragic incident was an Argyll and Bute resident and was known to social work services.

“We will be holding our own investigation into the circumstances surrounding this distressing case, and will of course assist other agencies in any way we can during their enquiries.”

The Good Shepherd Centre, an independent unit affiliated to the CORA Foundation, a non-profit-making company owned by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, was threatened with closure earlier this year but was saved after it was agreed to maintain a smaller unit. It had fallen into difficulties because of down turn in referrals from local authorites. A spokesman insisted this was to do with the fact that the specialist care and education it offered was expensive.

Last year as newspapers reported claims by former pupils of abuse and cruel punishments, some dating back decades to a time when it was run by nuns, officers from Strathclyde were called in to investigate the centre. A police spokesman said yesterday: “At the beginning of this year we issued a statement saying that no criminality was established.”

Whle the Care Commission conceded that there had been previous complaints, only one had been partially upheld - relating to staff practice, understanding, training and recording of restraint procedures - and suggested improvements implemented. An inspection in March this year investigation concluded that care and support of residents was “very good” while quality of staffing and management was deemed “good”.

Ronnie Hill, the Care Commission’s Director of Children's Services Regulation, said: “The police are currently carrying out an investigation into the incident, and once this is completed, the Care Commission will also be investigating the matter. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”