A CORONER says he is prepared to take a ground-breaking decision to make confidential information public if it is in the interests of justice for a Kidderminster teenager and her family.
Worcestershire Coroner Geraint Williams has yet to decide if he will disclose material from a Serious Case Review (SCR) undertaken by the Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB) following the death of 16-year-old Dana Baker.
But he told a pre-inquest hearing on Tuesday: “If I have to be the first, I will”.
Miss Baker was found hanging from a tree near to the Worcester Road island in March, 2011 while she was in voluntary foster care.
She had a troubled childhood and had been sexually abused by her karate instructor from the age of 13.
Earlier this year, Mr Williams went to London’s High Court after the children’s board queried whether it was in the public interest to disclose 10 management reviews and six reports, which formed part of the SCR, to Mr Williams.
The confidential information related to Miss Baker’s contacts with social services and other agencies.
A High Court judge ordered disclosure of the documents to Mr Williams but did not rule on whether the reviews should be disclosed to the public or interested parties at the inquest, including the family.
That decision was left to Mr Williams, subject to the jurisdiction of the High Court.
Mr Williams told the hearing: “With the most recent death of the little boy [Daniel Pelka] starved by his mother and stepfather, for the first time in 40 years, people in the media were asking if lessons were being learned.
“I think there is now a momentum. If I have to make the decision [to disclose the information], if I have to be the first, I will.”
He added: “I’ve read every report of every child abuse death since Maria Colwell and the failures are always the same – lack of communication, not taking the child seriously, lack of management etcetera.
“I’m now sitting here in 2013 dealing with Dana Baker. If lessons are not learned and history seems to show they are not, not judging the evidence in this case, is it now time to say that anonymity is not working and that, therefore, the balance should be in favour, in the public interest, of disclosing documents in this case so that individuals and organisations be held to account?”
Mr Williams has said he will not make any disclosures without notifying the WSCB, which can then make submissions for him to seek further High Court rulings.
Michael O’Brien, representing Miss Baker’s parents Trevor and Patricia Baker at this week’s hearing, said they were keen to see all the information available at the inquest.
Mr Williams replied: “They want to see everything so they can judge it for themselves, no matter what decision I come to.
“I will make decisions in the interest of Dana and the interest of justice.”