Coroner could break new ground by revealing background in Dana Baker case

Troubled childhood: Dana Baker.

Troubled childhood: Dana Baker.

First published in News
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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.”

Comments (1)

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5:42pm Fri 4 Oct 13

Primrose Coley says...

I do hope Mr Williams will set a precedent by going ahead with the release of information from documents made available to this Serious Case Review. It is long overdue. Only yesterday, the national news together with the press covered the case of two year old Keanu Williams from Birmingham, beaten to death by his mother. How many more times will the empty words "lessons will be learned" be
trotted out. My reply to this is, " actions speak louder than words".

So yes. Mr Williams, let's have some action instead. Naming and shaming those responsible for poor practice, and even poorer communication between the agencies tasked to protect the vulnerable. I'm not suggesting a witch hunt, but a rooting out of poor management which fails to motivate and support hands on staff. Even so, financial restraints being forced on local authorities by the current government, aren't helping the situation either.
In little Keanu's case, a number of staff were sacked. Multiple agencies were involved in Keanu's lack of care, but it appears yet again, lack of communication is key to these continuing failures. It is systemic and begs the question, "if multiple agencies fail to get it right, why are they all needed in the first place"? Why not have one large agency with well qualified and adequate staffing levels attached to every authority in the country.
I do hope Mr Williams will set a precedent by going ahead with the release of information from documents made available to this Serious Case Review. It is long overdue. Only yesterday, the national news together with the press covered the case of two year old Keanu Williams from Birmingham, beaten to death by his mother. How many more times will the empty words "lessons will be learned" be trotted out. My reply to this is, " actions speak louder than words". So yes. Mr Williams, let's have some action instead. Naming and shaming those responsible for poor practice, and even poorer communication between the agencies tasked to protect the vulnerable. I'm not suggesting a witch hunt, but a rooting out of poor management which fails to motivate and support hands on staff. Even so, financial restraints being forced on local authorities by the current government, aren't helping the situation either. In little Keanu's case, a number of staff were sacked. Multiple agencies were involved in Keanu's lack of care, but it appears yet again, lack of communication is key to these continuing failures. It is systemic and begs the question, "if multiple agencies fail to get it right, why are they all needed in the first place"? Why not have one large agency with well qualified and adequate staffing levels attached to every authority in the country. Primrose Coley
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