A series of opportunities to prevent the death of a baby girl murdered by her own mother were missed by social workers and health professionals, a damning new report reveals.
Jennifer Crichton battered eight-month-old Amelia to death in a fit of rage just moments after a visiting social worker had left their Leyland home.
She was last year jailed for life but a Serious Case Review conducted after her conviction has uncovered a raft of “missed opportunities” by officials which could have prevented the tragedy.
The report raises particular concerns about how social workers were duped by Crichton into believing she was a trustworthy, if troubled, individual.
It also revealed how:
++ Crichton lied to council staff about being pregnant with Amelia and hid her pregnancy until her labour
++ Her known history of violence against children was not fully considered by professionals and her needs were sometimes placed above Amelia’s
++ A nurse reported Crichton after she “pinched” a child for about 30 seconds on a neonatal ward but no action was taken
++ Amelia’s dad’s felt his concerns were “harshly” dismissed.
Jane Booth, the independent chair of the Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board, which produced the report, said lessons had to be learnt.
“The findings of our report identified missed opportunities, which if acted upon or responded to differently may have altered the outcome of the case,” she said.
The report makes 17 recommendations for improving services for protecting vulnerable children.
It particularly highlights “disguised compliance”, where troubled individuals pretend to be co-operating with officials to avoid suspicion.
Lancashire County Council says it is reviewing the recommendations “carefully to ensure lessons are learnt”.
Shockingly, the report details Crichton’s past violent actions against children.
In 2004, allegations were made that she attacked a young child, violently squeezing the youngster’s rib cage. Despite making a partial admission, she was never charged.
Thirteen years later, she fell pregnant with Amelia but concealed the pregnancy up until going into labour.
Because of her history, she was provided with a care package to help her look after Amelia.
Amelia was born prematurely at 24 weeks, with her condition described as “very poorly”.
Almost two months later, Amelia was still being treated in hospital and was making good progress when Crichton was seen by a nurse pinching another child.
Social workers were alerted but Crichton denied the allegation and claimed the nurse had lied about the incident.
It was recorded as unsubstantiated and no further action was taken.
In December 2017, Crichton and Matthew Sheppard, Amelia’s father, were told the local authority would start proceedings to take Amelia into care.
But in January 2018, a new social worker was allocated to the family and shortly after a legal meeting was held which concluded the child could stay with Crichton but with enhanced support.
When the child was discharged from hospital in March, a package of care was put in place, including daily visits from children’s social care, a minimum of three weeks of overnight cover from agency support staff and visits from health professionals.
Over the following weeks, social and health workers visited Crichton daily, where a number of concerns were raised relating to Crichton’s debts and apparent cannabis use.
Within a month of her hospital discharge, Amelia was dead.
On the night of her death, Crichton had been asked by her social worker to take over feeding her daughter, but replied: “No, you do it,” and went for a cigarette instead.
The social worker left at 11pm leaving Crichton alone with the baby and an hour and 20 minutes later she called 999 having inflicted the fatal injuries.
Amelia’s injuries included severe bleeding on the brain, in her right eye and a complex skull fracture, as well as with internal bleeding along the length of her spine.
She died in hospital two days after the attack on April 19, 2017.
At her trial, the judge described Crichton as “self-centred, deceitful and manipulative” and that the injuries to Amelia were caused by shaking her in a “vigorous and violent” manner.
After she was jailed for life, with a recommendation to serve a minimum of 21 years, the serious case review was launched.
It documents the interaction between the “manipulative” Crichton and social workers and reveals how she continually lied to them.
However, the report reminds professionals to be “mindful of being influenced and manipulated by parents” particularly when “assessing risk to a child”.
It also urges social care chiefs to ensure mothers and fathers are treated equally and makes clears in the Amelia case, Mr Sheppard was considered to be a higher risk than Crichton despite her past violence and another child under her care suffering unexplained injuries.
In May 2016, the child, whose identity cannot be revealed, suffered minor facial injuries in the form of bumps to the nose and left cheek. Similar injuries were seen three months later.
The report found social workers should have investigated these incident more thoroughly and her false claims to have taken the child to a GP were “never fully explored” – instead, Crichton’s reasoning for how the injuries were caused was accepted as “plausible”.
Regarding baby Amelia, Crichton denied the pregnancy and it was not investigated any more than just asking the question.
Due to Crichton’s history of abuse concerning children, the SCR states that a referral to children’s social care “must” be made in circumstances of suspected concealed pregnancy.
The review notes that a safeguarding referral appeared to be “overshadowed” due to Amelia’s premature birth at 24 weeks.
But it adds that there was “clear evidence” that significant harm could be “properly suspected” of being caused to Amelia by her mother, due to Crichton’s history.
Despite this, a strategy meeting – concerning harm issues for a child – and a section 47 enquiry – an investigation where there is reasonable cause that a child may suffer significant harm – for Amelia was not organised.
The family of Amelia’s father also felt they tried to report concerns about Crichton’s parenting, “but they did not feel properly heard”.
The SCR concedes that “missed opportunities” could have potentially saved Amelia’s life – if acted upon.
But it adds: “Working with families in complex circumstances is continually challenging, made more difficult when individuals who professionals are working hard to support, have intent to manipulate and deceive.”
It concludes that “there is an opportunity for Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board and its partner agencies to consider learning from the case and ways by which services and practice may continue to be developed”.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “We would like to express our deepest condolences to the family in this case.
“We take reviews like this very seriously. We are considering the recommendations of the report very carefully to ensure all lessons are learned.”
Case review officials visited Crichton in prison and interviewed her at length.
She told them her upbringing was “devoid of love and attention” although she had “what she wanted in terms of material things”.
She met Mr Sheppard while lodging in Preston and the pair had an on-off relationship.
She told officials she had a “general lack of trust” of most professionals and blamed constantly changes in social work personnel for worsening this.
She said this was the reason why she failed to disclose the pregnancy and said the legal process relating to Amelia’s care was “not transparent”.
Regarding Mr Sheppard’s relationship with social workers, she said she felt they could be “very harsh” with him.