Social Services Admit Errors In Redditch Suitcase Body Case

Social services admit errors in Redditch suitcase body caseSocial services admit errors in Redditch suitcase body case

Social services should have been more robust in challenging the mother of a disabled man whose decomposed remains were found crammed into a suitcase, an inquest heard today.

The head of Worcestershire County Council’s learning disability service, Steven Chandler, said a social worker should have been “more assertive” in following up concerns about the health of James Hughes (pictured).

An inquest into the 21-year-old’s death has been told that social workers had no contact with him for more than two years before his death.

It has also heard that concerns were raised about James’ weight loss in December last year – more than four months before he was found dead at his home in Redditch, Worcestershire.

His mother’s body was discovered in nearby woodland less than 48 hours earlier.

The inquest in Stourport-on-Severn heard yesterday that a social worker, David Ruegg, was tasked with following up the concerns with James’
mother, Heather Wardle, on December 19 last year.

Mr Ruegg visited Mr Hughes’ family home in March this year, when she was not in, and went to the property again on April 14 to speak to her.

Mr Ruegg told the court yesterday that he had not seen James on either occasion, but had been reassured by Ms Wardle that her eldest son staying was with his father.

Giving evidence on the third day of the inquest, Mr Chandler said Mr Ruegg had been advised by Ms Wardle that her severely disabled son would return to a day care centre shortly after he stopped attending it in November last year.

Mr Chandler told the hearing: “Given that he didn’t return I would have expected a much more assertive approach to be taken.

“On reflection as a service, a more robust course of action should have been taken by the individual practitioner.”

Mr Chandler also conceded that Worcestershire County Council’s failure to hold an annual review of Mr Hughes’ care after 2005 constituted a serious error and that social workers should have contacted James’
father to verify Ms Wardle’s claims.

But the official stressed that social services had not been given information suggesting that James was being neglected or abused.

Mr Chandler added: “We had a carer [Ms Wardle] who was very involved in James’ support… who seemed to be happy with the package of support.

“We established for James a package of support that we felt met his needs – that was day care and respite provided by two different providers.

“All of the feedback – despite the fact that no reviews were held – suggested that package was meeting his needs and meeting the needs of his family.

“We had a mother… who provided us with what we believed at the time were very credible explanations for where James was and why he wasn’t accessing services.

“That said, we do accept that we should have done more to validate the accounts we were given.”

It also emerged yesterday that James was not allocated a named social worker in the latter part of 2007 despite his severe disabilities, a practice which Mr Chandler said was not uncommon nationally.

An expert asked to compile a report on the death for the Deputy Coroner for Worcestershire also addressed the court.

Dr Raymond Jones, a social care expert at London’s Kingston University, said the county council had “effectively lost sight” of James from 2005 onwards.

Tests carried out on James’ bones revealed he may have died sometime between January 10 and February 9, the court was told.

Examinations on his hair revealed a drop in copper and zinc levels one hundred days prior to his death, possibly due to a lack of protein.

Dr Stuart Black, from the University of Reading’s department of archaeology, said this may have been caused by a change in diet, an illness or a lack of food.

The inquest was told that James weighed three-and-a-half stone when the post-mortem examination was carried out.

His normal weight was about five to five and a half stone, forensic scientist John Slaughter told the court.

He said dehydration after death would explain the weight loss.