Social services ‘acted too late’ to save Kate Walsh

A social services director has admitted agents acted “too late” to save Kate Walsh, the 16-year-old girl who died of a heroin overdose, an inquest has heard.
Jean Pollard, director of safeguarding and corporate parenting for Swindon Borough Council, told the inquest in Twobridge, Wilts., that more should have been done to “grasp the situation” and a strong effort should have been made to persuade Kate to enter “supported accomodation”.

Mrs Pollard, who was assistant director of social services at the time of Kate’s death, said: “I think sometimes it may not be possible to grasp the situation. I think with young people in these sorts of situations one hopes that one is able to put resources their way and provide opportunities to them.
“But at the end of the day I think that with the decision-making at the hospital meeting in November, at some point, I think that would have been better if everybody had stood together and made her go to supported lodgings.

“I think there is some evidence through the records that with repeated offers and discussion with Kate she did come to a point where she was starting to say maybe she would look at that.

“It just happened too late.”

The inquest has heard that, over the course of a few months, the teenager descended into addiction, eventually injecting heroin and smoking crack cocaine, after meeting Alex Charlamow, an addict who lived at a nearby rehabilitation centre in Swindon.

Her mother Debbie, who gave up her job as a postmistress to care for her daughter, and her father Anthony, a sound engineer, repeatedly asked the authorities to intervene and take Kate into secure care without success.

Regarding “secure accommodation”, Mrs Pollard said: “Mrs Walsh wanted her daughter to have placement in secure accommodation at that time because of the vulnerability her daughter had.

“It does seem that that wasn’t considered at that time. In my view that was an option that could be considered.”

Earlier her mother wept as the inquest was told Kate’s body law decomposing in a squat for up to a week after her death.

Workmen found her body wrapped in a light-blue sleeping back in the red-light district of Swindon on January 3, 2004. Home Office pathologist Basil Purdue, who conducted the post-mortem said her death could have occurred on Christmas Day.

“Kate Walsh had abused drugs over a significant period of time, but it seemed likely that she was an opportunistic rather than a serious abuser,” Dr Purdue said.

“Tolerance is built up pretty quickly, but you lose it in a few days of abstinence.

“The findings point to heroin as the cause of Kate’s death, but this cannot be proved because we do not know her tolerance.

“One person’s fatal dose may be another’s regular dose.”

The inquest continues.