Social services boss ‘quit days before facing allegations over tragic crash girl’

A council boss who oversaw the care of a teenage girl killed in a car crash resigned just days before disciplinary proceedings were due to start against her.

Jane Cruden, a team manager for Manchester council’s social services department, faced a string of accusations about her conduct from bosses who were investigating the death of Cerise Fletchman, an inquest heard.

The teenager, from Burnage, died just two weeks after her 15th birthday when the car in which she was travelling overturned.

Cerise was in the care of social services and was living in a children’s home in Manchester.

She was reported missing to police 79 times in a five month period leading up to her death.

Police also received a report that Cerise had been assaulted by her mother Romi Pinnock – and the inquest heard how police failed to interview her mum and the reponse was not ‘adequate’.

Ms Cruden was said to have ‘significant’ responsibility for Cerise’s care and came in for criticism in a Serious Case Review conducted after the incident. She was alleged to have failed to fully assess her needs and did not ‘appropriately manage’ the social workers involved in Cerise’s care.

Ms Cruden was facing disciplinary proceedings in relation to her alleged conduct, according to Michael Livingstone, Manchester council’s deputy director of children’s services.

Mr Livingstone, who did not work for the council at the time of the incident, told the inquest that she resigned before any action could be taken.

She attempted to pursue a case for constructive dismissal through an employment tribunal but her efforts failed.

He told the inquest, at Manchester’s Civil Justice Centre, there were question marks over the suitability of the home for Cerise’s needs – given the number of times she had absconded.

The home – East Road residential home, run by Advanced Childcare Limited – had no power to stop Cerise leaving because she had gone into care voluntarily.

Mr Livingstone said: “There were some initial investigations at the Serious Case Review which resulted in allegations being made about her (Ms Cruden’s) conduct.

“The general nature of the allegations being made or concerning her is that she failed to secure an assessment of the risks affecting Cerise and failed to manage social workers in her case appropriately.”

Ms Cruden was not at the hearing and could not be forced to attend because she now lives in Scotland, coroner Nigel Meadows explained.

At the start of the four-day inquest, a jury heard how Cerise was killed in an ‘horrific’ road smash in Belle Vue almost four years ago.

Mr Meadows, in his opening, explained how the youngster had endured a ‘troubled’’upbringing.

The inquest heard she was not wearing a seatbelt and was sitting on the knee of another passenger when the Subaru Impreza smashed into a wall.

The car was being driven by disqualified driver Suhel Afzal, 26, who lost control while driving at up to 60mph along Kirkmanshulme Lane in Belle Vue early on November 1, 2006.

Afzal was subsequently convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and driving while disqualified. He was jailed for four and a half years.

Superintendent Catherine McKay told the court that Cerise had made a serious allegation of assault against her mother Romi Pinnock in October 2005.

She told social services that she had been hit in the face with a shoe, which broke two teeth.

But despite the gravity of the allegations, Ms Pinnock was never arrested or questioned by police. Supt McKay admitted the response was ‘not adequate’ and said lessons had been learned from her death.

She said: “Cerise was a vulnerable child. She was allegedly assaulted and we did not properly investigate it. It’s an example of us not getting it right.”