Margaret Fleming was ‘invisible’ to society when carers killed her, review finds

A vulnerable teenager was “invisible” when she was murdered by her carers, an independent inquiry has said.

Margaret Fleming (pictured) was born with learning difficulties and was just 19 when she was murdered, with her death covered up for 17 years.

The serious case review was commissioned to examine the role of all the agencies that were involved with Margaret and the circumstances that led to her death in Inverkip, Inverclyde.

The review found she was “invisible at the time of her death”.

It added: “She was gradually and systematically removed from her world little be little, and step by step.”

One of her killers, Edward Cairney, a prisoner at HMP Edinburgh, died on Sunday.

He and his wife, Avril Jones, were convicted of murdering Ms Fleming, who was last seen alive at a family party in December 1999 and died between then and the following month.

The pair lived off her benefits for almost 18 years before she was reported missing in 2016.

Her body has never been found.

The review warned a similar incident could happen anywhere in Scotland and called for authorities to carry out an analysis of people with learning disabilities and autism in their area to ensure they are not “hidden in plain sight”.

It said the perpetrators “exploited Margaret, the primary motivation being financial gain” and also abused her.

The review report adds: “The major concerns arise when she is 17 and she makes clear to her mother and the police that she wanted to stay with (Cairney) and (Jones).

“Whether this was an authentic choice or whether she was coerced can never be fully known. When (Jones) and (Cairney) assumed carer status, this went unchallenged.”

The review found she was seen with tubing on her arms and duct tape on her wrist while she called in distress from a bedroom window. Jones and Cairney claimed this was necessary in order to prevent her picking her skin.

The review found the individuals who witnessed this failed to report the incident.

It said: “The Department for Work and Pensions continued to provide benefits for over a 16-year period without seeing Margaret.

“In doing so, they largely followed their stated policies and procedures.

“This stark fact is difficult to comprehend and accept.”

It added: “It is recommended, therefore, that all chief officers groups consider commissioning an analysis of numbers of people with learning disabilities and autism in their area to ensure that all individuals are known and are not hidden in plain sight.

“This will require the sensitive pooling of existing data from several sources. This will require sensitive and proportionate data sharing.

“There is some evidence that people with autism may be hidden and isolated in their communities which requires specific clarification.”

The report said what happened to the teenager “could happen in any part of Scotland and so the work undertaken, findings and recommendations should be widely disseminated to improve understanding and to instigate necessary changes”.

Ms Fleming’s case was commissioned by the Adult Protection Committee (APC) and Child Protection Committee, led by Professor Jean MacLellan.

Alex Davidson, APC chair, said: “The death of Margaret Fleming and the tragic events that led to her death shook not only the local community but the whole of Scotland.

“This wide-ranging and in-depth review provides learning for all agencies involved in Margaret’s life to ensure lessons are learned from the circumstances that led to her death and, as the title says, honours and remembers Margaret.

“It is now up to each agency to consider the findings and take those forward but what is clear to me from the review is that agencies need to talk across the fence to each other when it comes to partnership working and information sharing to ensure vulnerable people are seen in person while respecting their right to privacy.

“See something, say something. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t and there should be a multi-agency response to that.

“The same applies to society in general and we have a collective responsibility to look out for each other and speak up if something doesn’t seem right.”

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