Page last updated at 16:36 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Care teams blamed for boy's death

Liam McManus
Liam McManus's risk level and needs were not recognised, the jury said

A jury has blamed "systemic failings" for the death of a 15-year-old boy found hanged in his cell at a youth offenders institution in Lancashire.

A "failure to protect" Liam McManus was highlighted in the jury's findings, returned after a seven-week inquest at Preston Coroner's Court.

The teenager, of St Helens, Merseyside, was found hanging from a bed sheet in his single cell in November 2007.

He had served half a six-week sentence for breaching a supervision order.

Chaotic lifestyle

With a history of self-harm, he was well-known to social services in St Helens and the young offenders service.

Liam, who lived with his uncle and aunt, had also been involved with a mental health worker for more than two years.

The jury ruled that protective factors, such as visits from Liam's youth worker, mental health worker and family were not put in place during the time of his sentence.

Over the three weeks he was in the institute, he wrote seven letters to family and friends and repeatedly asked when his youth offending team worker would visit.

Liam was an extremely vulnerable child placed in an environment that did not have the necessary safeguards in place to keep him safe
Deborah Coles, co-director of charity INQUEST

The jury criticised social services for allowing his mother, who had a "chaotic lifestyle", back into his life.

They did not continue to support him, the inquest heard, because there was "insufficient staff in the team".

A "target-driven" youth justice board, that lacked a "caring culture" had also let the vulnerable teenager down, the jury heard.

The jury also condemned the Prison Service for a failure to recognise Liam's risk level and needs.

A lack of communication between the agencies involved in Liam's care was also blamed.

Lost documents

The inquest heard he was transferred to a wing of Lancaster Farms in which there were reduced staff levels, meaning prisoners were kept locked up for longer, resulting in more restlessness, shouting and bullying.

The jury heard this was apparent on the night of his death.

Coroner Dr James Adeley reported serious inadequacies in St Helens social services' handling of the teenager's case.

For significant documents to be lost and the teenager's file closed just before he went into custody, under the assumption that McManus would be safeguarded by the prison, was "bizarre", the inquest was told.

A council spokesperson said after Liam's death, independent case and custody reviews were undertaken and improvements have been made to ongoing support.

Vulnerable child

Liam's aunt and uncle, who have not been identified, said: "It seems to us that Liam's serious vulnerability was never picked up by anyone in Lancaster Farms and we are happy that the jury have recognised this.

"We hope in future that prison officers will take that bit of time to read all the information that comes into prison so that vulnerable children are given the care and consideration that they need."

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, an organisation which helps families of youngsters who die in custody, said Liam McManus was "an extremely vulnerable child placed in an environment that did not have the necessary safeguards in place to keep him safe".

A Prison Service spokesman said: "Learning from deaths in custody is a key strand of the prisoner suicide prevention strategy and of collaborative work across custodial sectors.

"Lessons have already been learnt from the Prison Probation Ombudsman's recommendations and we will be carefully considering the inquest verdict and findings."

Print Sponsor

Boy, 15, is found hanged in cell
29 Nov 07 |  Lancashire

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