Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 16:05 UK

Brandon death 'not predictable'

Brandon Muir

The violent attack which caused the death of Dundee toddler Brandon Muir could not have been predicted, an independent review has concluded.

However, the report into the killing of the boy by Robert Cunningham, his mother's boyfriend, ruled there were weaknesses in inter-agency workings.

The report said social workers had been involved in the boy's life.

But it ruled there had not been enough time for the authorities to prevent the attack on the 23-month-old.

Dundee City Council's director of social work Alan Baird denied the review was a "whitewash".

Cunningham, who was jailed for 10 years after being found guilty of culpable homicide, is appealing against his conviction.

Brandon's mother, Heather Boyd, was charged with culpable homicide by failing to get her son medical help, but was cleared in court.

Social work consultant Jimmy Hawthorn: "There was no indication of any violence towards children"

Former Fife Chief Constable Peter Wilson and social work consultant Jimmy Hawthorn, who were called in to review the case, stated in a joint report: "Brandon's death, which was caused by Cunningham, could not have been predicted by the Dundee authorities."

The report said Brandon, his mother and Cunningham began living together on the city's Balunie Crescent on 26 February last year, less than a month before the boy's death.

The youngster's grandparents immediately raised concerns with social workers about Ms Boyd's parenting skills and her relationship with Cunningham, who they had seen having violent arguments with his previous partner.

Child protection staff, who had a previous involvement with the family, began to gather information and scheduled the case conference for 18 March.

But three days beforehand, Brandon became unwell after being left in the care of Cunningham.

His mother noticed he looked pale and tired, but, as her son lay dying, Ms Boyd went out to work as a prostitute so she could buy heroin.

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She and Cunningham then smoked the drugs.

Ms Boyd later noticed Brandon had stopped breathing and called emergency services, before the boy was pronounced dead at Ninewells Hospital, in Dundee, on 16 March.

It later emerged in court he had been hit so hard his intestines burst, as well as having suffered about 40 other injuries, including evidence of cracked ribs.

The report said that, although Ms Boyd was known to the police, nothing was known about her involvement in prostitution, and there was no recorded history of drugs misuse.

Experienced staff also found no evidence of a chaotic household or lifestyle that suggested she had a dependence on substances, the report stated.

Mr Hawthorn said: "From my examination of all the relevant records in this tragic case, and through interviews of almost 50 members of staff, I have concluded that, while the assault which we now know took place on Brandon and which proved to be fatal could not have been anticipated, there were weaknesses in both interagency working and in practice at that time."

Robert Cunningham
Robert Cunningham is serving a 10-year sentence for killing Brandon

The sharing of information on drug addict Cunningham was "hindered by time and resource pressures on health visitors, social workers and police", he added.

But he said the commitment of staff was "evident throughout".

Mr Hawthorn also called for "a higher profile given to the impact on children of domestic abuse and substance misuse".

Mr Wilson said the recommendations on the significant case review would lead to a "necessary tightening up of procedures", which he would monitor.

The review's recommendations included:

  • Improvements to the recording and sharing of information between agencies
  • Full background checks to be carried out on all household members in child protection cases
  • Tayside Police should reinforce officers' awareness of guidelines on domestic abuse
  • Domestic violence referrals should clearly show if children were in the house when the incident took place.

Ministers said they wanted the recommendations and the lessons learned to be shared with child protection agencies and staff across Scotland.

A new national child protection co-ordinator will be appointed and recommendations from the report will form part of the national review of child protection guidance which is due to be published next year.

Healther Boyd
Heather Boyd worked as a prostitute so she could buy heroin

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: "Brandon's life was cut short before it had really begun and no reports or words will ever ease that loss.

"However, we owe it to him and to his loved ones to ensure that today's findings help improve child protection for other vulnerable children in Dundee and, where necessary, elsewhere.

"While many of the issues raised by these latest reports underline the broader concerns raised by HMIE, and which are now being addressed as part of the local action plan, all agencies in the city must now ensure that all further local recommendations are addressed as a matter of urgency."

Alan Baird, chairman of the Dundee children and young persons protection committee, said all the agencies involved accepted "joint responsibility for the issues that have been identified in the reports".

He admitted that improvements had been needed to child protection procedures in the city at the time of Brandon's death.

"I wish to go on the record now to give my total commitment to helping to make those substantial improvements over the coming weeks and months," he said.

Mr Baird, who is also the director of social work at Dundee City Council, said later: "This was not a whitewash. We made all our staff available, all our records were made available. We have complied fully with all the requests made of us.

"I am satisfied that the outcome of the reports reflect a fair and balanced view of circumstances leading up to Brandon's death."



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