On the 17th of June 2018, a father made an anxious call to Kent Police after his ex-partner failed to return their child after a period of unsupervised contact which had been agreed by the family court. Very sadly, the following morning, the Police found the bodies of the missing little boy and his mother. A Serious Case Review into “Child H” was conducted and published in the last week by Kent Safeguarding Children’s Board.
The little boy’s name was Leo Tompsett and he was five years old. I’m choosing to use his name because, having lost a child myself, I think it’s important. Leo’s father and siblings have contributed to the Serious Case Review and they have my deepest sympathies; this is a “club” no parent or family member wants to join. I mean no disrespect to his family in writing this piece and I am acutely aware they may one day read it.
What is a Serious Case Review?
The statutory basis in England for conducting a Serious Case Review (SCR) and the role and function of a Local Safeguarding Children Board are set out in law by The Local Safeguarding Children Board Regulations 2006, Statutory Instrument 2006/90.
Regulation 5 requires the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) to undertake a review where –
(a) abuse or neglect of a child is known or suspected; and
(b) either –
(i) the child has died; or
ii) the child has been seriously harmed and there is cause for concern as to the way in which the authority, their Board partners or other relevant persons have worked together to safeguard the child.
(It should be noted that SCRs are being replaced by Child Death Reviews in response to a review by the former President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Alan Wood.)
The early life of “Child H”
Leo Tompsett was born in 2012 after a difficult pregnancy for mum and baby. Mother, Cheryl, was treated for probable Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura (a condition which means you are likely to bruise very easily or may be unable to stop bleeding if you cut yourself) and Leo was found to be a Cystic Fibrosis carrier. Nonetheless, the pregnancy advanced, Leo was born, and “nothing untoward” was noted.
However, Cheryl Tompsett had experienced previous mental health problems including a suicide attempt and an “intentional” car accident and was treated for depression with medication and psychotherapy. Ms Tompsett had disclosed alleged sexual abuse perpetrated by her biological father, and also domestic abuse in a previous relationship where she had two children who were now significantly older than Leo.
The Midwife looking after Leo knew of his mother’s mental health history, but this was not passed on to the Health Visitor by the midwife, or by Ms Tompsett. As the routine contacts with health professionals after the birth seemed fine, no concerns were raised, even after mum did not attend Leo’s two-year check.
The local authority Children’s Services department had only one contact with the family. Ms Tompsett had requested respite with one of her older children who had diagnoses of Autism (Aspergers) and ADHD. However, this was resolved by the recommendation of “closer working with school services”. Mother herself worked as a “children’s counsellor” for a voluntary sector organisation.
Leo started Reception in September 2017 with below average attendance, and the school raised some concerns with his mum about her insistence that they administer paracetamol daily to “control his asthma”. Mum explained Leo’s poor attendance as being as a result of his asthma. No other professionals, including Leo’s childminder had seen any evidence of him suffering with the effects of asthma, and a difficult meeting was held where mum appeared “resistant” to professional advice. A “School Health Care Plan” was drawn up to address Leo’s attendance and it improved, but no other agencies were contacted or referred to at this stage.
This was not a family who were “known to services”.
Child H was described by both the school and the childminder as being the “centre of the parents world” and “a very loved child”, almost to a point where parents could at times appear “overprotective”. Child H was clearly a happy child, and until the parents’ relationship deteriorated there were no concerns about the parents’ care from any agency.Kent Safeguarding Children’s Board SCR Child H
What went wrong?
Cheryl Tompsett and her partner, Leo’s father, ended their relationship in early April 2018. Her two elder children would go on to make allegations of historic abuse perpetrated by their mother towards them, and their step-father to the Police before Leo’s death, and within the SCR (page 10). One incident involved Ms Tompsett throwing a laptop at her child, injuring their leg. Another incident involved her throwing a wooden toy at her partner. There were incidents of Ms Tompsett shouting and making abusive comments aimed at the children, her elder two describing her as “a ‘narcissist’ who was only happy when she was the centre of attention and would seek it our wherever possible.
Things came to a head on the 10th of April when Leo’s father contacted Police after Ms Tompsett had punched one of her elder children. The family did not want Ms Tompsett charged, but instead wanted her to get help for her mental health problems. After completing a DASH assessment, the Police persuaded Ms Tompsett to leave the house, leave Leo in his father’s care and seek help at the local hospital A&E department, where they dropped her off with a neighbour. She waited three hours to be seen, by which time the Doctor found her to be “very capable and clear about what had happened”. Except that she wasn’t, because she didn’t disclose what she had done, and the Police didn’t tell staff at the hospital.
The next day, Ms Tompsett returned to the family home and refused to leave without Leo. Again, the Police were called. Again, they persuaded her to leave. Leo’s father contacted the local authority children’s services department who advised him to seek legal advice.
The following day, the 12th of April, Ms Tompsett again returned to the property and refused to leave, and again the Police were called and she eventually left.
On the 13th of April, Leo’s father made an ex-parte application to court for a Child Arrangements Order asking that Leo live with him. He also applied for a Prohibited Steps Order to stop Ms Tompsett from removing Leo or picking him up from school or the childminder. This was granted on the 16th of April and the following day the case was referred to Cafcass where initial safeguarding checks showed Leo to be safe with his father.
A senior practitioner from Kent Children’s Services contacted both Leo’s mum and dad and offered to mediate. Leo’s father refused as he felt he was managing the supervision of contact with Ms Tompsett. The social worker offered Ms Tompsett some support via Early Help Services, but she refused to engage. Because Ms Tompsett worked with children as a counsellor, the social worker also advised a referral to LADO (Local Area Designated Officer, where a safeguarding allegation has been made against someone working with children or vulnerable adults) would be made.
Ms Tompsett then presented as homeless to her local council (though she did insinuate Leo was also homeless and living with her at a friend’s). Discussions with her employer about a phased return to work were not positive as – despite the LADO concluding that as there was no caution or conviction, there should be no further action – Ms Tompsett did not feel well enough. This resulted in her being informed on the 13th of June that, as no plan for return to work could be agreed, termination of contract would need to be discussed.
Cafcass had continued with their enquiries, and a court hearing was set for the 7th of June. A different Cafcass officer attended the hearing and Ms Tompsett refused to speak with them as she did not have a solicitor in attendance. Leo’s father did have legal representation, and he agreed to interim daytime unsupervised contact between Leo and his mum on a Saturday or a Sunday. Ms Tompsett was described as “aggressive” at this; she had been clear that her wish was to take Leo home from court with her and resume living with him full-time. She found it difficult to accept the court would not make a final decision that day.
Cheryl Tompsett was homeless, her relationship had broken down, her children had spoken out about historic and current physical and emotional abuse, she was about to lose her job, and she could now only see her five year old son once a week.
11 days after the hearing, on Father’s Day, Leo and his mum were found dead at Beachy Head. On the 9th of May 2019, the Coroner, Alan Craze, concluded her death was suicide and that Leo was “unlawfully killed” by his mother. He spoke about a note left, addressed to Leo’s father in which she stated that she “did not want anyone to have Leo if she could not”.
The above information is taken from the SCR.
The Gender Issue
The SCR tells us that Cheryl Tompsett was a mother with a history of mental health problems who had been physically abusive to her children to the extent the Police were called and she was encouraged on three occasions to leave the home. Her mental health was poor enough for her to require hospital treatment, as the Police escorted her there. There were some concerns raised around Ms Tompsett’s insistence that the school should administer daily paracetamol, and his below average attendance.
The SCR makes some recommendations around information sharing but essentially concludes that there was no way that Ms Tompsett’s actions could possibly have been foreseen, and that the only risk of harm to Leo was that of potential emotional harm from his mother (SCR Page 19).
Whilst I am not going to give a view, I am going to address the “elephant in the room” immediately.
- If a father had hit an older child, and the Police had attended, would he have been arrested?
- If that same father had attended the family home and refused to leave – threatening to remove his younger child – on two consecutive days following the initial incident where he assaulted his child would the Police have arrested him?
- Would the family court, and the parties in the case have agreed to unsupervised contact if the gender of the parent was reversed?
Male victims of domestic violence
I’m not qualified to be able to talk a great deal about this subject; I haven’t undertaken training on it, nor am I a professional in any way. This quote is directly from Leo’s Serious Case Review:
Domestic abuse by women against men has been the subject of much debate; one view is that domestic abuse is almost entirely committed by against women. Another perspective is that domestic abuse is a human problem and that women, on occasion, may commit acts of domestic abuse. Evidence from analysis of data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of domestic violent crime victims are female and 82 per cent of domestic violent crimes are committed against women. Over a million domestic violent crimes per year (on average) were committed against women, compared to just over 200,000 per year against men. Research into 190 male callers to the ‘Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men’, however, shows that a small number of men are seriously abused by women. All callers experienced physical abuse from their female partners, a substantial minority feared their wives’ violence and were stalked; over 90% experienced controlling behaviours and several men reported frustrating experiences with the domestic abuse system. One explanation for this gender bias may be that men report their own victimisation less than females and furthermore many men do not view female violence against them as a crime. Hence, they differentially under-report being victimised by partners on crime victim surveys.
The relevance of better understanding of the nature of domestic abuse by women to men is twofold; firstly, in order to improve the response to the male victim; but also, to better understand the nature of the risk posed by the perpetrator of the abuse. In this case father felt well-supported by agencies and was acting to protect Child H. It is clear, however, that at least initially he did not see himself as a victim of domestic abuse. One impact of this may have been that professionals also under-estimated the risks and did not fully explore all safeguarding concerns regarding mother particularly in relation to her role as a counsellor.Kent Safeguarding Children’s Board Serious Case Review Child H p.17/18
Whilst I am not an expert in the professional sense of the word on domestic abuse, and domestic violence, I have been a victim of it myself. Early on in the three relationships in which I was a victim (as a 14 year old, in my mid-twenties and in my very early thirties), I had no idea I was in an abusive relationship. In fact, in the first relationship I never saw myself as a victim until 20 years later when I realised just what my 28 year old “boyfriend” was. But similarly, in the early stages of the two subsequent relationships I didn’t have a pivotal moment where my relationship went from ‘healthy’ to ‘abusive’. I know many men and women will have had different experiences to mine, but I really didn’t see myself as a victim. And, by the time I did, I was so adept as managing the abuse that it was a scary concept to actually leave. It was as though I knew what I was dealing with in the abusive relationship; what on earth would life look like if I left?
One of the striking points of this SCR was the recognition that Leo’s father genuinely didn’t see himself as being a victim of domestic abuse. That’s not to say that this gentleman didn’t have insight, or emotional intelligence. He just didn’t see it. I understand that; I’ve been there too. And societal views are still that women are victims of domestic abuse, whilst men are perpetrators.
Here at TP, we’ve very recently published this post by Charlotte Proudman, who describes herself as a “feminist barrister” and wrote at length about male to female domestic abuse. Whilst this post received some great feedback and support, it also came in for considerable criticism as it did not touch at all on female to male domestic abuse.
Our Chair, Lucy Reed, addressed some of the critique of Dr Proudman’s post in this follow-up piece.
I’m a survivor of domestic abuse and violence. I’m a woman. And I will forevermore support women to feel safe enough to leave and protect their children, able to rebuild their lives and empowered enough to speak out so that we can all work together to better support families in these difficult and sad situations. How do we create an environment where women can recognise the signs of domestic abuse and feel that if they ask for help, they won’t be blamed, judged, or have their children removed for “failure to protect”?
However, I will also forevermore support men to also feel safe enough to leave and protect their children, able to rebuild their lives and empowered enough to speak out so that we can all work together to better support families in these difficult and sad situations. How do we create an environment where men feel able to not only recognise they are victims of domestic abuse or violence, but also feel less shame and more empowerment to report it?
We need to work together. The in-fighting and point-scoring between the various camps doesn’t help. I’m acutely aware there aren’t enough male (or any active) female perpetrator programmes. I’m acutely aware there aren’t enough refuges open for women, and I don’t know of any at all for men (though I would hope anyone reading could put me right on that if I’m wrong). I’m acutely aware that women-blaming is incredibly unhelpful – but so is tarring all fathers as one.
Leo’s life is lost. His father and his siblings, the wider family, friends, neighbours and local community will have to live with his loss forever. I know that pain. I live with it daily. From his death, I truly hope lessons can genuinely be learnt and that the idea of working together to protect children and their families from domestic abuse, violence and death will be ingrained in all of us.