Coroner’s heartbreaking final message to mum of ‘loving’ Sheffield boy – failed by council and police
An inquest into the death of Samuel Baker, who died aged 15 after he was stabbed, found that he was ‘let down’ by both Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Police, which persistently failed to protect him from ‘exploitation’ by criminal gangs.
Samuel Baker died on May 24, 2018, after he was stabbed twice in the chest when a street fight in Lowedges got out of hand.
The teenager who killed him was jailed for manslaughter. Both teenagers were known to have been involved in crime.
At an inquest into Samuel’s death at Sheffield Town Hall, which began on March 1, Senior Coroner David Urpeth said that there ‘numerous missed opportunities’ by South Yorkshire Police and agencies run by Sheffield City Council to intervene and try and help him before he died as result of his involvement in crime.
Mr Urpeth said: “Evidence at this inquest demonstrated a catalogue of serious failures by state agencies under the auspices of both Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Police to protect Samuel when it was abundantly clear that he required intervention, support and protection.
"We will never know whether Samuel would have died when and how he did had the appropriate actions been taken by these state agencies.
"Samuel was however deprived of the possibility of these missed opportunities changing the outcome.”
On the opening day of the inquest (March 1), the coroner heard from Samuel’s mother Tracy Baker that his behaviour started to deteriorate during period of time when he was unable to get a place at school, and following the death of his older sister in a house fire in 2015.
He was not offered any bereavement counselling, and his lack of direction while not at school gave him the freedom to start mixing with older people involved in criminal activity on the streets, the court heard.
His offending increased in seriousness between 2016 and 2018, including violent incidents and drug offences, and he was dealt with by police a number of times.
He was also spending long periods of time missing and Miss Baker raised concerns that he was being ‘exploited’ and ‘controlled’ by older criminals –something supported by the outcome of a serious case review held by the probation services in July 2017.
However during those years South Yorkshire Police officers often failed to raise his missing episodes or increasing involvement in crime with social services, and did not consider Samuel at risk of exploitation and in need of social care.
Meanwhile, social services and local authorities attached to Sheffield City Council failed to ensure that Samuel was attending school or to provide support for Miss Baker as she was forced to home school her son, and rejected Miss Baker’s request to have him taken into care for his own protection.
Meetings about Samuel’s vulnerability, which could have led to action being taken to protect him, were delayed, went ahead without Miss Baker’s presence, and were poorly recorded to the point of being unhelpful in keeping track of Samuel’s problems, the inquest heard.
The inquest also heard that after the serious case review in June 2017 highlighted Samuel’s vulnerability to exploitation, nothing was done and a follow-up meeting did not take place until that November – during which time Samuel’s criminal activity escalated.
Representatives of South Yorkshire Police and Sheffield City Council accepted all of these failures at the inquest.
Senior Coroner Urpeth said: “The police effectively treated Samuel solely as an offender as opposed to what he should have been treated as, which was a vulnerable teenager with serious safeguarding needs.
"The local authority accepted that they could have taken steps to seek an order to take Samuel into care, which was an approach his mother would have supported.
"I find that the local authority not only could have but should have taken these actions. Had they done so not only would it have dealt with safeguarding issues but it would have given them greater control over Samuel’s education.
"There were numerous occasions where Samuel received no education whatsoever. My view is that the local authority should have taken steps to intervene and failed to do so.”
Mr Urpeth said that in spite of the fact that Samuel’s schools were academies – and therefore answer to the Department for Education rather than the local authority – the local authorities should have used what powers they had to monitor his attendance and ensure he was being educated.
"I so not accept any suggestion that the local authority had no responsibility for Samuel’s education just because the education establishments were academies,” he added.
"There were very serious safeguarding issues that were abundantly clear. Despite this, sufficient action was not taken by the local authority.”
At the inquest, the representatives for SYP and SCC both gave evidence of improvement in the systems used to deal with cases such as Samuel’s, and demonstrated a willingness on behalf of their employers to prevent similar deaths from happening again.
Samuel Baker’s cause of death was found by the inquest to be stab wounds to the chest, and that his death was an unlawful killing.
Addressing Tracy Baker, Mr Urpeth said: “It has been nearly three years since Samuel’s death, and not only have you had to endure the unimaginable heartache of losing him at such a young age but you have had to go through lengthy legal proceedings.
"I hope [this inquest] has exposed to public scrutiny the tragic circumstances surrounding your son’s death.
"Samuel was undoubtedly let down by the organisations that could have and should have protected him. His death is a tragedy for him and for those he left behind.”