Police admit failings in handling 'criminal exploitation' of tragic Sheffield teenager Sam Baker
A representative for South Yorkshire Police admitted that there were ‘failures’ in the handling of the exploitation of Samuel Baker’s by criminal gangs before he was stabbed and died aged 15.
An inquest at Sheffield Town Hall, which opened on March 1, previously heard that Samuel Baker was ‘persistently failed’ by authorities which did not ‘protect’ him as he became involved with older criminals his family say ‘exploited’ and ‘controlled’ him.
A serious case review into Samuel’s death agreed that he began committing crimes as he was exploited by gangs, and said ‘more could have been done’ to help him escape this.
Senior Coroner David Urpeth heard that Samuel was not treated by police as being exploited – and therefore a case for social services – in spite of multiple arrests for crimes starting when he was 13, and a review by the probation service labelling him as ‘vulnerable’.
Giving evidence, DCI Andrea Bowell, who specialises in exploitation cases, said: “There were certainly areas highlighted within the serious case review which could be described as individual failures.”
When asked by Mr Urpeth whether Samuel’s death could have been prevented if such failures had not happened DCI Bowell said: “There are so many factors and variables.
"While we accept there were significant failures I can’t say with any professional confidence that if they hadn’t taken place the outcome would have been any different.”
When questioned by Henrietta Hill QC, representing the Baker family, DCI Bowell explained why the fact that Samuel had been dealt with by police for a number of issues – including involvement in crime and going missing for periods of time – did not initially make them consider him at risk of criminal exploitation.
"We are in a position now when we are looking back with hindsight and can see the progression of Samuel’s involvement in criminality and his missing episodes,” she said.
"At the time [different officers] were looking at each case in isolation, and [at the time] it is a judgement call of the officer whether the risk is there.
"Because it was treated as a criminal matter it was rarely transferred to social care. At that time police saw children as offenders rather than the vulnerable victims that they are.”
DCI Bowell added that the cases on an individual level were not indicative of involvement with criminal gangs in themselves.
The serious case review, which was consulted at the inquest, said agencies such as police and social services needed to find ‘different and better’ ways to help children at risk of criminal exploitation.
It also found that issues such as Samuel’s repeated absence from school, his lack of bereavement counselling following the death of his sister, and incidences of him going missing from his home for prolonged periods ‘were not given sufficient weight’.
The report added: "More could have been done to link his missing episodes with wider child protection considerations.
"These repeated and often lengthy episodes of him being missing are linked to both his offending behaviour and his exploitation by others."
DCI Bowell told Mr Urpeth that since the death of Samuel Baker changes had been made to how the police identify children at risk of criminal exploitation, including giving extra training to officers.