Sheffield council did not consider Samuel Baker for care despite being groomed by gangs
Sheffield City Council has admitted that organisations under its control ‘failed to protect’ teenager Samuel Baker as he was ‘exploited’ by criminal gangs and eventually killed.
Samuel Baker was 15 years old when he was stabbed twice in the chest on 24 May 2018. He died in hospital shortly afterwards.
In the years prior to his death the teenager had become increasingly involved in criminal activity in Sheffield – a factor the inquest determined played a role in him ultimately becoming involved in the street fight in which he was stabbed.
His mother appealed to social services for help after Samuel was unable to get a place at school, struggled with the death of his sister, spent prolonged periods of time missing and she feared he was being ‘controlled’ by older criminals he met on the streets.
However, an inquest into Samuel’s death (March 1-3) heard that in spite of the ‘abundantly clear’ evidence that he was at risk of exploitation and in desperate need of help, the council’s organisations did not take action to protect him from criminal influences.
Samuel moved with his mother to Sheffield in 2014, leaving Bermuda with two other siblings to escape her abusive ex-partner.
He started well, enrolling in school and joining a football team.
But tragedy struck in 2015 when Samuel’s older sister died in a house fire and he was not offered any bereavement support from the school, the inquest heard.
The court also heard that Samuel struggled with learning difficulties and his English, was bullied and did not have his special educational needs catered for.
What followed was a period where he was transferred between schools, often with long gaps between each where his mother was forced to home school him, or he was not educated at all.
At the inquest his mother Tracy Baker said that it was during this time where he was not in school that he started to ‘spend more time away from home’ and hang around with older people.
“I could tell he was getting bored and he started to deteriorate in December 2016. I thought that getting him back into school would make things better,” she said.
Giving evidence at the inquest Helen Sweaton – an assistant director for SCC who was representing the council’s agencies – admitted that it should have been the role of the local authority to ensure Samuel was able to attend school.
She said: “There are powers available to the local authority if they feel a child is beyond parental control, and retrospectively we would all agree that Samuel Baker was beyond parental control."
Representing the Baker family at the inquest, Henrietta Hill QC said: “Samuel went to at least three schools and there was more than one period where he was educated at home. At all of the schools there was no proper assessment of his serious need for support around bereavement.”
She added: “Instability around education for a child of this age and being absent from education for significant periods of time poses a significant risk for that child.”
Ms Sweaton told the court that she accepted both of these statements on the council’s behalf.
As Samuel was spending more time away from home – including going missing for 13 days in June 2017 – his mother tried to get him put into care for his own safety.
He had been arrested for increasingly serious crimes, from shoplifting to burglary to carrying knives, a gun and drugs.
Tracy Baker said: "When he started going missing things got worse," she said. "I noticed a change in him and not knowing where he was meant I had lost control of him.
"I think someone was coaching him and telling him what to do and what not to do."
Ms Sweaton said the reason Samuel was not considered for care was because at the time the ‘threshold’ for whether a child was considered ‘beyond parental control’ was based around the ‘inability’ of the parent and did not take into account external factors, such as exploitation by criminal gangs.
Speaking with hindsight at the inquest, she admitted: “I think Samuel was beyond parental control when the evidence showed he was involved in street gangs and criminal behaviour.”
Senior Coroner David Urpeth also heard that meetings about Samuel’s criminal behaviour and missing periods were delayed and poorly recorded, meaning information was not shared between SCC agencies who could have used it to determine his needs more effectively.
After he went missing for 13 days in June 2017, the probation service determined at a meeting a month later that Samuel was at ‘serious risk of exploitation’ by criminal gangs.
However, Ms Sweaton said that a follow up meeting about how to address this did not take place until November, and in the interim period Samuel’s criminal involvement continued to escalate.
"The response was inadequate,” Ms Sweaton said. “A child protection conference should have been arranged within 15 weeks, so it being in November was completely outside our expected standards.”
The court also heard that at one meeting Ms Baker was left outside the room where a meeting about Samuel was taking place, and not invited in until after it had finished.
On another occasion a meeting concluded after just 10 minutes, before Ms Baker had arrived. Ms Baker said she was ‘disappointed’ the meetings had gone ahead without her input on what was best for her son, and whether he needed to be taken into care.
Ms Sweaton said: “I cannot explain that. It is highly unusual that the meeting lasted just 10 minutes, and that is not what we would recommend.
"It would have been better if Ms Baker was involved in these meetings.
"There are also certainly concerns around the record keeping [at the meetings] of the social worker involved.”
Ms Hill QC said: “These findings amount to an overall failure to provide Samuel with adequate safeguarding [...] and an outright failure to give him effective support.”
Those at the inquest agreed that it was impossible to say for sure whether better intervention by council agencies would have limited Samuel Baker’s involvement in crime to the point where the outcome of his death would have changed.
However, Mr Urpeth said: “Surely it is a matter of logic. The whole purpose of putting these [measures] in place is to make a difference.”
The inquest determined that since the tragic death of Samuel Baker, significant changes have been made at SCC to prevent cases like Samuel’s happening again.
This includes: treating children involved in crime as victims rather than just offenders, so that they are considered for social support earlier; better record keeping at meetings; better communication between different SCC agencies; and changes to what is considered when determining if a child needs to go into care.
Miss Hill QC summarised: “Too little good support was provided to Samuel and too late. Only in the later periods of his life was significant improvement made.”
Ms Sweaton replied: “That is certainly the case.”
Concluding the inquest, Mr Urpeth said: "I hope [this inquest] has exposed to public scrutiny the tragic circumstances surrounding [Samuel’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.”
John Macilwraith, Executive Director of People at Sheffield City Council, said:
“It is absolutely devastating that a young person lost his life, and my deepest condolences remain with Sam’s loved ones.
“It is clear that more could, and should, have been done to protect Sam, including closer working between organisations. Where there are things we could have done differently, we are truly sorry.
“There were a number of recommendations made in February 2020 following Sam’s death almost three years ago. Since then, we have launched a new strategy which aims to tackle the exploitation of young people and we have implemented the Amber project, where specially trained ambassadors will help children and young people who are most at risk from exploitation.
“It’s important that we continue working with our partners across the city to prioritise further development of our plans on knife crime. This year we are also putting dedicated funds into prevention and support for those at risk and are investing in youth services to deliver clubs, activities and genuine engagement with young people.
“The coroner acknowledged that significant steps have been taken by the council since Sam’s very sad death. There is still work to do, and we are committed to working with our communities and our partners in the city and more widely, to ensure we are all doing all we can to tackle knife crime in Sheffield.”