Social services were involved with the Barrass family for six months before the murders of tragic brothers Blake and Tristan
Social services became involved with the Barrass family at least six months before the horrifying murders of teenage brothers Blake and Tristan, it has been revealed.
The details of social services’ involvement with the family were revealed during yesterday’s sentencing hearing, when child killers Sarah Barrass and Brandon Machin were sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 35 years for their horrific crimes.
Prosecutor Kama Melly QC told Sheffield Crown Court that the family was appointed a social worker in November 2018, after an allegation of sexual assault was made about Blake, 14, concerning his behaviour towards another child.
Ms Melly said Barrass, 35, was initially open with the social worker about ‘wanting support,’ and is said to have been asking for help from Blake’s ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) nurse since 2016.
“Barrass appeared to work well with social services and attended all meetings and played a vocal part. Initially, there was due to be a MAST (Multi Agency Support Team) referral but this was closed as Barrass seemed to be acting appropriately,” Ms Melly said.
Then in early May this year, a similar allegation was made about Tristan, 13.
Messages Barrass sent to her friend after the allegation was made ‘show the commencement of her desire to find a solution that dealt with the problem,’ Ms Melly said.
In one message, Barrass told her friend: “I still feel like I failed Blake so this isn’t helping. I feel like I should lock me and my lot away so they can’t hurt anyone else. I want to die daily, to run away and hide from everyone.”
She continued: “I’ve thought of every possible solution to this mess. Mass murder! putting em all in care...checking into the local nuthouse...I love my kids too much to kill ‘em, I can’t put ‘em into care for the same reasons.”
On May 21, just three days before the double murders, Barrass was informed by her social worker that a strategy meeting would be taking place concerning the family and she would not be allowed to attend.
“Barrass stated in messages that she now feared all her children would be removed from her care. Barrass also realised that the intervention now taking place was far more serious than when they had been dealing with Blake,” Ms Melly said.
Following the meeting on May 22, Barrass was informed that the family would go from the status of ‘child in need’ to ‘child in protection,’ and would therefore result in a significant shift in the level of scrutiny the family would be under from social services.
Ms Melly told the court: “On this date the social worker asked extensive further questions about the paternity of the children, and attempted to establish whether the children had been exposed to sexual behaviour or abuse.
“Sarah is described as seeming more defiant than had been seen before and refused to tell the social worker who the children’s father was.”
The court was told how Barrass and Machin, who are half brother and sister, were in a secret sexual relationship, and Machin was the father to all six of her children.
A reporting restriction that had been in place preventing the press from reporting on the biological relationship between the couple was lifted during Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.
Machin, 39, spent every day at the Barrass family home in Gregg House Road, Shiregreen, before returning to his own in Burngreave Road, Burngreave at night.
Despite this, the children were unaware that Machin was their father; and had been told by Barrass that their father was dead.
When officers were called to the property following the murders on May 24, the surviving children, none of whom can be named for legal reasons, even told police officers that their father was dead and ‘had died in the Second World War’.
Ms Melly said it is the Crown’s case that the plan to kill all six of their children must have been ‘hatched’ by May 22, the date when the strategy meeting took place.
“It is the Crown’s case that although the defendants were motivated to prevent the loss of their children to the care of the local authority, this was combined with their fear of the local authorities becoming aware of their unnatural relationship,” she said.
On the evening of May 23, while Barrass was at home with Machin and the children, she received a phone call by an individual who informed her of a sexual assault Tristan was alleged to have carried out against another child.
The same individual told Barrass they would be reporting the incident to the police the following day.
Machin would later tell police that his ‘instant reaction’ to what was alleged in the phone call made him ‘want to rip the heads off Blake and Tristan,’ adding: ‘how do you describe that feeling you want to get hold of them and strangle the life out of them?’
Following the phone call, Barrass and Machin subsequently collected tablets from around the house that had been prescribed to some of the children for ADHD and ‘forced’ the four oldest children, which includes Blake and Tristan, to take multiple tablets, expecting that the tablets would ‘kill the children overnight’, Ms Melly said.
When the children survived the overdoses, Barrass and Machin proceeded to strangle Blake and Tristan to death, and attempted to drown one of the older surviving children in the bath, but were unsuccessful.
Police were called to the property by 7.45am, and efforts were made to save the lives of Blake and Tristan but they were both pronounced dead a short time later.
During a medical examination of Barrass following the murders, she told a doctor that she had given her four oldest children, including Blake and Tristan, ‘lots of ADHD tablets due to a social worker getting too close’.
Machin told detectives that Barrass had said to him that she would ‘rather see them [their children] dead than in care,’ adding: ‘I gave them life and I can take it away’.
At an earlier hearing, Machin and Barrass pleaded guilty to the murders of Blake and Tristan, as well as the conspiracy to murder all six children and the attempted murder of Blake, Tristan and one of their older children.
At the end of May, Sheffield City Council confirmed that a Serious Case Review (SCR) into the circumstances surrounding the boys’ death would be carried out.
Speaking after the hearing, John Macilwraith Executive Director of People Services at Sheffield City Council, confirmed the SCR is expected to take up to six months to be completed
He added: “The sentencing of Sarah Barrass and Brandon Machin for the double murder of Tristan and Blake Barrass has concluded the legal process. Our focus continues to be the wellbeing of the children from this family now in our care. They are safe and receiving good support through this traumatic time.
“The Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership has initiated a SCR to investigate what happened. The national SCR panel have endorsed this and agreed that the review should go ahead locally. The council will be cooperating fully with the review and are already working to provide the relevant information.
“This is such a tragic and, we hope, isolated case that it is vital to examine every aspect in order to establish what can be learned to inform the development of future professional practice.
“We anticipate that the SCR will take up to six months, but this is subject to many factors and timescales may change. The most important thing is taking the necessary time to get the review right.
“We have many hundreds of families in Sheffield who are cared for by our children’s services but there are always new lessons to learn, so we need to understand, alongside all partners in the city, as much as we can about why and how these tragic events happened, as much as it is ever possible to understand such a terrible act.”