Serious case review findings published after death of Sheffield toddler attacked by stepfather
The risk a killer posed to his young stepdaughter was not picked up despite the little girl suffering a broken arm three months before she died, a serious case review has found.
Erin Tomkins was 23-months-old when she was rushed to hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest at the home she shared with her mum, stepfather and half sister in Leighton Road, Gleadless Valley, last May.
Tests revealed that she had suffered a catastrophic head injury and her life support machine was switched off the following day.
An examination of Erin’s body revealed that she had suffered a broken arm and multiple back fractures in the months leading up to her death.
Her stepdad Martin Johnson, who was later branded a ‘callous and cowardly’ killer, was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 19 years behind bars for subjecting the toddler to several months of ‘gross physical abuse’.
A serious case review, published today, revealed that the risk Johnson posed was not picked up because he was not known to any agencies at the time.
When Erin was taken to Sheffield Children’s Hospital with a broken arm when she was 20 months old, medics accepted the explanation offered by Johnson – that she had rolled off a sofa when he was changing her nappy while her mum was out of the room.
The serious case review said that ‘the explanation was consistent with the injury’.
She had also been taken to hospital six months before her death with a bump to her head.
A doctor who assessed Erin’s arm fracture looked at how she interacted with her mum and Johnson, established that ‘there were no safeguarding alerts’ on Erin’s file and completed a safeguarding checklist which had been introduced earlier in the year for all children attending A&E.
The doctor discussed the injury with an A&E consultant, ‘who was of the view that the story was consistent with the injury’.
Erin was discharged without a full body examination taking place, but a recommendation had now been made that any child under the age of two who attends A&E with a fracture should be fully examined.
The serious case review says: “Overall, this was a thorough assessment which complied with the procedures in place at that time, to a high standard.
“The emergency department policies do not require doctors to fully examine a child who attends with a fracture. However, two of the indicators of possible abuse in the department’s ‘non-accidental injury policy’ are ‘a fracture in a child under two years of age’ and ‘multiple injuries’.
“In view of this, the review panel considers that where a child under two years of age attends the emergency department with a fracture, it would be good practice to undertake a head to toe examination as appropriate to look for other injuries.
“Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has made a recommendation to this effect.
“It does, however, need to be noted that examining a child fully may be difficult in circumstances where the fracture results in it being painful to undress.
“It is not known whether a head to toe examination of (Erin) would have identified any other injuries.”
As a result of Erin’s death, background checks of children under 24 months old and taken to A&E with a fracture are now also carried out to check whether the family is known to social services.
Although, the report states that ‘this would not have raised any additional concerns in this case’.
David Ashcroft, Independent Chairman of the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Broad, said: “There was no prior indication that the person convicted of Erin’s death posed any risk and they were not known to any agencies at the point this incident took place. However, as in all cases, there are things to learn and there are a number of key recommendations raised in the serious case review.
“A key finding in this review was for staff across multiple agencies to not take everything they see, or are told, at face value and to remain open minded. It recommends that staff ask the right questions and include all members of a household in assessments.
“Work is already underway to implement these changes, and training on this subject will be given to staff, helping them to understand how they can best involve everyone and ask the right questions.
“The priority is to prevent this from happening in the future, and these recommendations have a significant impact on improving services for all users across Sheffield.
“My deepest sympathies and thoughts remain with the family at this difficult time.”
Speaking after Erin’s killer was locked up, the toddler’s mum, Kira Tomkins, described her as ‘the most beautiful, funny, little red-haired girl who brought so much joy to our lives’.
In a victim impact statement read out in court, Kira asked ‘why did he have to kill my beautiful girl?’
“Erin should not have been in a position where she was scared to be in her own home.
“She should have had the opportunity to grow up and live her life but she never even got to start nursery.
“I see her when I close my eyes and that just reminds me of her innocence.”
Erin was taken to hospital unconscious after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Tests revealed that she had suffered a ‘catastrophic head injury’.