Safeguarding agencies failed Down’s Syndrome woman, 24, who was found starved to death in her filthy bedroom by her abusive mother after years of neglect, report finds

Posted: 9th May 2023

A young woman with Down’s Syndrome who was found starved to death by her mother after years of neglect was failed by safeguarding agencies, a damning report has found.

Debbie Leitch, 24, was left ‘unsupported, invisible, and isolated’ in the care of her evil mother Elaine Clarke.

The disabled young woman weighed just 3st 10lbs when she was found at a home in South Shore, Blackpool on August 29, 2019.

Clarke starved her daughter whose emaciated body was found in a filthy bedroom covered in takeaway boxes and used nappies. She was jailed for nine years and seven months as she admitted to manslaughter of her daughter at Preston Crown Court.

A safeguarding review has now identified a catalogue of failures and found that agencies let Debbie down as they were ‘not always aware’ of the neglect that she suffered.

A review, commissioned by Blackpool Safeguarding Adult Board, found that Debbie Leitch found that when the family moved from Leeds to Blackpool, vital information about her care needs was left out – leaving agencies in the dark of the help she required

Elaine Clarke (left) has been jailed after admitting to the manslaughter of her 24-year-old daughter Debbie Leitch (right) who had Down’s syndrome and was found emaciated with a severe skin infection at a home in Blackpool

The shocking report found that the mother managed to hide the abuse by moving homes several times, and there was a loss and miscommunication of key information about Debbie’s condition that also contributed to her neglect.

The review, commissioned by Blackpool Safeguarding Adult Board, also revealed that the mother spoke for her daughter when she shouldn’t have been allowed to, as Debbie was an adult.

It said: ‘Instead of finding a way to communicate directly with Debbie, professionals relied on Clarke to speak on her behalf.’

The review also found that when the family moved from Leeds to Blackpool in 2016, vital information about her care needs was left out – leaving agencies in the dark of the help she required – including about her severe skin infection.

When the family relocated, Clarke was asked by Debbie’s social worker whether she would like her to make a referral to Blackpool on their behalf – but her mother declined the offer.

As Debbie was an adult at this time, the decision should have been given to her, as the review outlined: ‘It remains unclear as to why it is recorded that Clarke’s permission was being sought for a referral to be made.

‘The referral was for Debbie who was an adult, thus it was her permission that was required. In the absence of a referral to Blackpool being made by Leeds, no information regarding Debbie’s care and support needs was transferred. And most importantly, no information was shared evidencing Clarke’s historic and continual inability to meet Debbie’s needs.’

When arriving in Blackpool, safeguarding agencies were left unaware of Debbie’s skin condition or about any domestic incidents.  She suffered from the severe skin infection Norwegian scabies, that had spread to such an extent that police couldn’t identify her sex when they found her body. They were not even told that Debbie had a learning disability, meaning she was not put on the new Practice’s Learning Disability Register.

If she had been registered she would have been offered annual health checks, as the review outlined: ‘Had this happened, her subsequent weight loss may have been recognised and addressed. This omission demonstrates the importance of transferring information across border.’

A family member report about the neglect in 2019 was also ‘lost in the system’.

Clarke’s niece, Sammy Mugridge, visited the home a month before Debbie’s death, where she found the 24-year-old lying on a filthy mattress in a dark, foul-smelling room covered in takeaway boxes and dirty nappies.

She warned Clarke that Debbie would die if she was not looked after and reported her to social services.

She said: ‘I’ll never forget the last day I saw Debbie alive. I knew she was ill and not well, but the sight of her in the room will live with me forever. The stench was unbelievable… I can only describe it as the stench of death. Debbie was so skinny. Her hair had been hacked off her skin looked like raw flesh. It was like something out of a horror movie.’

Following this, the report outlined that: ‘These miscommunications and presumptions left Debbie without professional safeguarding support for a further six-day period before a social worker visited.

‘By which time Clarke had tidied the house to an acceptable state and consequently, following the Social Worker visiting and not having any concerns, Debbie was again left in the care of Clarke – unsupported, invisible, and isolated.’

In reality, the ‘lazy and selfish’ mother starved her disabled daughter to death in a filthy bedroom covered in takeaway boxes and used nappies. She ‘bought herself handbags and shoes’ while Debbie wasted away in a dark, faeces-covered room which ‘smelled of death’.

When Clarke, who was paid £215 a week to care for her daughter, called 999 on the evening of August 29, 2019, it was determined that Debbie had been dead for between eight and 36 hours. When she was found she weighed just 3st 10lbs.

Clarke, from Blackpool, initially denied the unlawful killing of her vulnerable daughter but changed her plea to guilty in January just 10 days before the case was due to go to trial.

She was sentenced to nine-years and seven months in prison after admitting to gross negligent manslaughter at Preston Crown Court in March 2022.

John Harrison QC, prosecuting, described the terrible conditions that Debbie’s decomposing body was in when emergency services found her on August 29, 2019, and said: ‘Debbie was extremely emaciated with a severe rash to the scalp, the face and the soles of the feet.

‘The jumper and trousers worn by the deceased were filthy and mites were found crawling on them. A urine soiled nappy was found inside her trousers. A live maggot was found next to the body. As her clothing was cut away from her body, bits of skin came away with it as it had adhered to her body.’

The prosecutor added: ‘Mites were found crawling all over her back. The trousers were covered in liquid faeces.

‘Debbie’s hair was falling out due to the scabies rash. Her face was covered with the rash. Debbie’s ribs were visible through the skin. All of her limbs were wasted and the rash was widespread on them. Her buttocks were completely covered in faeces which extended down to the thighs. As the body was examined, large areas of skin fell away from the body.

‘More than 30 per cent of her skin was covered in the rash, which was more severe in some parts of the body than others.’

Karen Smith, Director of Adult Services, said: ‘Throughout this review our thoughts and condolences have been with Jessica’s (Debbie’s) extended family.

‘We know Jessica’s (Debbie’s) mother manipulated circumstances so her neglect was not apparent to ourselves and other agencies visiting their home. However, it is clear from the review that there were missed opportunities and Jessica’s (Debbie’s) voice was seldom heard.

‘Jessica’s (Debbie’s) tragic death has taught us a lot and changes have already been implemented. Our processes have been improved, along with the way we share information with other councils and local agencies.

‘This learning will be shared with all practitioners to improve the care we provide to vulnerable residents.’

Source:Safeguarding agencies failed Down’s Syndrome woman who was found starved to death by abusive mother | Daily Mail Online

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