Parents of murdered teen call for independent investigation of care services

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The parents of Liam Aitchison have spoken in support of an independent investigation into the role of agencies involved in the life of the murdered teenager.

The 16-year-old had been a ‘Looked-After Child’ until February 2011. He was killed in a house in Steinish the following November. The transition between child and adult services is the focus of the report.

Norrie and Claire Aitchison made a statement through, and in support of, the Review Group that requested the release of the internal report that investigated the agencies and their actions at the time.

The Internal Review was commissioned by the Western Isles Child Protection Committee, under the auspices of the Outer Hebrides Chief Officer Group for Public Protection, to examine the circumstances in which care, welfare and protection were provided.

Following this request the Council released recommendations made as a result of the internal report.

An independent investigation is being requested by the Review Group.

The statement from Norrie and Claire Aitchison read:

1. We wish it to be known that we are fully supportive of the actions being taken by the Review Group, and concur with the statement they have issued, regarding the publication of the Significant Case Review (SCR) (Recommendations) into the death by murder of Liam, aged only 16 years old. We are of the opinion that there has been, and remains to this day, a complete lack of accountability by the responsible authorities. We support wholeheartedly the call now by the Review Group, for a full and independent inquiry.

2. We remain concerned and upset that we were not actively and meaningfully involved in the SCR process: only one telephone call was received by us from a SCR team member in Inverness. This only contact was very impersonal and lacking in any sense of empathy and understanding of how distressed we felt about how Liam had been deserted by the caring services in the last few months of his short life.

3. Liam was placed in our full-time care shortly before Christmas 2010 from c/o his aunt Kate MacDonald, acting as kinship carer for a three month period. Kate had to regretfully admit that she couldn’t cope with Liam’s aggressive outbursts, and she was concerned that Liam was also placing himself at serious risk by abuse of alcohol and substances, on occasion necessitating emergency admissions to hospital.

4. At a Review Children’s Hearing on 16th February 2011 we were flabbergasted when a decision was taken to discharge all formal supervision, given Liam’s recent history, his vulnerability, and poor coping mechanisms. We pleaded with the Children’s Hearing to keep Liam on supervision – our pleas were ignored. Liam was approaching his 16th birthday and gravitating towards criminal behaviour: he needed to be protected and cared for by those employed for this purpose. Liam had indicated a strong desire to move away from home, but he was not ready in so many ways to live independently. He of course failed to appreciate this, showing little insight into the likely and predictable consequences of bad decision-making in terms of the doubtful company he was at times keeping (abusing substances and alcohol).

5. After his move to Stornoway in June 2011 (dob 14 May 1995), we kept in regular touch with Liam and on

a number of occasions attempted to get him to return home with us. Liam remained elusive, and refused to return home. We were massively concerned as a family at this stage, with the onset of winter.

6. We discovered that Liam was accessing Hillcrest Children’s Home unofficially, with overnight stays, without the knowledge of the authorities or care staff employed at Hillcrest. By behaving in this way Liam was clearly indicating that he needed care and supervision (and also warmth, food and shelter). He was often of no fixed abode, homeless, and without employment – the social workers and Children’s Hearing Panel members had told us that when Liam was discharged from all supervision that support services would remain in place on an informal basis. We saw absolutely no evidence of this.

7. Liam’s scheduled court appearance on the 23th November 2011, the alleged date of his murder, would not have occurred if Liam had remained under Children’s Hearing supervision. We are still unsure if the Court’s request on 27th Oct 2011 for a background report had ever been met. Was Liam ever seen by a social worker from the Criminal Justice team? If not he should have been reported as a missing person and strenuous efforts made to locate him and to ensure he was in a safe place.

8. We remain totally bereft to this day since Liam’s most brutal murder and have no doubt at all that the authorities failed Liam on many occasions in their duty of care obligations. No one is prepared to admit responsibility and to be held accountable for Liam’s death. We can only now ask the question: why were we given such reassuring guarantees at Liam’s final Children’s Hearing that he would be adequately and appropriately supported as he moved into his young adult life?

9. We fail to understand how it has taken over three years for the Outer Hebrides Child Protection Committee to prepare a report (Significant Case Review). We have not seen this report, but the Recommendations have been communicated to us over the phone, on two separate occasions. The 2nd and most recent time, after publication of the Recommendations only, on the 5th January, confirm in our minds that it is abundantly clear that an amended report has been written. We wonder why? But these recommendations only confirm our suspicions that this internal inquiry has been undertaken in a most superficial manner, and have been presented in such a way to make the authorities look good. This is far from the truth.

10. We are at present taking legal advice about how we should proceed to seek redress and legal accountability against those persons and/or agencies, who acting together as “corporate parent” failed so tragically to meet Liam’s most basic of care needs. The Scottish Government report, GIRFEC (Getting it Right for Every Child), has in our experience proved not to be worth the paper it’s written on. Additionally, the Children’s Commissioner Tam Baillie reported in 2010 (Sweet 16?) on the failings of the Comhairle to meet the needs of 15 -18 year olds moving through the care system: was anyone listening or taking the necessary actions? The Commissioner specifically referred to the apparently accepted, but questionable, practice in the Western Isles of discharging 15 year olds from supervision, when they were at their most vulnerable. This report was written just months before Liam’s murder.

11. Many answers are still awaited, for the SCR (Recommendations) recently made public, falls seriously short of our expectations, and is an insult to our precious memories of our dear son and step-son, Liam, “our crazy diamond”. No other child presently involved in the care services here in the Western Isles should be left exposed to experience such a dreadful fate.

Dr Kate MacDonald, who is Liam’s aunt, looked after him from October to December 2010. She also commented through the Review Group:

“Having been Liam’s carer for several months during 2010, I was shocked that no one contacted me regarding regarding the Significant Case Review. I had repeatedly voiced concerns about Liam’s need for ongoing support when he reached sixteen, and was appalled to learn that he had been deemed to be no longer at risk just a few months before his 16th birthday.”

A spokesperson for the Western Isles Child Protection Committee, said, “The family’s statement has been passed to all members of the Western Isles CPC and we will make appropriate arrangements to engage with the family to discuss their concerns.”