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Review into death of Poppy Widdison finds agencies 'missed opportunities' to protect her

Poppy Widdison was 4 years old when she died in 2013 Credit: Lincolnshire Police

A Serious Case Review into the death of Poppy Widdison has found that there were 'a number of missed opportunities' to protect her - starting before she was born.

Poppy Widdison, from Grimsby, died at the age of 4 in 2013 . Her mother and partner were found guilty of child cruelty after a trial at Hull Crown Court at which the jury heard the youngster was fed diazapam tablets to sedate her.

A Serious Case Review, published today by the North East Lincolnshire Local Safeguarding Children Board, is critical of agencies' approach to the case, saying "no single practitioner or service knew what life was like for the child or the extent to which she was exposed to risk and harm on a daily basis."

It says Pyke led a "chaotic lifestyle" that was "incompatible with safe parenting".

Flowers at the scene house where Poppy died in 2013 Credit: ITV News

Prior to Poppy's birth, the review says authorities 'underplayed the risks' and lacked a thorough assessment of her mother's situation. As a result, the plan put in place to ensure Poppy's safety was 'naively optimistic'.

Poppy's mother, Michaela Pyke, had her first child taken out of her care five months before Poppy was born, due to concerns about the impact of her drug use on her parenting capacity.

She was not accessing pre-natal care, and authorities were aware that Poppy's natural father was 'a chaotic drug user with a criminal history related to drugs.'

But despite these warning signs, the review says, there was no 'robust protection plan' or 'comprehensive parenting assessment' put in place for the child.

"The absence of both is indicative of ineffective management oversight in Children's Social Care as well as ineffectual engagement or challenge from partner agencies."

– Serious Case Review

Outline of agency involvement with Poppy Widdison:

  • Children's Social Care were involved for the first 13 months of Poppy's life, before closing their case when they believed that both her mother and father were committed to a programme intended to bring their drug use to an end. The final meeting was attended by only the social worker and a health visitor, without all the relevant professionals.
  • Seven months later, a relative reported to police that Poppy's father had waved a chainsaw in the face of his daughter and her mother, after Pyke said she was going to leave. He was charged with threatening behaviour and cultivation of cannabis and remanded to custody. Pyke spent a brief period in a Women's Refuge before returning home. Authorities believed the risk had been abated because the couple had separated. It later emerged that Poppy was continuing to have contact with her father, despite a 'no contact' order.

"Despite many concerns about (Pyke's) ability to parent (her first child) safely, a full picture of her care emerged only as observed by Women’s Refuge, when concerns escalated quickly. Yet within 3 months Children's Social Care made a decision to cease the parenting assessment of (Pyke)."

– Serious Case Review
  • When Poppy was 3 and a half, a relative flagged up to children's services that Pyke was smoking cannabis and 'lying in bed whilst (Poppy) was left alone.' A decision for no further action was made based on ‘no further evidence to substantiate the allegations’. It has since emerged that at the time of this referral, Poppy was indeed in danger and was being administered drugs.

"It is troubling to note again that (Pyke) was never confronted or even asked if any of this was happening."

– Serious Case Review
  • Around the same time, drug abuse service The Junction raised concerns that Pyke had not attended for some weeks. The Serious Case Review finds that 'insufficient weight' was given to claims of suspected drug use, and argues that authorities need to be more aware that 'experienced addicts often manipulate results.'
  • During this period, Poppy's attendance at nursery was 'patchy', but the review found that this is 'not uncommon' for nursery age children. Poppy's mother had been brought into school for a meeting to talk about regular attendance, and a second meeting had been set up. The meeting did not go ahead 'due to unforeseen circumstances', and no further opportunity arose prior to Poppy's death.
Michaela Pyke arriving at court Credit: ITV News

Pyke and her partner, John Rytting, were found guilty of child cruelty in December last year.

Social workers had missed the fact Pyke had moved in with Rytting six months before, despite this information being available to drug abuse services. He was a known drug user, who suffered from schizophrenia and had 39 previous convictions - including one for wounding - but today's review finds that 'no information known to any agency suggesting (Rytting) might pose a specific risk to others.'

In response to today's report, Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board said that it 'fully accepts' the findings and has 'implemented an aciton plan in response to the recommendations':

"Due to the complexity of enquiries that have been necessary in this case, it has been conducted over a three year period. During this time, significant changes have taken place across NEL and much of the learning and many of the recommendations cited in this review have already been implemented."

– Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board