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'He should be alive today': Serious violence adviser says authorities failed to protect seven-year-old Joel Urhie

One of the country's highest-profile serious violence advisers has accused the authorities of failing the family of seven-year-old Joel Urhie, who died in his family home last August in an arson attack, saying the boy "should be alive today".

Gwenton Sloley used to work for Lewisham Council but has left the local authority and is now embroiled in a bitter disagreement with the police which he says began in the aftermath of Joel's death.

Today he has spoken out for the first time about how he believes the council, police and probation services let the family down.

He also said that for raising questions about the conduct of the authorities in the run up to Joel's death there has been a "witch hunt" and he has been "targeted" by the police.

Mr Sloley, who has trained police officers and children's services around the United Kingdom, told ITV News that: "I was in the meeting and all the services were there, so everyone knows and everyone knew that the family needed help."

Efe Urhie's seven-year-old son Joel died in the Deptford arson attack at the family's home. Credit: ITV News/Family handout

As a member of the safeguarding panel for Lewisham - where the council, police and probation service discuss threats to vulnerable young people in their area - Mr Sloley was present at a critical meeting, where threats to the family were discussed.

"Because of failings, simple failings, which have now become major failings, which nobody wants to own up to, we could have protected that young man. He should be alive today," he said.

Joel's elder brother had been in prison for drug offences and in the run up to the fatal fire had been shot at.

This incident was discussed at a special meeting within Lewisham 10 days before the fire.

Joel Urhie did not follow his mother out of the family home's first floor window when fire engulfed the house. Credit: Family handout

National police guidelines say that in the event of a threat being made to someone's life, a risk assessment must be done which takes into account all adults and children that person is in regular contact with. It also says their close associates should be informed.

Mr Sloley told ITV News after the meeting had discussed Joel's elder brother being shot at, he expected action was going to be taken.

"Instead of putting special measures in place, which we usually do for the family, which would be a panic alarm, a fire-proof letter box… none of that was done," he said.

"Clearly something has gone wrong and no one is putting their hands up and saying 'you know what we have done wrong' and I am the person that has to live with that, knowing this young man has lost his life, knowing the family are not being given the treatment that they want."

Gwenton Sloley, left, appeared in an ITV Tonight documentary six months ago. Credit: ITV Tonight

Responding to news the family had also approached the probation services themselves only four days before the fire, Mr Sloley said: "After the mum and brother asked for help, they should have acted on that immediately. They shouldn't have been allowed to leave."

In October Mr Sloley's own property was raided by the same police force he works for and his work for police forces around the country has been stopped.

He believes he has been targeted by the police for raising questions internally about Joel's death.

Efe Urhie said she had warned authorities of a threat to her family. Credit: Family handout

Mr Sloley told ITV News: "Think of it like this: Joel dies, I'm saying it's wrong, you break into my house, you destroy the place, which is now being owned up to.

"You offer me compensation for destroying my house. The only personal problem we've had is around why wasn't a fire-proof letterbox fitted to the young man's home?"

Regarding the raid on Mr Sloley's property, the Metropolitan Police said: "A complaint in relation to damage of reputation and character was received on Tuesday, 30 October and the Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) is investigating. As with any investigation, complainants are kept up to date on progress.

"This followed an investigation by officers from the South East Command Unit based at Lewisham in which a 35-year-old man was interviewed under caution in relation to an operation where a number of drugs and a weapon was found. He was not arrested."

The Metropolitan Police confirmed it held multi-agency partnership meetings in June, at which Mr Sloley was present, in which "all necessary and proportionate safeguarding measures were considered" and re-examined in relation to an incident involving the older Urhie brother and that "there were no protective measures deemed necessary for anyone involved."

The Met statement continued: "...On the 28 July 2018 police received an allegation from a third party on behalf of a ...man who had reported that he had heard shots fired... A thorough investigation was conducted, including extensive search of the relevant address and area, and multiple witness interviews. Specialist firearms search dogs were also deployed. No evidence was found of any firearms discharge or gun and all reasonable steps were taken to inform the alleged victim and other key affected parties. As part of this notification process the alleged victim’s mother, a 49-year-old woman, was contacted by detectives the following day on the 29 July to update her. The full circumstances were conveyed to her and at that juncture no concerns were raised by her.

"On the 31 July a meeting of the multi-agency Serious Youth Violence Panel was held, also attended by Mr Sloley, where a discussion was had regarding all reasonable lines of enquiry to trace and locate the alleged victim having been taken in order to progress the allegation made on 28 July. These enquiries were hindered through him previously declining to assist officers by not cooperating in providing a contact address or being willing to make a statement.

"In regard to the probation meeting referenced, which took place on the 3 August, 2018, police were not present. The MPS was not made aware of any new information, or content or outcome of that meeting, until after the fatal fire on 7 August.

"The MPS passed all of the information that we were aware of on to the affected parties in this case in order to keep them informed. Minimising risk to all those involved is always our priority and we made decisions with our partners on the basis of information available to us.

"We would urge the public to remember the seven-year-old boy at the heart of what is an ongoing live homicide investigation and to please come forward with any information at all that could assist police to identify the perpetrator/s and bring them to justice."

A Lewisham Council spokesperson said in a statement: "The death of a child in their own home is a tragedy. We hope those responsible for the arson that killed Joel are brought to justice and face the full force of the law. The Council has been in contact with the Uhrie family and have provided help and assistance.

"This case is the subject of an ongoing police investigation. A child death overview panel will be held once criminal proceedings have been completed by the police and the courts. The Council takes these panels extremely seriously.

"The Council is also launching a review into all homicides and the most serious incidents of violence in Lewisham as part of our public health approach to violent crime. This review must also look at how information is shared to ensure we are all doing everything we possibly can to keep our residents safe."

The London Community Rehabilitation Company said in a statement: "Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and their tragic loss.

"London CRC was aware of several violent incidents involving the offender and whilst under our supervision we directly raised our concerns about the threats against him to our multi-agency partners. We also took action to arrange suitable alternative accommodation away from the rest of his family.

"Following the incident, a senior manager did conduct a review of the handling of the case with the offender managers who had dealt with the case, which explored lessons that could be learnt from it.

"Public protection is the highest priority for London CRC and we have put in place several initiatives to closely monitor and improve the quality of our case and risk management. These include a new supervision model and regular quality management audits of all case officers."