Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Mother tells ITV News she warned authorities days before arson attack on Deptford home killed her son Joel Urhie

The mother of a seven-year-old boy killed at home in an arson attack has told ITV News she warned the authorities her family were at risk four days before the fire.

ITV News has learned the authorities knew the Urhie family were at risk and failed to follow their own risk assessment guidelines to protect them.

Efe Urhie, 49, said police were made aware there was a danger to her eldest son's safety before her youngest son Joel lost his life.

Efe Urhie said friends referred to Joel as her 'handbag' as he was always at her side. Credit: Family handout

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

ITV News understands the shooting incident was discussed by police at a special multi-agency meeting within Lewisham less than a fortnight before the fatal fire attack in the early hours of 7 August.

Efe, a senior staff nurse, escaped the 3.25am inferno by breaking a window at the family home in Deptford, south-east London and jumping 15ft from the first floor with plans to catch Joel. But he failed to follow her.

The body of the special needs pupil was found at the windowsill at the edge of Efe's bed.

The aftermath of the deadly blaze at the Urhie house. Credit: Met Police

Efe's daughter Sarah, who was back home from university, also escaped the burning house after raising the alarm.

The apparent target of the attack - Joel's older brother - was not at home. The murder probe is yet to find the culprit.

Efe told ITV News police were made aware of the threat to her eldest son after the shooting incident.

Gwenton Sloley, a former Lewisham Council serious violence adviser, told ITV News that threats to the family were discussed at meeting of the council, police and probation service 10 days before the fire and said he had expected action was going to be taken.

Former Lewisham Council serious violence adviser Gwenton Sloley said he expected action would be taken. Credit: ITV News

But he said: "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."

Efe told ITV News the family had also approached the probation services themselves only four days before the fire.

Lewisham Council last month announced a child death review will be held into Joel's killing, days after it emerged the family had been known to social services before the fire.

Efe said the internal review is "not enough".

Efe Urhie said the family's home should have been fitted with a panic alarm and a fire-proof letterbox. Credit: ITV News

She said: "If there was other protection that they could have put in place for me, or at least let me know that my house was a target or something like that, I would have made an arrangement to protect myself."

She said the family's home should have been fitted with a panic alarm and a fire-proof letterbox if they were recognised at risk.

A photograph of Joel in a fireman's outfit and yellow hat became a tragic image in the coverage of the fire, which took six fire engines and a crew of 35 an hour-and-a-half to contain.

The photo of Joel Urhie in his fireman's outfit became a tragic image in the fire coverage. Credit: Family handout

The family also shared video of him learning to ride a bike as his cousin told ITV News he was "like sunshine after rain", a little boy who was "always happy and always made others around him happy".

Efe said she and Joel were so "inseparable" people referred to him as her "handbag" because he was always by her side.

Five months on from his death, she speaks proudly of the "academically brilliant" young boy who aspired to be a doctor and loved Sunday School, leading bible study at the age of seven.

But her final memories are now of their last exchanges after her daughter Sarah raised the alarm in the middle of the night as flames spread through the house.

The fire at the Urhie property took six fire engines and a crew of 35 an hour-and-a-half to contain.

She and Joel had gone upstairs in the night after he needed the toilet, having been previously both sleeping downstairs on the hot summer night.

"I was by the first window, he was by the second window, so he just stood there and he said, 'Mum what are we going to do?'"

Efe said she quickly made a plan to jump out of the window first in order to cushion Joel's fall, so he didn't hurt himself landing on the concrete below.

"I said 'you know what I’m going to jump down and I’ll be down waiting for you so if you jump on me'. So he said 'ok'.

"He said 'Mummy I love you'. I said 'I love you too' but I said 'we'll make it together' and he said 'ok that's fine'."

Joel Urhie hoped to be a doctor. Credit: Family handout

She will never know for sure why he did not follow her but reckons his acute "sense of danger" through autism may have held him back despite the greater impending threat from the flames.

"I think he must have been thinking that if he jumped he was going to hurt himself, that's why he did not jump," she said.

Efe fractured her elbow and pelvis in two places in the fall but didn't realise the extent of her injuries at the time.

She just remembers, "I did not get up off the floor. I was on the floor a long time still waiting for him."

Efe Urhie fractured her elbow and pelvis in two places jumping out of the first floor window.

She soon realised Joel wasn't coming out as the flames engulfed the top floor.

"I was screaming, 'My son! My son! Help, help! My son is in the room, help! Help!' But by the time they finally came it was too late."

Efe spent more than 15 weeks in hospital recovering from the injuries she suffered escaping her home, to which she has still not returned.

She was left with nothing but the camisole and knickers she was wearing when she jumped out of the bedroom window.

But it is the devastating loss of her youngest child which she said she will never recover from.

Efe Urhie said she still dreams that Joel will walk through her door and say, 'Mum, I was playing hide and seek'. Credit: Family handout

"I was more or less dead. Because he means so much to me," she said. "If you divide me into four parts, three parts is dead. Three parts of me is dead."

Efe said she still retains her faith in God and said: "I know Joel is in a better place but I didn't want him to go that soon."

She poignantly added: "I'm still feeling maybe it's a dream, one day he will walk through the door and say 'Mum, I was playing hide and seek'."

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: "...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."