Joe Pooley: Vulnerable man's killer should have been recalled to prison, Suffolk coroner concludes

  • Tanya Mercer of ITV News Anglia was at court to hear the coroner's damning conclusions

A vulnerable man with learning difficulties was unlawfully killed by a man who should have been in prison, a coroner has concluded.

Suffolk coroner Jacqueline Devonish criticised the police, the probation service and social services as she recorded her verdict into the death of Joe Pooley.

She revealed one of those convicted of the 22-year-old's murder had a history of violence, had breached the terms of his release from prison and should have been recalled before the murder.

Afterwards Joe's mum, Sam Nicholls said she was disgusted by what she heard at the inquest.

"I felt like [the inquest was] two weeks of people trying to avoid the blame, avoid accepting responsibility, just ducking everything and pushing it to other people," she told ITV News Anglia.

She said her son had been "failed for years" and she always feared he was "going to be bullied to death", describing how she pleaded with authorities to try to get help for him.

"We should have been working together but it never felt like that, it always felt like me against them and Joe suffered because of it," said Ms Nicholls.

"If they had done things differently he could - and should - be here.

"It was always going to happen. It was only a matter of time."

  • 'He was being failed up until he died... Joe was never safe'

Joe Pooley had suspected autism and ADHD but had never received a formal diagnosis.

He was living without the adult care or supervision he needed and was repeatedly bullied and exploited, the inquest in Ipswich heard.

He was first reported missing on Friday, 10 August 2018. The following Monday, 13 August, his body was discovered in the River Gipping near London Road in Ipswich.

A police investigation discovered that he had been lured to a meeting by his attackers on the night he died, where he was plied with alcohol and then thrown in the river and held under water.

Left to right: Becki West-Davidson; Sebastian Smith; and Sean Palmer Credit: Suffolk Police

In May 2021 three people - Becki West-Davidson, Sean Palmer, and Sebastian Smith, who at the time was known as Luke Greenland - were jailed for a total of 56 years between them for the killing.

At the time, Greenland had been released from prison on licence, but had removed his electronic tag and should have been recalled to prison.

The court heard that because of individual failings in the Probation Service, Greenland had failed to be recalled. 

In her conclusion of unlawful killing, coroner Jacqueline Devonish referred to his history of violent offending, and said the failure to recall Greeland to prison had "more than minimally, negligibly or trivially on balance of probability" contributed to Joe Pooley’s death.

In response to the coroner's findings the Ministry of Justice said it had already made changes.

“We have put new safeguards and extra management checks in place to ensure the recall process is strictly followed and to improve information sharing between probation and police," said a spokesman.

The court also heard about the findings of the safeguarding review following Mr Pooley’s death.

Among the issues raised were failures to serve his long-term needs and prevent issues escalating, the delays in getting him the accommodation he needed and not proactively raising an inquiry into his safeguarding. 

After the inquest, Georgia Chimbani, Suffolk County Council’s director of adult and community services said: “I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Joe’s family, friends and all those who were affected by his tragic murder. 

"Justice has been served and the individuals responsible are serving lengthy prison sentences.  

"Suffolk County Council fully accepts all recommendations made in the Safeguarding Adults Review and will ensure to include any further actions which the coroner may decide.

"This has been a shocking incident and we will continue to make improvements to provide safer and supportive services for people like Joe.”

Suffolk Police said: “We acknowledge and will review the findings of the inquest and careful consideration will be given to seeing if we can make any improvements to our policies and procedures as consequence of this tragic case.

"Our sympathies remain with Joe’s family for their loss.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know