What happened to Hakeem Hussain in Birmingham and how did he die?

Hakeem had inhaled tobacco smoke in the hours before his death, having also been exposed to heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis through second-hand smoke. Credit: Family photo

A review into the death of Hakeem Hussain has found there were failures in the opportunities to intervene and prevent his death.

Hakeem was found dead in a freezing garden after an asthma attack in November 2017.

His mother, Laura Heath, 40, formerly of Long Acre, NechellsBirmingham was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence of her son, who died at the home of a friend where his mother had been staying.

Heath had previously admitted four counts of child cruelty ahead of a three-week trial at Coventry Crown Court, including failing to provide proper medical supervision and exposing Hakeem to class A drugs.

The court heard that two days before Hakeem's death, social workers voted to act to protect Hakeem at a child protection conference.

The meeting ended with an agreement that the family's social worker would speak to Heath on Monday - by which time Hakeem was dead.

One of Hakeem’s blue inhalers had been rigged as a crack pipe by Heath Credit: West Midlands Police/PA

Timeline: What happened the night before Hakeem died?

Heath told police she had smoked three bags of heroin – two before Hakeem went to bed at 10.30pm and one afterwards - leaving her in a drug-induced sleep.

Toxicology evidence put before the court proved Hakeem had inhaled tobacco smoke in the hours before his death, having also been exposed to heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis through second-hand smoke.

What happened to Hakeem Hussain and how did he die?

Hakeem died "gasping for air" while lying in a garden without his inhaler at 7.37am on Sunday 26 November 2017. He was described as "frail" and his death "preventable".

Were social services aware of Hakeem before he died?

During the trial at Coventry Crown Court, it emerged that social services in Birmingham were aware of Hakeem before his death. And just two days before his fatal collapse a school nurse told a child protection conference that "he could die at the weekend".

The head of Birmingham Children's Trust, which took over child services in 2018, said following the trial that there were "clear missed opportunities" in social services' handling of the case.

'His death was needless'

Passing sentence on Heath, Mr Justice Dove said the death of Hakeem in November 2017 was the result of her "catastrophic and deplorable" parenting.

The judge told 40-year-old Heath, who was ordered to serve two-thirds of her sentence before becoming eligible for parole, that the death had occurred after her life "entered a drug-fuelled downward spiral into squalor, chaos and tragedy".

The judge said: "When Hakeem Hussain died in the early hours of the morning he was only seven years old.

"It is clear that in his tragically short life he had been an inspiration of happiness and affection for people who knew him.

"All of that potential for a wonderful and fulfilling life was cut short, extinguished as he collapsed on his own suffocating, clutching a leaf in the garden.

"The truth is that Hakeem died as a result of your deplorable negligence.

"You had allowed your life to be completely overtaken by your addiction to heroin and cocaine.

"His death was needless, tragic and a result of your abject failure as his mother."

Laura Heath's drug addiction had got worse in the months leading up to her son Hakeem's death Credit: West Midlands Police

How has the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Panel responded to the review?

In a statement, the independent chair of the panel, Penny Thompson said: "On behalf of the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Partnership I want to start by expressing the sincere sadness felt by all partners at the awful death of Hakeem, almost five years ago.

"The passage of time has not damped down our feelings, but it has given us time to genuinely reflect, inquire and learn from the events of Hakeem’s often sad life and untimely and unnecessary death in 2017.

"We have used the time to act on that learning. As we know, Hakeem’s mother is now serving a very long prison sentence for the manslaughter through neglect of her seven-year-old son.

"However, through the Serious Case Review we have learnt that all those organisations and individuals who came into professional contact with Hakeem could and should have done better. Once again, we have a tragedy of a child dying from asthma.

Ms Thompson continues: "This is not inevitable or acceptable. Clearly Hakeem’s mother should have provided much better care for his serious condition.

"Now, asthma sufferers should have an Individual Asthma Management plan which is reviewed annually by an experienced clinician.

"With the benefit of hindsight, the extent of Hakeem’s neglect was there to be seen well before the decision to place him on a Child Protection Plan two days before his death.

"It is horrendous that Hakeem unhappiness and fear of repeated asthma attacks, some of which required hospital admissions, and the marked reduction in his attendance and performance at school, did not trigger more effective intervention."

Ms Thompson adds: "In the intervening five years since Hakeem’s death in 2017, a lot has changed.

"All agencies acted quickly to improve their own practice and embed emerging learning from the review, whilst finalisation of the review and publication was delayed until the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

"There has also been significant developments and improvement in services for children and families in Birmingham, with the Police, NHS and Local Authority now having equal statutory leadership responsibility for the multi-agency safeguarding arrangement through the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Partnership."