Coroner to raise concerns over two-year-old’s ‘avoidable’ death

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A toddler’s death “probably would have been avoided” if police, social services and health chiefs had not returned him into an “unsafe environment”, a coroner has said.

Two-year-old Joshua Jones, from Runcorn, Cheshire, died on November 6 2007. His mother’s boyfriend, Wayne Davenport, was jailed for six years in 2009 after he was convicted of manslaughter.

Davenport’s trial heard that he spent months punishing the toddler and unleashing a horrific catalogue of abuse on the boy.

Joshua’s mother, Nichola Bowman, was convicted of causing or allowing her son’s death and was given a suspended sentence.

Following a five-day inquest at Warrington Town Hall, the coroner for Cheshire, Nicholas Rheinberg, yesterday recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. He said: “Joshua’s death on November 6 2007 probably would have been avoided if the three agencies concerned with his safety (Warrington and District General Hospital, Cheshire Police and Halton Borough Council) had taken steps which did not involve returning him to an unsafe environment.”

The inquest heard that Joshua was taken to Warrington General Hospital on October 26 2007 by his mother and grandmother, Michelle Littlemore, with a broken arm and a “constellation of other injuries”, including bruises to his back and penis.

Despite the injuries “ringing alarm bells” with numerous doctors, social workers and police officers, after six nights in hospital Joshua was allowed back into his mother’s care.

Bowman, who had come up with three different stories to explain Joshua’s injuries, lied to social workers about her new boyfriend Davenport – saying that he was not living with them, the inquest was told.

The inquest heard that both Dr Rachel Webb, consultant paediatrician at Warrington Hospital, and social worker Vikki Irons took the mother at her word and full checks on Davenport were not carried out. Mr Rheinberg was critical of the quality of information that was brought to the two “strategy meetings” held by the three agencies regarding Joshua’s safety.

He said a “proper investigation” would have informed the meetings that Joshua’s injuries were “non-accidental” and that alternative care arrangements “were necessary in the interests of Joshua’s safety”. The coroner said he accepted that lessons had been learned, particularly at Cheshire Police, but added he would be writing to Halton Borough Council and Warrington Hospital.

Bowman’s mother, Michelle Littlemore, said later that her daughter had “taken responsibility” for what happened “on her own shoulders” and said she hoped the agencies involved would do the same.