Keanu Williams case: 'I hated myself as I stood by her'
- 14 November 2013
- From the section UK
The two photos of a smiling, cheerful Keanu Williams are the only reminders of the little boy Tara Collins knew.
"He was loveable, a very happy little boy, very cheerful. I can still hear his laugh," she said, before breaking down at the thought of the boy she says she loved like a son.
She first met Keanu and his mother, Rebecca Shuttleworth, when they were both living in a mother-and-baby unit in Devon. The two young women formed a strong bond.
"She seemed like an OK mum, a doting mum. There wasn't anything that made me think that she wasn't doing anything that she should have been doing," Ms Collins said.
Shuttleworth left the unit in 2009 and moved to Birmingham. She kept in regular contact with Ms Collins, returning to visit her several times in Devon and telling her about her new boyfriend, Luke Southerton.
In January 2011 Ms Collins received shocking news from another friend.
"My friend basically mentioned to me that Keanu had been killed and they had believed that it was down to Becky and Luke Southerton. I didn't believe it at first," she told Radio 4's The Report programme.
Shuttleworth was arrested and charged with the murder of her son. While she was on remand, Ms Collins said, the two friends resumed contact.
"I told her I knew what had happened, I'd seen what had happened and I wanted to know her side of the story. And she said it was all Luke. She blamed everything on Luke. She promised me, swore it wasn't her."
When the detectives investigating Keanu's murder found out about Ms Collins's connection to Keanu, they visited her to take a statement.
During this interview a police officer told her about some of the injuries inflicted on Keanu, which she said were far worse than she had imagined.
"She said that he'd had a fist mark to the stomach as if Rebecca or Luke had punched him or winded him," she said.
"A tramline crack or something across the skull as if he'd been repeatedly smacked with a rod or a cane. My stomach turned."
Shuttleworth managed to convince Ms Collins these horrific injuries had been inflicted by Southerton.
Ms Collins believed her and gave character evidence for her friend at her trial this year.
In June, Shuttleworth was convicted of murder and given a life sentence with a minimum term of 18 years.
Southerton was convicted of child cruelty.
Recalling this was clearly traumatic for Ms Collins, and not for the first time in our discussion she was reduced to sobs.
"I felt sick. I hated myself because I'd stood by her," she said, clutching a thin, fraying tissue.
"I was lied to, manipulated. She sat there and lied to my face in court, promised me she didn't do nothing to him."
A serious case review into Keanu's death was published last month. It found there had been "significant failures by all agencies to protect Keanu".
It said Keanu had become an "invisible child". As late as November 2010, just months before his death, he was brought to A&E with a head injury and hair loss and described as "a well-cared-for child".
The serious case review recommended Birmingham City Council conducted a fundamental assessment of its front-line child protection.
This thrust the authority's already-beleaguered children's services back into the spotlight and was followed soon after by a scathing attack on the council by the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who called its children's services "a national disgrace".
Ofsted is due to conduct a detailed review into Birmingham children's social care in the next few weeks.
It will look at what progress the council has made since the appointment in July of Peter Hay as director of children's services. The review could result in the service being placed under central government control.
A council source said even if this was not the case, in the future "it won't just be our hands on the tiller".
Back at her home in Devon, Ms Collins is angry she was duped by Shuttleworth and how she had managed to do the same with social workers, police and health staff in Birmingham.
"Social services should have seen something," she said.
"If I'd seen anything personally, I would have said something because he still might be here today."