Devon

Dartmoor family deaths were 'unpreventable'

Katherine Hooper, Joshua and Samuel Image copyright Hooper family
Image caption Katherine Hooper with Joshua, who died in the fall, and Samuel who was found dead at the family home

The deaths of a mother and her son when she jumped from rocks on Dartmoor in Devon could not have been prevented, a report has found.

Katherine Hooper, 24, and Joshua Patterson, five, died after falling 80ft (24m) at Haytor in July 2013.

An official report into the deaths found social services could not have done anything to prevent the tragedy but admitted "gaps in the system".

The body of Ms Hooper's son Samuel, two, was found at the family home.


Key findings

  • Children were looked after by foster carers from 28 April 2013 to 17 May 2013
  • Mother not eligible for counselling while court case against partner was pending
  • Review described Ms Hooper as "loving, caring and competent mother"
  • Social services under pressure to meet "ever increasing demands"

The coroner at the inquest held in Torquay in September 2014, found Ms Hooper took her own life, Joshua was unlawfully killed and recorded an open verdict on Samuel.

Pathologists have been unable to establish the cause of Samuel's death, despite a post-mortem examination.

Management scrutiny

A report by Torbay Safeguarding Children Board said there was no evidence to suggest action by social services would have led to a different outcome.

Image caption Haytor is one of Dartmoor's most famous landmarks

It said even friends and family saw no signs that could have warned what was about to happen.

Members of the family told the report's authors Ms Hooper "was in fear that if she did not do what was expected of her, her children might be taken back into the care of the local authority".

The report also highlighted issues raised over management scrutiny and different services not working as closely together as they should.

Vanessa Ford, interim director of nursing and practice at Devon Partnership NHS Trust, said: "The safeguarding board concludes that these deaths could not have been avoided and that all of the agencies involved were doing their best for a family they cared about.

"While this is true, it is clear that there were gaps in the system.

Image copyright SWNS.com
Image caption Katherine Hooper with her son Samuel

"We continue to work hard with GPs, the police and other health and social care providers in Torbay to address these gaps and to minimise the chances of anything like this happening again."

The serious case review said the children were looked after by foster carers, following "a domestic incident", from 28 April 2013 to 17 May 2013 before returning to their mother's full time care.

Ms Hooper's partner Neil Patterson had denied assaulting Ms Hooper in April and charges against him were dropped in August 2013.

The report stated: "To family, friends and professionals she appeared to be coping well, there were no concerns that she would self harm or that she posed any risk to the children."

'Ever increasing demands'

The report's authors spoke with Ms Hooper's family including Mr Patterson.

The report said: "The first and overriding message was that the children's mother was a loving, caring and competent mother, who in her normal life would do anything to protect her children."

The review highlighted the pressure and "ever increasing demands" placed on social services faced with cutbacks.

The report said: "As such the review has identified areas where inter-agency and single agency work could have worked more effectively.

"This is a tragic case for all those that it has touched, but even where there are gaps in service delivery, these tragic deaths do not appear to have been predictable or preventable."

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