Authorities ‘underestimated’ risks posed by man who killed sister at North Wales caravan park
A man who choked his ‘kind’ sister to death after an argument at a caravan park had previously stabbed her with scissors and authorities ‘underestimated’ the risk he posed to family members, a review has found.
Matthew Selby, now 20, killed his 15-year-old sister Amanda in a caravan at the Ty Mawr Holiday Park in Towyn, Conwy county, in July 2021
Earlier this month the Court of Appeal increased the time Selby, from Ashton-under-Lyne, must serve in prison to life. He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility in December.
The court in London heard the siblings had been on holiday with their father when they returned to their caravan after a trip and began arguing.
Selby, who is autistic and has intermittent explosive disorder, which causes aggressive outbursts, lunged at his sister after she hit him with a plug, causing a minor injury to his bottom lip. She then fell to the floor between two beds in the room before Selby began choking her.
A review of the events leading up to Amanda’s death by the Tameside Safeguarding Children Partnership found that there were a number of missed opportunities over three years that may have identified ‘escalating risk’ in relation to Selby.
Despite a spate of violent incidents over a decade, children’s social care had closed the family’s case in 2018.
The safeguarding panel concluded it was concerned the case was closed ‘too soon’ and there was ‘complacency’ among agencies that Selby’s behaviour had ‘settled’.
The review also found that physical harm to Amanda did not appear to have been fully risk assessed, and there were ‘missed opportunities’ in relation to safeguarding concerns around her mental and physical health.
Additionally, delays in securing Selby’s autism diagnosis affected the amount of ‘appropriate’ support that could be provided to the family.
A history of violent outbursts
The Selby family and both Amanda and Matthew Selby had been known to various agencies since 2008.
For four years agencies had shared concerns with children’s social care in respect of Selby’s escalating violent and aggressive behaviours’ but this led to no further action from social services, the panel stated.
He had been expelled from primary school when he was eight years old for his aggressive behaviour.
Selby was known to be violent, having assaulted a member of staff at school in 2012, and becoming increasingly intimidating and aggressive at home towards his mother which led to a referral to children’s social care.
He stabbed his sister with scissors three years later, which resulted in both children being subject to a child protection plan.
Droylsden Academy student Amanda, who was described during the review as a ‘very kind and quiet person’ was identified as being a young carer for her mum who has a chronic illness and mobility issues.
The panel found that Amanda had grown up in a home where ‘violence and aggressive behaviours’ had been present and where all family members had been physically harmed by her brother on ‘many occasions’.
However the family believed that Selby had a positive relationship with his sister and mother, and his violence was part of his autism spectrum disorder.
But the family subsequently agreed to separate, with Amanda and her mother moving out of the family home in 2017, and Selby remaining with his father as a way to reduce further harm.
However both sides of the family remained in contact, and the ‘risk of harm remained’. The following year, children’s social services closed the case and did not put any further restrictions in place about contact.
“When the case was closed in 2018 agencies recognised that the risk of abuse remained and the panel felt the risks posed by [Selby] were underestimated,” the review team states.
Missed referrals to social care
Selby’s behaviour continued to cause concern for authorities from 2018 to 2021, with two referrals being made to social services from different agencies, but the review found no evidence these were ‘actioned’.
“The panel agreed that concerns should have been raised to secure multi-agency involvement,” it states.
In early 2020 a GP stated that the family had reported Selby was still ‘hitting his father about five to six times’ a day, and that it was ‘normal’ for his son to be violent towards him.
However this level of violence was not apparently assessed, and there was no evidence of these concerns being shared with children’s social services – which they would have warranted, the panel said – even despite the impact of Covid-19 restrictions at the time.
Problems with support for autism
Selby was not diagnosed with autism until he was 17, despite having had ongoing assessment for autism since his childhood.
There was ‘considerable delay’ in identifying the need for an autism assessment, which may have affected access by the family to appropriate support, the panel found.
Although he was signposted to other services which may have been able to offer help and support, the uptake of these were ‘minimal, his family said, because he had difficulty reading and writing and did not always understand how services could help.
The panel recommended that the support being given to children and young adults with autism diagnoses be improved, especially as there was a ‘clear gap’ once children’s services stopped aged 16 before adult support began at 18.
“Once diagnosis is made there appears to be little provision of care and support in Tameside for individuals to help them overcome difficulties in their behaviour caused by autism,” the review states.
“There is a need to identify a service which would be able to respond to specific needs of children with an autism diagnosis rather than trying to make traditional services fit.”
Work is ongoing by the local authority to address the concerns raised, which were also reflected within an inspection of its Special Educational Needs and Disability services by Ofsted, the panel said.
The review also found that there was a focus on the physical abuse perpetrated by Selby which was addressed through domestic abuse routes and procedure, rather than being viewed as part of his ‘inability to control emotions and hitting out’ as part of his autism diagnosis.
“The family have since confirmed that they also believed that there was a lack of understanding of the needs of the family and would have liked more interventions to have been available to address the underlying causes of [Selby’s] violent behaviours,” the panel stated.
The family had also told the review that although they recognised ‘problems within their family’, they also believed that their children had some ‘positive experience of their childhoods including regular holidays and a family who cared and loved them’.
A substantial number of recommendations have been made by the Tameside Safeguarding Children Partnership following Amanda’s death and Selby’s conviction.
This includes a new task force to address transitional care between adult and children’s services and that ‘robust’ procedures should be put in place when closing social care cases.
Greater Manchester Police has also been asked to provide assurance that there are robust systems for recording, identifying and referring child protection concerns.
On March 8 the Court of Appeal ruled that Selby’s prison time should be increased to life with a three-year, four-month minimum term, minus time served. He will now have to have his case considered by the Parole Board before he can be released from prison.
By Charlotte Green – Local Democracy Reporter
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