Claims made about drowned toddler

TRAGIC toddler Emily Wilkinson was spotted alone at a Christmas carol service in the months before her death, it has been revealed.A meeting set up to scrutinise the events that led up to the death of 22-month-old girl heard how residents in Great Bradley, near Haverhill, had seen the youngster walking around the village unaccompanied by an adult on numerous occasions.

By Danielle Nuttall

TRAGIC toddler Emily Wilkinson was spotted alone at a Christmas carol service in the months before her death, it has been revealed.

A meeting set up to scrutinise the events that led up to the death of 22-month-old girl heard how residents in Great Bradley, near Haverhill, had seen the youngster walking around the village unaccompanied by an adult on numerous occasions.

The information was revealed to Suffolk County Council's caring and protecting scrutiny committee yesterday by Clare councillor Leslie Warmington.


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Mr Warmington said he had learnt of the various sightings by members of the community after the youngster's death but said it was only anecdotal evidence.

He said: "The child had been seen walking around the area on many occasions. At a carol singing expedition in the village at Christmas all the local children were there with parents. Emily was there on her own with no supervision at all."

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Emily drowned in a pond in her grandmother's garden in Great Bradley in February 2003 and her parents, Richard and Karen Wilkinson, who had allowed her to wander off, were subsequently jailed for her manslaughter and a string of child cruelty convictions.

After a damaging report showed that a catalogue of social service failures had preceded Emily's death, the scrutiny committee was asked to discuss the case history at yesterday's meeting.

Cllr Patricia O'Brien said it seemed as if too much emphasis had been placed on the parents of Emily rather than the child herself.

She said: "Throughout this report what comes across really is they were looking at the sensitivities of the parents. They were regarding them. At the end of the day it's the children that need the protection."

The report into Emily's death showed that although she had been the victim of serious neglect and a lack of communication between social services in Cambridgeshire, where she had previously lived, and their Suffolk counterparts, the case not to be given the priority it deserved.

Cllr Bob Tostevin told the meeting it was as if the 'jigsaw just fell apart'.

He added: "It's terrifying when you can see something like this happening just because someone has moved beyond a border.

"There is an aspect in this that doesn't get addressed. This child drowned."

Cliff James, head of safeguarding and quality assurance for children at the council, told councillors a lot of work had been undertaken since Emily's death including the recruitment of highly-qualified staff.

He said: "One of the key aspects is children moving into the county from other authorities and I want to reassure this committee that considerable steps have been taken in terms of receiving information, contacting neighbouring authorities whenever a child moves into an authority whenever there have been issues identified.

"We do now regularly liase with neighbouring authorities. It doesn't matter where the child comes from the same process is adopted.

"We are investing a lot in terms of the development of this service. We are engaging with parents to deal with often very complex problems about the relationship between their children and making sure their needs are met.

"I am pleased to say we have been in a position to recruit highly-qualified managers to take on these roles."

Cllr Mary Crane asked whether the personal judgement of those involved with Emily's case had been right.

Responding to the question, John Gregg, head of children's services, said: "It's very easy to see with hindsight all of the information because it's available in a comprehensive report. In terms of the actual investigation, we were left with no doubt these people involved were acting in good faith.

"They were responding appropriately in going out and making visits. This is an area where it is incredibly difficult to make judgements in some cases.

"At the time Emily Wilkinson lived in Suffolk there were issues and there were obviously concerns – all of those were responded to. While we feel looking back we could have done more with the benefit of all the information available at the time, we were satisfied those involved were working appropriately given the information available to them."

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