Star Hobson: The five warning signs social services had to protect tragic one-year-old

14 December 2021, 16:12

Star was killed by her mother's partner despite numerous people raising concerns with social services
Star was killed by her mother's partner despite numerous people raising concerns with social services. Picture: West Yorkshire Police

By Daisy Stephens

Star Hobson was only 16 months old when she was killed at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

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Her mother's partner Savannah Brockhill was found guilty of her murder on Tuesday, after a court heard how the toddler was subjected to a campaign of "physical assaults and psychological harm".

Star's mother Frankie Smith was found guilty of causing or allowing her death.

Social services were aware of the family, with a number of people including Star's great-grandparents raising concerns with the local authorities - but Star was not rescued.

Here are the five warning signs the social services had in 2020 to save her.

January 23

Smith's friend Holly Jones made the first contact with social services.

She raised concerns about how much she was being asked to look after Star, as well as domestic violence between Smith and Brockhill.

Police and social workers visited Star but no concerns were raised.

At the court case, Ms Jones would tell the jury that later in the year Star accidentally bit her as she helped her eat - and Smith responded by biting her daughter's finger, making her cry.

May 4

Star's great-grandfather David Fawcett and his partner Anita Smith called social services after family members told them Brockhill was "slam-chocking" the toddler - meaning she held her by the throat and threw her onto a bed.

They were also told Brockhill was threatening to shave Star's head.

When social services visited Brockhill and Smith they were prepared, and Mr Fawcett and Ms Smith were told the social worker concluded the report was "malicious gossip" and said they would "leave it at that".

"The next thing we heard the case was closed," said Mr Fawcett.

"We weren't there.

"They never came to us.

"We never heard anything else."

June 21

Star's father, Jordan Hobson, contacted social services after David Fawcett posted a picture of Star with bruises on Facebook alongside a happier shot with the caption "From this to this in five weeks, what's going on Frankie?"

The police took Star for a hospital examination.

Smith said her daughter had hit her face on a coffee table, something the medical examination found to be consistent with Star's injuries.

June 23

Another friend of the Smith family contacted social services with concerns, but the case was closed the following month.

September 2

Another of Star's great-grandfathers, Frank Smith, contacted social services after seeing video of bruises on the youngster's face.

Social workers made an unannounced visit and were told Star had fallen down the stairs.

They closed the case on September 15, concluding the referral to be malicious.

A week later, on September 22, Star was seriously injured at the flat.

She was taken to hospital but her injuries were "utterly catastrophic" and "unsurvivable", prosecutors said, and she died shortly afterwards.

Mr Fawcett said it was "unacceptable" that the warning signs had been missed.

"Maybe you miss it with one, two... but five?" He said.

"I just find it highly unacceptable, especially as they didn't get back to us."

The Department for Education said the death of Star Hobson was "deeply disturbing" and said it would "not hesitate" to remove children's services control from Bradford Council "if necessary".

Read more: Star, 1, murdered by mum's partner after 'shambolic' social services response

A joint statement from safeguarding agencies in Bradford said they "deeply regret" missing warning signs in Star's case.

The statement was given by Marium Haque, interim director of children's services at Bradford Council, Helen Hirst, chief officer, Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group, and Bradford District Commander Chief Superintendent Sarah Jones of West Yorkshire Police.

It said: "We want to say first and foremost that we're sorry for the death of Star. This was a child's life cut cruelly short.

"Two people have been brought to answer for their crimes - one has been convicted of murder and one of causing or allowing the death of a child.

"Anyone who has followed the trial will want to know what more could have been done to help protect Star. As agencies who have a joint responsibility to protect children, this has been at the forefront of our minds. Any death of a child, wherever it happens, is one death too many, but this happened in our district, in our community and has had a devastating impact.

"We are very aware as partners that there is much that we need to learn from this case. We have already put in place actions that will improve our practice so that we learn those lessons. But we need to fully understand why opportunities to better protect Star were missed.

"We must also learn everything we can from the awful murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. A national review has been established to enable this to happen. If we can contribute our learning to this review, we will do.

"We offered support and assistance to Star's family for what we believed their needs to be, at that given time, but we all deeply regret that not all the warning signs were seen that could have led to firmer statutory enforcement action.

"A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review is being written by an independent author. This is almost complete and, now the trial is concluded, the review will be finalised and published in January 2022.

"It will provide partners and colleagues in our district and across the country with clear recommendations so we can better protect children in our care."