Vale of Glamorgan social workers are now under scrutiny following the murder conviction and sentencing yesterday of Matthew Scully-Hicks – the gay adoptive father of an 18-month-old baby girl called Elsie.
Child care experts say that in by-gone years the adoption of a baby girl by two homosexual men would have been illegal, but times have changed and such arrangements – although still not common – are now provided for under the law.
The murder trial heard that Matthew Scully-Hicks had undergone months of training, assessment and meetings before he and his male “husband” were allowed to adopt baby Elsie.
However the adoption – in September 2015 – sealed the fate of the little girl who sustained a string of injuries whilst the “care” of Matthew Scully-Hicks.
- November 5 2015 – Elsie suffers a leg injury. On November 12 an X-ray shows she has fractured her leg above her right ankle.
- December 16 2015 – Elsie suffers a bruise to her head, near her left eye. 5 days later Matthew Scully-Hicks is told by a Health Visitor to get it checked. There’s no evidence he ever did so.
- January 18 2016 – Elsie suffers another bruise to her head.
- March 10 2016 – Elsie is taken to hospital after allegedly “falling down the stairs”.
- April 26 2016 – Elsie is taken to the GP after developing a squint and on May 6 goes to the Children’s Clinic at St David’s Hospital but is released back into the care of Matthew Scully-Hicks.
- May 25, 2016 6.18pm Matthew Scully-Hicks calls 999 reporting Elsie is “unresponsive”. She is taken back to hospital where she is found to have bleeding in her brain and eyes, a fractured skull and fractured ribs. The following day her condition deteriorates and on May 29th her ventilator is switched off.
- November 6th 2017 Matthew Scully-Hicks is convicted of murder and on November 7th is sentenced to life imprisonment
Before, during and throughout the whole series of events, social workers and health-care professionals were being consulted and all the required “checks” and “appraisals” were carried out on the male couple and found to be satisfactory.
These included criminal records checks, medical examinations, social services checks and local authority checks. The adoption case had been reviewed by two social workers and then formally approved by Vale of Glamorgan Adoption in July 2015.
Now, in the wake of 18-month-old Elsie’s murder, a so-called “Child Practice Review” is to be carried out by Cardiff and Vale Regional Child Safeguarding Board.
Academics have already expressed doubt as to whether this forthcoming 12 month investigation into the conduct of the case by social services and professionals is likely to come up with any useful recommendations. One law lecturer is quoted as saying that the review “may not find anything to sign post towards better practice”. Another lecturer says “there are no guaranteed risk-free interventions.”
Other commentators however take a different view. One lawyer told a PDN source: “In cases like this what emerges is a politically-correct culture in which people tick the boxes but don’t join the dots. What seems to have been called for in this case was the application of some basic common-sense.”
The natural family of baby Elsie have told Sky News she would still be alive today if she had not been removed from their care. Elsie had originally been named Shayla O’Brien – but her real parents said they were not informed of their daughter’s death until 8 months after she had been killed by Matthew Scully-Hicks.
Elsie’s natural grandmother, Sian O’Brien, told reporters “We all continue to fight on even though every day we are numb with pain and hurt deep in the knowledge that Shayla was loved unconditionally by us all as a family and knowing that had she not been taken away from us, she would still be alive today.” Ms O’Brien said that at the time of Elsie’s birth, her real mother – Ms O’Brien’s daughter – “was not in a position to care for Shayla and she was removed from the hospital five days after birth by Social Services”.
Ms O’Brien said “A person who had been deemed by the authorities to be a fit and proper person to bring up my granddaughter was responsible for her death, and they took her from me – telling me I would be unable to cope.”