Months before the boys died, officials responsible for child safety were warned they needed to improve in 94 areas to prevent a tragedy like the Baby P case
Four children from the same city suffered horrific deaths within a year of each other after a series of failings by social services.
Months before the boys died, officials responsible for child safety were warned they needed to improve in 94 areas to prevent a tragedy like the Baby P case.
Yet they failed to save seven-year-old Blake Fowler, despite 18 reports to social services of violent incidents.
Details of his death in 2011 emerged in a serious case review report this week, but investigations by the Sunday Mirror found he was not the only victim.
Brothers Jayden and Bradley Adams, two and four, and three-month-old Nico Maynard were also failed by Southampton city council and other agencies.
In the next two years, eight more children slipped through the net – including a six-year-old girl who was admitted to hospital with 92 injuries and drugs in her system.
We can reveal the head of children’s services during this period was made redundant in 2013 and was awarded a pay package for that year of £227,012.
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder of ChildLine, said: “This is terrible. Tragic deaths like this happen far too often.
“Southampton will have to make changes to protect children more effectively in the future – I hope lessons have been learnt.”
In 2010, when Blake was six, a 147-page report was published outlining 94 areas where the council needed to improve.
It came after Haringey social services in North London was heavily criticised over the death of Baby P in 2007.
Recommendations – many urgent – included reducing caseloads of social workers and improving staff supervision and training.
The authority was also told it relied too heavily on agency staff to look after at-risk youngsters.
Councillor Simon Letts said at the time: “The report is trying to set Southampton on the right track so we don’t get a Baby P here.
“If there are 94 things wrong, that suggests we have to have a pretty close look at what we are doing.”
Then head of children’s services Clive Webster made assurances action was being taken, but four children were dead within a year.
Jayden and Bradley died within three months of each other in early 2011 after their mum begged social workers to take them into care.
In September that year, baby Nico died with multiple injuries after agencies failed to share information about his dad’s record of child cruelty.
And in December, Blake died from severe head injuries after years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
Mum Sarah Spacagna, 29, stepdad Peter Meek, 26, and his brother Phillip, 25, were arrested but were not charged.
An online petition calling on David Cameron to get the Crown Prosecution Service to review the case received more than 2,000 signatures in 24 hours.
It was set up by resident Claire Symonds, who said: “Blake Fowler was let down by every person who should have protected him.”
Blake’s case had chilling echoes of the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly – Baby P – in 2007.
The infant suffered 50 injuries while in the care of mum Tracey Connelly and lover Steven Barker.
Alan Wardle, of the NSPCC, said of the Southampton cases: “There’s no doubt this was a tragic period with four children dying in the space of a year.
“It’s imperative that the local authority is now doing all it can to ensure there are no more similar cases.”
A damning Ofsted report said quality of care for vulnerable youngsters in Southampton failed to meet minimum standards during the year the children died.
The report said: “Inspectors saw cases where children were exposed to risk for months and longer because of delays in recognising and responding to potentially abusive circumstances.”
Serious case reviews into all four deaths found children’s services failed to protect them. Council bosses again responded by giving assurances of sweeping reforms.
But in December 2012 a six-year-old girl from Southampton was admitted to hospital with 92 bruises and amphetamines in her urine after living with a man with a record of violence.
The child’s mother and her partner were both convicted for offences relating to the girl’s injuries and neglect.
A serious case review, published last year, revealed social services failed to correctly perform background checks on the partner after they accepted the girl’s incorrect spelling of his surname.
It came after neighbours and teachers repeatedly reported concerns.
In 2013, another case emerged of seven brothers and sisters aged six to 14 who had suffered “serious and sustained” physical and sexual abuse by their dad.
He got a long prison sentence and a serious case review again blasted the council for significant failings.
Last year inspectors said children’s services still needed to improve. Ofsted reported it was “not yet delivering good protection, help and care for children”.
It is understood no disciplinary action has been taken against council staff.
Keith Makin, of Southampton Local Safeguarding Children Board, said this week: “We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure children are safe from abuse and harm.”
We contacted Mr Webster’s PA at his new job as chief executive of Kent Catholic Schools’ Partnership, but we were told he was unavailable for comment.
The city council declined to comment.
Blake suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse before he died in December 2011.
A total of 18 incidents were reported to social services by doctors, police, extended family and anonymous tip-offs – but Southampton City Council failed to properly investigate.
This week, a damning report criticised the council’s child protection team and said: “When they did take action their responses repeatedly fell well below expected standards of practice.”
Blake was being cared for by his stepfather Peter Meek and Mr Meek’s brother Phillip when he was found unconscious at home. He died in hospital after suffering a serious head injury.
Both brothers were arrested, but were released without charge.
Last year police reopened the case, re-arresting the pair and Blake’s mother Sarah Spacagna. They decided there was insufficient evidence for charges.
Blake’s gran Jane Extance was among those to contact social services. In one case she reported what she thought was a cigarette burn on his neck. Her calls went unreturned.
Jayden and Bradley’s story
Jayden, two, died in hospital in January 2011 after suffering a cardiac arrest at home.
Within three months his four-year-old brother Bradley was also dead, after being found unconscious at home.
An inquest said their deaths were shrouded in “considerable uncertainties” and the boys led an appalling life under the care of their mother Shelley Adams.
The hearing was told how she dished out “corporal punishment” to an inappropriate and excessive extent.
Just one month before Jayden’s death, Ms Adams pleaded with social services to take her children into care because she was not capable of looking after them.
The staff convinced her she should keep going.
On one occasion she even packed their bags and announced she was sending them into care.
A serious case review published last year blasted Southampton City Council for a catalogue of serious oversights that led to the brothers’ deaths.
Social workers were criticised for missing signs that they were in a potentially harmful environment.
Among the criticism levelled at social services was the fact staff did not have the knowledge or skills to work on complex cases such as this.
The report said management was “weak” and the children’s services department was in “disarray” due to staff shortages.
It also said social services failed to make adequate checks, leading to Bradley being in the care of his mother when he died when he was supposed to be looked after by his grandmother.
The report revealed there were no pre-birth assessments carried out on Ms Adams, who has a learning disability.
This was described as a “lost opportunity” to consider her capacity as a parent.
Ms Adams did not face charges in relation to her sons’ deaths after the Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
Three-month-old Nico died after being found unconscious, face down in his Moses basket in September 2011 with a fractured skull and a broken leg.
His surviving twin sister, who was taken into care, was also found to have fractures to her leg and skull.
Their father Hamid Baldelli had previously served a year in jail for an offence against another child in a different part of the country. The victim also had fractures.
In a report on his release, Baldelli was described as “as being a massive risk to young children”.
An inquest heard a social worker had also raised concerns over his control, power and anger issues.
But social services in Southampton said they knew nothing of Baldelli’s past.
A serious case review found there was a lack of communication between agencies and there were “missed opportunities” to save him.
Neither Baldelli nor the boy’s mother Jodie Maynard were charged as the CPS said it was not possible to know who caused the injuries.