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Gemma Hayter: Case Review Results

November 14, 2011

Care workers and other agencies missed a number of chances to intervene in the case of a vulnerable young disabled woman who was beaten and killed by a group of people she considered close friends, a serious case review has concluded.

While the report found no evidence that 27-year-old Gemma Hayter’s murder could have been predicted, an overall lack of thoroughness and information-sharing led to “a number of missed opportunities” to find out what was happening more generally in her life and the company she was keeping.

The verdict of the review, set up by Warwickshire county council, mirrors that of recent investigations into the deaths of vulnerable people who endured crimes motivated by their disability. In 2009 an inquest severely criticised police and social services for failing to properly investigate the circumstances of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her severely disabled daughter, Francecca, in a burning car after the family suffered years of abuse from local youths.

Hayter, who had a rare congenital disorder that caused a significant learning disability, was found dead on a disused railway embankment in August 2010. A trial in September heard she had been forced to drink urine from a beer can, beaten with a mop and stripped before being left for dead. Two men and a woman were jailed for life for her murder, with two others sentenced for manslaughter. Hayter had considered all five to be her friends.

The independent chair of the case review, Kathy McAteer, said in conclusion that better support for Hayter could have made her “less likely to fall into the company of people who presented her with serious risks”. None of the agencies involved with her case knew the details of her relationship with the five killers.

There had been clear evidence that Hayter was susceptible to abuse, as it was known she had suffered “mate crime” regularly over some time, McAteer added, although none of this was carried out previously by the five.

She said: “No single agency had a full picture of what was happening in Gemma’s life: there were a number of missed opportunities for initiating safeguarding procedures, assessments or other interventions and for agencies to share information.

“Gemma wanted friends and a social life and this case raises wider issues nationally about community safety for single adults who may be vulnerable to disability-based harassment, hate or ‘mate’ crime and exploitation.”

Hayter’s family said they had constantly asked for help. In a statement, they said: “We are devastated both with the findings, and that such negligence on the part of some of the agencies could and did happen. We thank those agencies who did listen and act, in fact, bent over backwards to try and help Gemma. If they had been listened to, perhaps Gemma would not have been in the position she found herself in when she died.

“We hope the recommendations put forward by this review will be put into place and adhered to, and that in future no other adult or child, their families or carers will have to suffer the worries and fears that we have had to for the past 27 years. If this review does not help others in the same position, it would only make Gemma’s death even more pointless.”

Warwickshire county council has apologised, saying it hopes to learn lessons from the report and has already made changes, including restructuring adult disability services and new guidance for helping vulnerable people where there is no formal diagnosis for their condition.

Wendy Fabbro, head of care services at the council, said: “While the report has found that Gemma’s murder could not have been prevented, we are sorry that Gemma did not receive more support to help her live a better life. We apologise sincerely for the failings identified in the report and are determined to do everything we can to work with other agencies and the community to improve the safeguarding of vulnerable adults.

“This complex case raises the challenge for all local authorities on how to safeguard vulnerable adults who have the right to make their own decisions and may not always accept support.”

Charities have warned repeatedly that police and social services too often fail to take account of the unique vulnerabilities of people with learning disabilities, or do not treat reports of disability hate crime with sufficient seriousness. Mencap launched a three-year campaign on the issue in June after a study found many disabled people simply did not bother reporting crimes to the police.

In September a report by the government’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that the harassment or assault of physically and mentally disabled people is virtually endemic and that many victims treat it as almost inevitable.

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