Care Staff Raised Liam Safety Fears
31 May 2016, 14:03
A number of people had expressed concern about Liam Fee's health and wellbeing during his short life.
During evidence at the trial of Liam's mother Rachel Trelfa and her partner Nyomi Fee, it emerged childminder Heather Farmer alerted a care watchdog over fears the toddler was being hurt by someone.
The witness, who looked after Liam at her home in Fife from July 2012 until January the following year, was in tears as she told the court she had been so worried about him that she could not sleep.
She called the Scottish Childminding Association and the Care Inspectorate over her concerns after he turned up with scratches and bruises to his face, just days after arriving with a bruised head and legs which his mother had said he obtained from falling out of his cot.
She told Trelfa about alerting the care watchdog and social services but the couple brought him back the next day. She later told them she could not look after Liam any more.
The couple then enrolled Liam into a private nursery in Kirkcaldy to attend two days a week.
He started at the Sunshine Nursery in March 2013 but staff soon started noticing bruises and recorded the incidents using paper diagrams.
Manager Kimberly Trail said Trelfa told them he was "nipping himself'' and added that she thought her son had autism.
But more injuries were appearing on the toddler, including a bruised bottom, swollen lip, black eye and bruising to his ears and nails.
By June, staff had contacted social services with their concerns before an angry Fee withdrew Liam from the nursery.
Another concerned woman who knew the couple said she had contacted social workers after she saw them outside a shop in Fife in September 2013 and thought the toddler looked "deathly''.
Patricia Smith said something "felt wrong'' when she spotted Liam sitting in his buggy with a blanket over his head.
"The stillness. There was something deathly about it. He was too still. It was very strange,'' she said.
"I didn't know if he was drugged or dead.''
She said the incident had happened when she was on her lunch break and on returning to her office she phoned social work.
On day 15 of the trial, the court heard from a senior social worker who admitted Liam had dropped "off the radar'' for a period of time.
Karen Pedder, a team manager with child protection at Fife Council, dealt with concerns about Liam in 2013.
She spoke about a meeting with social work, police and health representatives to discuss the toddler after concerns were raised by the childminder about an injury.
A social worker and police officer were sent to the couple's home in January that year but Ms Pedder, 45, said a ''plausible'' explanation had been given that Liam had ``bumped his head'' and there was no criminal action taken.
The social worker who had been dealing with the case then went off sick in April and it was not looked at again until there was a contact made by the nursery in June, she said.
Questioning another witness, defence QC Mark Stewart told the court there had been "ongoing social work awareness and contact with the family'' from January 2013 through to the time Liam died, none of which resulted in action being taken against the couple.
Senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Rory Hamilton said outside court that while police had dealings with the pair in relation to previous convictions for minor offences, he was not aware of any issues after they had moved to Fife.
Asked about the police accompanying a social worker to the address in 2013, Detective Supt Gary Cunningham, of Police Scotland's Major Investigation Team in East Scotland, said it would be a matter for the local division.
Commenting on whether he thought there had been failings in the abuse not being stopped sooner, he said: "That's not really for us to comment on whether we thought there were failings or not.
"There's maybe a separate process that division could look at, but from a major investigation team stance we got brought in following the death of this child.''
He added: "Social work and the police in general have a lot of strategies in place to ensure the safety of children.
"It is upsetting and horrific when unfortunately and very occasionally these cases do surface where we see children being abused and I think everybody in the community has a focus, and should have a focus, on child protection, raising any reports when they think children are at risk.
"Then we will all be in a better position to ensure that children are better protected and we can intervene to ensure justice is done when we have individuals that do target children.''