Heathfield: Deaths 'Could Not Have Been Predicted'

A serious case review into the deaths of two children who were murdered by their mother has said that their killings could not have been predicted.

The report, from the Surrey Safeguarding Children Board, into the deaths of Harry and Elise Donnison, said that although the event was extremely tragic and there were lessons to be learned, at no point could anyone have known that Fiona Donnison would "seriously harm or kill her children" and there was "no information to suggest that such an extreme act of violence was likely".

But the report did point out that social workers, police officers, teachers, doctors and nursery staff may have been influenced by Donnison's gender and class and that they should remember that "child abuse crosses all boundaries".

Former City worker Donnison, 46, from Lightwater, Surrey, was given two life sentences and ordered to serve at least 32 years behind bars in August 2011 after jurors convicted her of the murders of three-year-old Harry and two-year-old Elise.

The court heard that she had gone into Heathfield police station in East Sussex on the morning of January 27 2010 and told officers she had killed her children.

A search of the area located them in two separate holdalls in the boot of her Nissan car, which was parked in Mill Close, Cross-in-Hand, Heathfield, around the corner from Meadowside, the former family home.

Jurors at Lewes Crown Court found her unanimously guilty of murder after hearing she had smothered them with their bedding the night before as an act of revenge against their father, Paul Donnison, from whom she had separated.

The report concluded that the Surrey and East Sussex Safeguarding Children Boards should provide written guidelines to professionals, including this case, which should be distributed to all the agencies involved, including Sussex Police, NHS Trusts, children's services, social workers, teachers and nursery staff.

It said this was needed to "encourage reflection on the need to test allegations and assumptions, particularly where factors such as class and gender may be influencing responses".

The report also recommended that child protection and safeguarding procedures should be reviewed and changed if necessary, to ensure that when a child died unexpectedly, all children living in the household were assessed.

It also said better communication was needed among the schools and the nursery involved so that everyone was fully informed about the parents' relationship and the children's circumstances.

Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes said Sussex Police had taken action on the two recommendations made to Sussex Police.

He said: "The recommendations did not relate so much to specific actions taken in this case, but rather to a wider issue about our ability to handle information and make it available within the force and to partners.

"Over the past three years, our IT systems and supporting processes have developed to a stage at which we are able to operate much more effectively.

"We also note the SCR (serious case review) findings that at no point could anyone have predicted that the mother would harm or kill her children and that although there were opportunities for some agencies to seek more information, there was nothing to suggest that even had that had happened it would not have resulted in action to remove the children.

"Nevertheless, the deaths were a terrible tragedy, the ultimate responsibility for which is borne by Fiona Donnison.

"They brought grief and loss to families and friends, and the wider community.

"All agencies are committed to learning any lessons, in order to help reduce the danger of such terrible events happening in the future."

An East Sussex County Council (ESCC) spokeswoman said: "Our contact with the family in this case was very limited and very low level and we are confident we acted correctly.

"The serious case review has concluded that at no point could anyone, including ESCC, have predicted the mother would seriously harm or kill her children, nor was there anything to suggest that such an extreme act of violence was likely."

A spokeswoman for the East Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) said: "From a very sad tragedy like this, it's vitally important any lessons to be learned are highlighted and acted upon.

"The East Sussex LSCB has monitored progress on the action plan that resulted from this review and can confirm all the recommendations made have been implemented.

"It is important to stress, however, that while the review made recommendations for various agencies on how they could improve their practice, it also concluded that at no point could anyone have predicted these extremely tragic events would have happened."