Creating a fairer Britain
In July 2006, Steven Hoskin was found dead at the bottom of a 100-foot railway viaduct in St Austell, Cornwall.
He had been tortured for hours before his death, suffering various injuries inflicted upon him by a number of perpetrators. He had been tied up, dragged round by a lead, imprisoned, burnt with cigarettes, humiliated and repeatedly violently abused in his own home over a period of time. He had been forced to make a false confession that he was a paedophile and coerced into taking a lethal dose of paracetamol tablets. Finally he was taken to the viaduct and forced over the railings before one of the perpetrators stamped on his fingers until he let go.
Steven was a 38-year-old man with learning disabilities. His murder was the culmination of ongoing abuse. Five people were involved on the night of his death. The ringleader was Darren Stewart, 29, who had moved into Steven’s flat along with his girlfriend. The other perpetrators were Martin Pollard, 21, Stewart’s girlfriend Sarah Bullock, 16, and two male teenagers, who cannot be named for legal reasons. The two male teenagers took part in the torture and humiliation of Steven but left before he was forced to take the tablets and taken to the viaduct.
Stewart and his girlfriend were convicted of murder; Pollard of manslaughter; the teenage boys of false imprisonment and assault.
Steven’s death followed a series of abusive incidents occurring over a period of months that a number of agencies, including police, health services, housing and social services, had been alerted to at some stage. Opportunities to intervene to halt the abuse were missed.
Steven had been identified as having learning disabilities as a child and numerous agencies and organisations came into contact with him throughout his lifetime. He attended an NHS Assessment and Treatment Unit for persons with learning disabilities and mental health issues. He was assessed by Adult Social Care as having ‘substantial need’ and allotted weekly visits. Social services did not conduct a risk assessment when agreeing to stop these weekly visits at Steven’s request, after he was befriended by Stewart.
Various healthcare visits, including an emergency ambulance call after Steven had been assaulted, were not reported to the police or adult protection. Once the Adult Care support ceased, Steven contacted the police on a number of occasions, without ongoing follow up taking place. There were numerous 999 calls to the property but these were treated as individual events and not linked.
His greatly increased contact with police and health services in the period following the cessation of weekly visits did not trigger a safeguarding referral.
Steven’s landlord, Ocean Housing Group, was aware that he was a ‘vulnerable adult’, that young people were always hanging around his bedsit and that he had a lodger who was ‘dangerous’ and officials should not visit the accommodation alone. They did not intervene to address why Steven became the subject of frequent neighbour complaints after Stewart moved in with him or contact adult protection to alert them to their concerns.
Stewart had serious ongoing mental health issues and was in contact with a number of agencies as a result. He was recognised as ‘dangerous’ by both Ocean Housing and the ambulance service, who would not visit the property unaccompanied. Agencies did not consider how Stewart’s presence in the flat impacted on Steven’s freedom to make choices.
Agencies failed to record what was happening properly, to share information and undertake proper risk assessment. Co-ordinated action and an effective flagging up system could have prevented the abuse and subsequent events leading to Steven’s death. His murder raised serious questions regarding multi-agency actions concerning both Steven and the perpetrators of the crimes.
Five people were prosecuted for their part in Steven’s death. Stewart was jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years. Bullock was also convicted of murder and sentenced to a minimum term of 10 years. Pollard was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter and jailed for eight years. Two male teenagers were convicted of false imprisonment and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
The case was not prosecuted as disability hate crime. The combination of ‘paedophile’ labelling and extreme violence are suggestive of disability hate crime, as explained in more detail in the Keith Philpott case. The ‘paedophile’ labelling seems to have been used to justify the perpetrators inhumane treatment of Steven. There is no evidence that there was any basis for their accusation, but as the serious case review noted: ‘A rumour-dynamic of this order is impossible to suppress and, as the final hours of Steven’s life testify, it had chilling consequences.’
Cornwall Safeguarding Adults Board commissioned an independent serious case review of the events leading up to Steven Hoskin’s death which addressed agency contact with both Steven and the perpetrators. Agencies in Cornwall have shown considerable commitment to learning from their mistakes and have taken time and effort to make improvements.
A follow-up review a year after the serious case review found that ‘the progress in Cornwall is considerable and goes far beyond minimalist adjustment’. Actions from the serious case review had been implemented, and improvements included:
The police have established a ‘neighbourhood harm reduction’ process. Systems are in place to identify addresses of persons at risk and reason for contact, and this is being monitored.
We took evidence from both Margaret Flynn, the independent chair of the Steven Hoskin serious case review and separately from the key agencies in Cornwall. It was clear that the commitment to implementing a proactive approach to safeguarding was still strong and that all agencies have made significant efforts to continue improving their responses to disability-related harassment including:
Much of the learning in Cornwall is applicable to other areas across Britain, but is not necessarily being applied. Flynn told us that there are currently no mechanisms for effectively sharing lessons. She said: ‘Hand on heart, I couldn't say that the lessons have been abstracted for other localities. If anything, I think the typical response is "thank God it didn't happen here”.’
1 Flynn, 2007, for Cornwall Adult Protection Committee, The Murder of Steven Hoskin: A Serious Case Review. Available from the Cornwall Council website
2 Flynn, 2009, for Cornwall Safeguarding Adults Board, The successes achieved and barriers encountered in delivering the Steven Hoskin Serious Case Review action plans, p16. Available from Cornwall Council website