Review accuses school of poor safeguarding system and says social workers accepted parental version of eventsFour-year-old Daniel Pelka’s voice was never heard throughout his ordeal, the review said. Photograph: West Midlands Police/PA
Teachers, health professionals, social workers and police officers treated four-year-old Daniel Pelka as if he was invisible, failing to prevent his mother and stepfather from murdering him after a campaign of torture and starvation, an independent report has found.
A serious case review published on Tuesday could find no record of any conversation professionals had with Daniel about his home life, his feelings or his relationships with his mother and her male partners.
Daniel’s first language was Polish and the report suggested that this could have been a problem. It said: “Of particular note was that without English as his first language and because of his lack of confidence Daniel’s voice was not heard throughout this case.”
At times, the review concluded, Daniel appeared to have been “invisible” against the backdrop of his mother’s controlling behaviour. Professionals failed to act on “what they saw in front of them” but accepted parental versions of events.
The report said Daniel’s “traumatic abusive experiences” during the last six months of his life were “shocking”, adding: “He must have felt utterly alone and worthless for much of that time, being the subject of his mother and stepfather’s anger and rejection. At times he was treated as inhuman, and the level of helplessness he must have felt in such a terrifying environment would have been overwhelming. The extent of his abuse, however, went undiscovered and unknown to professionals at the time.”
Daniel’s mother, Magdelena Luczak, 27, and her partner, Mariusz Krezolek, 34, both Polish nationals, will serve at least 30 years in prison for Daniel’s murder. During a harrowing trial a jury heard that Daniel looked like a concentration camp victim when he died in March 2012. The court was told that he was subjected to torture including having his head held under water until he passed out and being force-fed salt. He was kept locked in a filthy box room at home in Coventry and was systematically denied food before dying after receiving a blow to his head.
The review team also accused Daniel’s school of having a “dysfunctional” approach to children‘s safeguarding issues, highlighting that teachers had noticed injuries to his face and had locked away pupils’ lunch boxes to stop him stealing food, but had not taken effective action to help him. Health professionals and social workers had been too quick to accept that injuries needing hospital treatment including a broken arm and a cut over the eye were the result of accidents – though it also said they were under pressure because of high workloads and understaffing. The report criticised a community paediatrician who saw Daniel a month before he was murdered for putting his weight loss down to worms rather than possible child abuse.
In addition it emerged in the report that police attended Daniel’s “chaotic” household almost 30 times in response to reports of domestic abuse in the six years before his death and it suggested officers could have done more to make sure he was being well treated. “In many respects the response by the police was not child-centred,” the report said.
On Daniel’s school, Little Heath primary, the report said staff did not pass on concerns to police or council child protection officials when the boy came to school with bruises and other marks on him. The school did not appear to link the injuries to his obvious hunger. “The system within the school to respond to safeguarding concerns was therefore dysfunctional at this time,” the report concluded.
The author of the serious case review report, Ron Lock, said: “If professionals had used more inquiring minds and been more focused in their intentions to address concerns, it’s likely that Daniel would have been better protected from the people who killed him.”Peter Wanless, chief executive officer of the NSPCC, said: “Too often people failed to look at Daniel like they would their own child.” Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England said: “Far too many opportunities to intervene to stop the abuse Daniel experienced during his short life were missed by those around him who had a duty to protect him.”