Nine-year-old Alfie Steele died in February 2021 after his head was held underwater in a bathtub (Picture: PA/SWNS)
A nine-year-old boy tortured and killed by his mum and stepdad was classed as ‘safe and well’ by social services and police following visits in the months before his death, a review has found.
Alfie Steele, of Droitwich, Worcestershire, died in February 2021 after his head was repeatedly held under the water in a bath, following months of cruelty which left him with more than 50 injuries.
Jurors at Coventry Crown Court heard 999 calls made by neighbours in April, May and August 2020 had supplied details of Alfie’s ordeal, including a call saying it sounded like he was ‘being hit and held under the water’.
Alfie’s mother Carla Scott was jailed in June last year for 27 years for manslaughter, and her partner Dirk Howell was ordered to serve life with a minimum term of 32 years for murder.
On Friday, the Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Partnership (WSCP) published a review in which it said social workers had relied too much on Alfie himself to present evidence ‘he was being abused and harmed.’
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review made eight recommendations off the back of findings on the case, including that social workers be given guidance on how to support family members and neighbours who report concerns for a child’s welfare.
While the report said the professionals who worked with Alfie showed commitment to the boy’s wellbeing, their inquiries were ‘often hampered by two adults who sought to deliberately, lie, mislead and cover up what was happening.’
With some visits, the social workers would leave without speaking to Alfie at all.
Both Scott and Howell were told at sentencing their actions against Alfie amounted to ‘torture’ (Picture: PA/SWNS)
The review noted that from the offset, there were concerns about Howell, who was on bail in relation to a burglary involving the theft of firearms, given his ‘history of violence and criminality.’
It said: ‘There were six known incidents of concern raised with the police or children’s services about neighbours or school staff concerns about physical abuse or Dirk Howell’s harsh and cruel practices to Alfie.
‘Each incident would be followed up by a police or social worker visit. There was inconsistency when Alfie was spoken to, made complicated by his age and on some occasions the lateness in the day of the visit.
‘Too often he was described as ‘safe and well’ when he had not been spoken to.’
When neighbours raised their concerns about Alfie’s wellbeing, Howell is understood to have threatened them with violence and arson, which discouraged them from pursuing more formal complaints.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct is currently investigating the West Mercia Police over its contact with Alfie, Scott and Howell prior to Alfie’s death.
Dirk Howell is currently serving life with a minimum of 32 years for Alfie’s murder (Picture: PA)
Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Jones said the force supports the findings on the recent review into safeguarding practices concerning the boy’s welfare.
She said: ‘It is with the greatest sadness that we will never be able to undo the dreadful abuse Alfie suffered. Our thoughts remain with all those who knew and loved Alfie.’
The couple’s six-week trial was told Alfie was denied food as an act of cruelty and routinely subjected to other ‘sinister’ punishments, including being locked outside his Vashon Drive home in cold weather.
Scott, 35, and Howell, 41, were told at their sentencing hearing that what they had done amounted to the ‘torture’ of Alfie.
Carla Scott meanwhile was jailed for 27 years after she was convicted of manslaughter (Picture: SWNS)
The evidence that secured their conviction included testimony from neighbours who raised concerns with the police.
The material included a video filmed by a neighbour in August 2019, recording Alfie’s voice as he pleaded to be allowed back into his home for around 25 minutes, and a call six months before the boy’s death related to apparent abuse in a bathtub.
The female caller told an operator: ‘It sounds like my neighbours are doing something bad to their kid in the bath. Like they are really hurting them.’
In further 999 calls in 2020 a concerned resident told the operator ‘something strange is going on’, while another call reported that a family known to police had ‘got a young lad outside’ and ‘had him in the garden standing like a statue’.
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