Girl, 16, died from heroin overdose despite mother's pleas for social services to save her daughter
7:27 PM on 20th October 2009
The despairing parents of a teenage girl pleaded with police and social services for help her after she got hooked on heroin - but the authorities did nothing to save her, an inquest heard today.
Schoolgirl Kate Walsh, 16, was popular and a talented flautist before she met 25-year-old drug addict Alex Charlamow and spiralled into addiction under his influence, the coroner was told.
Her parents Deborah and Anthony Walsh, a sound engineer, sought help to stop her in the months before her death from a heroin overdose but say she fell into a ‘grey area’ - being too old for children’s services and too young for adult care services, which begin at 18.
Kate ended up in hospital twice after overdosing as she moved between supported lodgings, squats, and spells back at her family home.
She was reported missing by her parents five days before workmen boarding up a squat in a red-light district of Swindon, Wiltshire, found her body.
Her mother said Kate had kept her relationship with Charlamow, who lived in the Salvation Army run rehabilitation centre close to her home in Highworth, near Swindon, a secret for a year and a half.
Mrs Walsh, 45, who gave up her job as a postmistress as she struggled to cope with her daughter’s death, told the inquest: ‘We didn’t find out until she was 16 and by then it was too late.’
When the rehab centre found out that Charlamow was in a relationship they kicked him out, as it was against the rules.
But Mrs Walsh criticised the centre, saying: ‘They didn’t take steps to find out who it was, and they knew it was a young girl.
Kate Walsh as a young girl before the heroin addiction took hold
‘I feel that the manager really failed. He failed Alex because Alex was supposed to be rehabilitated.
‘He failed Kate because she could then see Alex, and he failed us because we lost our daughter.’
Mrs Walsh recalled the agonising times when Kate would leave home, which began on May 3rd, 2003, and how she drifted in and out of ‘supported lodging’ houses and squats.
She said: ‘If a 16-year-old wants to leave home there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re not allowed to lock them in the house.’
The inquest at Trowbridge Town Hall heard how police once had a warrant to enter a house Kate was staying in with other drug users.
Mrs Walsh said: ‘We told them Kate was in there taking heroin, but they wouldn’t execute the warrant. They just went and knocked on the door and asked for her.
‘They said, “Your parents have reported you as missing”.
‘But she said, “I’ve been living away from home for six months.” And that was that.
‘They knew she was in there taking heroin, as was everyone else, but they didn’t do anything about it.’
She also told the inquest about a failed ‘strategy meeting’ that was set up by social services-appointed ‘personal advisor’ to Kate, Michaela Norton, while Kate was in a supported lodging.
‘The meeting was supposed to decide what was the best way forward to help Kate,’ said Mrs Walsh. ‘But no plan forward was agreed because Kate turned up, she said she’d taken various different drugs, so the meeting fell apart.
‘People had to go - there were other meetings. It was decided the case wouldn’t be placed on the child protection register because Kate had access to all the relevant agencies.
‘It wasn’t the right help. It wasn’t what Kate needed.’
Kate had to shoplift to fund her £150 day drugs habit and had been arrested for the crime, the inquest heard.
Her mother believes she should have been put into ‘secure accomodation’ by social services - similar to being sectioned under the Mental Health Act - instead of the ‘supported accomodation’ that was offered.
After her second overdose in November 2003, Kate said: ‘Mum, I did it on purpose - I don’t want to live.’
Mrs Walsh said she had then asked staff at Gloucester Royal Hospital to section her daughter. But a psychiatric nurse determined Kate was not suffering from a mental health disorder, the inquest heard.
Mrs Walsh said she told social services that next time Kate left home she would die.
I didn’t know about secure accomodation until after Kate died, which is why I asked for her to be sectioned. But now I know that’s what should have happened,’ she said.
Kate was reported missing by her parents for the last time on December 30th, 2003. Her body was found on January 3rd, 2004. The inquest was originally opened that month but has since been delayed because of ‘serious illness’ to an unspecified party.
The inquest continues.
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