Father of man found dead in suitcase hits out at social services
The father of a severely disabled Redditch man whose body was found in a suitcase attacked social services over the “neglect” of his son.
As the deputy coroner for Worcestershire recorded an open verdict on the death of 21-year-old James Hughes, his father Paul said his son would still be here had “appropriate guidelines” been followed.
The decomposed remains of James were discovered in April in Redditch, less than 48 hours after his mother, Heather Wardle, was found hanged nearby.
Mr Hughes said the family was “devastated” by what had happened and said James was the victim of neglect and a series of circumstances over which he had no control.
He also claimed Ms Wardle was partly responsible for James’ death.
Speaking after the inquest in Stourport-on-Severn, he said: “It would have only taken one telephone call, not from his mother but from those who held overall control – those who were in a position of trust and who were ultimately responsible for enforcing the procedures which should have safeguarded my son.
“This would have ensured that his tragic loss could have been avoided.
“Had the appropriate guidelines, both statutory and non-statutory, been followed, my beautiful son would still be here today.
“I miss James so much. I cannot express how devastated we as a family are. There will always be a hole in our lives that can never be filled.”
During the three-day inquest, it emerged that social workers had no contact with James for more than two years before his death.
Concerns were raised about his weight loss in December last year - more than four months before he was found dead in the garden of the home he shared with his mother Ms Wardle, his stepfather Brian Kirby and her other three children.
The head of Worcestershire County Council’s learning disability service, Stephen Chandler, admitted at the inquest that a social worker should have been “more assertive” in following up concerns about his health.
Ms Wardle was found dead two days before her son was discovered in the suitcase, which was covered by a tarpaulin, on a barbecue shelf at the rear of the terrace property in Loxley Close, Church Hill.
Worcestershire deputy coroner Margaret Barnard expressed regret that questions surrounding James’ death remained unknown.
Giving her verdict, the coroner said: “There is in my view a paucity of conclusive evidence. The evidence does not fully or further disclose the means whereby the death arose.”
In her verdict, the coroner concluded that James died between February 15 and April 23 at an unknown place.
After outlining social services’ involvement in the care of James, including two visits made to his home after concerns were expressed about his weight, Mrs Barnard added: “I can’t help but conclude that there was a lost opportunity.”
In submissions to the coroner earlier, Mr Hughes’ lawyer, Yvonne Hossack, urged Mrs Barnard to consider neglect as part of her verdict.
Ms Hossack said it was unclear exactly how James died, but added: “What I think all the evidence is clear about is that in his last 100 days, something went wrong.”
She added that it was clear Ms Wardle was suffering difficulties and pointed out that in November, James was seen by a member of staff at a day care centre looking malnourished, his bones could be seen through his skin and skin was “hanging off his arms”.
“That said, we do accept that we should have done more to validate the accounts we were given.”
It also emerged during the inquest that James was not allocated a named social worker in the latter part of last year despite his severe disabilities, a practice which Mr Chandler said was not uncommon nationally. The inquest was told that a serious case review had been carried out by Worcestershire County Council, Tests carried out on Mr Hughes’s bones suggested he might have died between January 10 and February 9,
The inquest into Ms Wardle’s death will take place today.