A BABY killed in 2004 might still be alive if social services had done more, her father claims.
Clinton Pritchard, 29, said Shauna was first hospitalised two months before her death – but the agencies involved failed to act in time to save her.
An inquest into her death last week revealed a "catalogue of abuse" and coroner Nicholas Rheinberg said that the evidence was so overwhelming he had to record a verdict of unlawful killing.
Shauna, who lived with her mother Toni Wright and her boyfriend Damien Price in Western Avenue, Blacon, died after sustaining what Mr Rheinberg described as a "horrifying list of injuries".
Clinton, who split from Toni in June 2003, said he first got suspicious at around Christmas.
He said: "Shauna was really lively, she had just started walking so she used to hide everywhere and wanted to play all the time – but at around Christmas she changed. She went off her food, always looked ill and just wasn’t interested. Toni used to say Shauna was just under the weather."
In February 2004, Shauna was taken to the Countess of Chester Hospital where an examination revealed bruises on her head, abdomen, chest and neck, the inquest heard.
Clinton said that despite an investigation by social services no further action was taken.
"Meetings were arranged but Social Services kept cancelling them, and on one occasion just didn’t turn up," he said.
"I didn’t see the children for about 4-6 weeks after that; Damien was on exercise and Toni said the children had chickenpox.
"In the end, I just went round and demanded to see them. When I had access the Sunday after that Shauna was crying all the time and she had bruises on her head.
"I phoned Toni up and told her I was getting tired of it – I wanted to know where the bruises were coming from. She said she didn’t know and there must be some medical explanation, or perhaps she had banged her head on the bars of the cot.
"On the Tuesday one of her neighbours called, crying and screaming down the phone that Shauna had been taken to hospital not breathing. I was physically sick."
Shauna was treated at the Countess of Chester hospital but within hours was transferred to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. She died two days later, on April 22.
Visibly shaken and emotional, Clinton recalled the day his baby girl died.
"I just spent whatever time I could with her. My son and I said goodbye to her before they turned the machines off. Just a switch on the wall – then she was gone."
Clinton and his wife of two years Michelle say that the root of the problem lay with the use of agency social workers.
"Social Services blamed the fact that they didn’t have enough staff for the fact that they hadn’t placed Shauna with a core social worker," said Michelle.
"The hospital didn’t pick up on spinal fractures, social services didn’t follow it up correctly and there was a complete lack of communication.
"To send a child home with those kinds of injuries and not follow it up... our belief is that responsibility for her death lies in their hands.
"We so desperately want this to go in front of a jury, we want justice for Shauna and we feel like we haven’t been taken seriously. In my eyes both Toni and Damien know what happened to Shauna, and we won’t be able to rest until justice is done."
Baby suffered a terrible catalogue of abuse
THE inquest into Shauna’s death heard how she received devastating injuries "equivalent to a fall from a second floor window".
Cheshire coroner Nicholas Rheinberg said the cause of the 19-month-old’s death was traumatic head injuries, but this "hid a whole catalogue of abuse".
Shauna’s mother Toni Marie Wright, 29, and her partner Damien John Price, 25, who shared Shauna’s care in the days before she died, were at the Chester inquest.
Shauna, born on September 13, 2002, was Toni’s second child with Clinton Paul Pritchard, 29, from Chester. The couple, who lived in a flat on Western Avenue, Blacon, already had a two-year-old son.
However, the couple split in June 2003 and the children remained with their mother. The couple agreed that Clinton should have them each Sunday.
In December 2003, Toni’s new partner, Damien John Price, 25, began to stay regularly at her Blacon flat before moving in fully, the inquest heard.
On the evening of April 20, 2004, Toni bought medication from a late chemist for Shauna who it was claimed had been ill during the day with vomiting, diarrhoea and listlessness, but when she got home Damien allegedly told her that Shauna was not breathing.
Shauna was initially treated at the Countess of Chester hospital before being taken to Alder Hey, where she later died.
Mr Rheinberg returned a verdict of unlawful killing in respect of the baby’s death after hearing evidence from 10 medical experts and paediatricians on Shauna’s extensive injuries which included three fractures to the spine, haemorrhaging to the eyes and brain, and bruising on her head, neck and abdomen.
The most recent spinal injuries were likely to have occurred within the last 24 to 48 hours of her life and she had older fractures in the process of healing.
Medical experts described the force used as equivalent to falling from a second floor window, and explained that these injuries could have been caused by the child being thrust down violently onto her bottom.
The paediatricians and medical experts who gave evidence at the inquest said such severe injury was extremely rare.
Haemorrhaging behind the eyes, retinal separation and bleeding to her brain were indicative of violent shaking or blows to the head.
Bruising on her head, neck and abdomen at various stages of healing, as well as some internal bruising to her head, indicated inappropriate or rough handling.
During the course of the inquest Shauna’s mother, who is originally from Wrexham, refused to answer questions about whether she noticed her bruises or if she knew how she came by them. Her partner said he could not explain how the child came by the injuries.
Mr Rheinberg stated that in the context of "the very compelling evidence" from leading experts in the medical field, there could be no doubt that Shauna was unlawfully killed.
Detective Inspector Mark Tasker of the Cheshire Constabulary Strategic Public Protection Unit (SPPU) which has responsibility for child protection, is leading the enquiry into Shauna’s death.
Following the inquest verdict he said: "Extensive investigations have already taken place into the circumstances surrounding Shauna’s death, and every effort has been made to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible.
"We have worked very closely with colleagues from other agencies and the Crown Prosecution Service. Presently the enquiry team have explored all available investigative opportunities. Any new information which comes to light will be thoroughly pursued.
"Now is the time for anyone with any relevant information, no matter how trivial it may appear, to come forward and speak with police. We must never forget that a 19-month-old baby girl has lost her life.
"This file will remain open until the person, or persons, responsible for Shauna’s death are brought to justice."
Anyone with any information can contact Ins Tasker on 0845 458 0000. Alternatively, information can be left anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
After Shauna’s death in 2004, a 24-year-old woman and a 21-year- old man were arrested on suspicion of her murder. They were later released without charge following advice from CPS. Nobody was ever convicted.
Lessons for all involved
THE tragic case of Shauna Pritchard provides lessons for all agencies concerned, admits the county council.
In a statement issued yesterday (Thursday), Cheshire County Council spokesman Ian Callister said:
"We deeply sympathise with Mr Pritchard over the death of his daughter – a tragic case which revealed some lessons for all agencies involved.
"However, in his summing up, the Coroner, Mr Rheinberg, emphasised quite clearly that the evidence available at the time Shauna was first admitted to hospital – faint bruising on the abdomen – had caused nothing more than uneasiness from a senior paediatrician and no full proof.
"He told the Court: ‘The doctor could not positively say that Shauna had been injured non-accidentally.’
"Mr Rheinberg further stated that an item which may have swung the balance in favour of full child protection measures would have been a skeletal x-ray – but that was reported as being clear.
"A subsequent review of the x-ray by one of the country’s leading experts, he said, had revealed very subtle fractures of the spine."
Mr Callister added: "Actions taken by Social Services could only be based on the evidence available to officers at that time.
"The Coroner found that Shauna had been unlawfully killed and police have renewed their appeal for information. No blame was attributed to any agency involved."