High Court ponders Plymouth inquest

A High Court judge is considering whether a jury should decide if
“system neglect” by Plymouth social services contributed to the
death of a nine-month-old baby.

The council is fighting a decision by South Devon coroner Nigel
Meadows for the inquest into Perrin Barlow’s death to be widened to
include the role played by social services.

The High Court heard last week that Perrin died due to
bronchopneumonia, with dehydration and malnutrition cited as
possible contributing factors. His mother, Stephanie Horrocks, and
her partner, Mark McAndrew, were jailed last February after
pleading guilty to child cruelty.

William Hoskins, defending Meadows’ decision, said there could be
no doubt that the baby, who was on the child protection register
and subject to an interim care order, was “in a position of
dependency” on social services.

But the council told the court that the circumstances of Perrin’s
death in July 2002 had already been so exhaustively investigated
that it was wrong to widen the scope of the inquiry beyond the
immediate cause of the child’s death and events during the
preceding two days.

Paul Storey, QC for the council, said Plymouth’s crisis
intervention team had been working with the family for some time
and the indications were that Horrocks had been “progressing

Mr Justice Wilson, who will give his ruling at a later date, heard
that an inquest on the broad basis laid down by the coroner would
be the first time a social services department had faced such a
“system neglect” inquiry in a coroner’s court.

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