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
    well”.

    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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