Dad of murdered Peterborough schoolboy Tyler makes emotional plea for law change
The father of murdered Peterborough schoolboy Tyler Whelan has called for changes to the law to prevent other children suffering the same fate.
Tyler was just five when he was brutally attacked by his mum’s boyfriend, Elvis Lee, at their home in Paston in 2011.
Lee kicked the boy across the room in a fit of rage, causing fatal injuries. Lee had also bitten Tyler on the leg
Lee was given a life sentence the following year after being found guilty of murder.
Despite social services getting involved with Tyler after concerns were raised when he broke his leg, Tyler’s dad, Shaun Harrison, was never told about the concerns until it was too late. Social services also never visited Tyler at home where Lee lived with the boy’s mum, Stephanie Whelan.
Lee had previous convictions for domestic abuse of a previous partner, and had been ordered to take part in a domestic violence programmes as a result. He was also known to have been violent to Stephanie Whelan at least once, and a neighbour also reported child safety concerns before the tragic incident.
Tyler had broken his leg in 2010, and doctors were told he had fallen on the stairs, when his mother took Tyler to hospital the day after the injury.
Doctors raised concerns it had taken so long to take Tyler to hospital, and also about bruises elsewhere on Tyler’s body. However, they found the broken leg was consistent with an accident on the stairs.
A meeting between police, Children’s Social Care and the Probation Service was called - but Tyler was allowed to go home.
Along with Lee’s jail term, Tyler’s mum was locked up for four years after being found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child.
Now, as Tyler would have been about to become a teenager, Mr Harrison is calling for the law to be changed to offer children like Tyler more protection.
He said: “Social services didn’t see Tyler at home. They should have been there to see what was going on. When he broke his leg, doctors phoned them to say it might not have been an accident. They should have gone to see what was going on. I was not told when social services were called when Tyler broke his leg. I should have been. If I thought there was any concern about the safety of Tyler, I would have been in my car picking up that instant.
“I don’t believe Tyler’s death was predictable - but I believe it was preventable.
“Unless there is a specific reason, the biological parents should be told when social services get involved, by law. I didn’t know social services were involved until the serious case review and trial happened. I was shocked when I heard what had happened.”
Mr Harrison, who lives in Wigan, has now contacted his MP, Lisa Nindy, in an attempt to get the law changed.
He is due to meet Mrs Mindy next month.
He said: “Every time I see a child that has been murdered in the news, it brings everything back. It is heartbreaking.
“I am still unable to get over the grieving process. I still feel like the way I did when Tyler died.
“Tyler was let down by social services and so was I. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have been through. It felt like I had no rights in my life. We were failed so badly.
“I am trying to get legal aid to sue Peterborough Social Services, as well as try to change the law.”
Mr Harrison, who now has two young sons, said he was still struggling following the death of Tyler.
He said: “I still don’t like leaving the house. My family have been a big support, but we are not as close as we were.
“After the case I was offered a bit of counselling from Victim Support, but not much. I am still getting help from my GP to cope with depression.
“People in my situation should be offered counselling by law.”
Tyler would have turned 13 later this month. Mr Harrison said: “I know I would be so proud of Tyler, seeing him grow up. I miss him so much.
“Losing him completely broke me.”
Peterborough City Council’s Children’s Services department had been given a notice to improve in June 2010 by Ofsted. The Serious Case Review into Tyler’s death found a number of failings in the run up to his death - although stopped short of apportioning blame to anyone at the council.
The report said there was ‘no real understanding of what life at home was like’ for Tyler and ‘in fact it was not apparent that any professional actually ever witnessed them in their home environment.’
The review said core assessments looking at the case should have been carried out by a social worker after Tyler was taken to hospital for the broken leg, and also after he injured his genitals playing with a toy.
The report said: “On the first occasion, there was no clear reason why the work was not undertaken, although the allocated social worker left her employment soon after.”
The report also said: “In essence no multi agency practice occurred in any meaningful way following any of the Subject’s (Tyler’s) concerning injuries or following the domestic violence incident.
“Community Health Services had very little direct involvement and the school appeared to work in isolation primarily because they did not receive any information of concern from other agencies.
“ The GP practice also tended to work in isolation, whereas the role of the Police and Hospital had ceased once they had completed their interventions in respect of the incidents of the fractured leg and the genital injuries. Probation continued in their work with the mother’s partner and although they communicated well with other agencies, their role was very specific in terms of the mother’s partner.”
By the time the trial concluded, no managers at Peterborough children’s services were still in place at the council who had been in their posts at the time of Tyler’s death.
Lou Williams, service director, children and safeguarding at Peterborough City Council, said: “It is a terrible tragedy whenever a child is seriously injured or killed by caregivers and our thoughts remain with Tyler’s family. What happened to him was tragic, and the perpetrator of this awful crime was brought to justice at the time.
“The serious case review of all the agencies involved in the case identified a number of missed opportunities where more rigorous enquiries could have been made about Tyler’s family life.
“However, it concluded that it was not possible to state with any conviction that Tyler’s death was either predictable or preventable.
“Since the time of Tyler’s death children’s services in Peterborough has undergone continuous improvement and has transformed into the service it is today, which is rated good by Ofsted.
“In the past three years in particular there have been rapid changes and improvements, which were recognised by inspectors last summer. We regret that we cannot change what has happened in the past, but our services are now much more effective at protecting vulnerable children.”
At the trial, both Elvis Lee and Stephanie Whelan were found not guilty of three counts of child cruelty.