Professionals who worked with a 16-year-old Bristol girl killed in a sexually motivated attack by her stepbrother and his partner treated her as problematic rather than as a vulnerable adolescent with a difficult past, a serious case review has found.
Seventeen experts from eight service providers saw Becky Watts in the three and a half years before she was killed by her stepbrother, Nathan Matthews, and his partner, Shauna Hoare, but she received a fragmented service and there was a lack of communication.
The report from the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board revealed Becky was pinpointed as a potential victim of child exploitation – but because of her concerns that a friend had threatened to put explicit pictures of her on the internet, not because of her contact with Matthews.
It spelled out that there had not been enough attention on Becky’s wider family, which included Matthews and Hoare. It emerged in the report that Becky had become terrified to go out after reading about abductions and watching horror films.
The review said there was no evidence that the killing of Becky could have been predicted or prevented by any professional working with her.
But Sally Lewis, the independent chair of the safeguarding board, said: “Things could have been done better. She received a mixed service.”
Becky’s father, Darren Galsworthy, and stepmother, Anjie Galsworthy, told the review team that in hindsight they could see Becky’s behaviour was more challenging when Matthews was around.
The report says: “They wished they had realised the bullying she was experiencing from him at the time so they could have intervened to keep her safe.”
Becky’s father said he was not given the parenting support he needed so relied on strategies such as telling Becky she would have to leave home if she did not behave.
The report adds: “He said he now understood that [Becky’s] behaviour was partly the result of what [she] was experiencing from her stepbrother.”
Becky was killed by Matthews and Hoare in February 2015. Matthews went to Becky’s home equipped with a “kidnap kit” including stun guns and handcuffs. He suffocated her in her bedroom and stabbed her 15 times after her death.
Matthews took Becky’s body back to the house he shared with Hoare, dismembered it with a circular saw, packed the remains in plastic and preservative and hid them in a garden shed.
The review says Becky’s parents separated before she was born and she spent her early life with her mother, Tanya Watts. Becky was taken into care aged three due to concerns about neglect but began living with her father, Darren Galsworthy. His partner, Anjie, is the mother of Nathan Matthews.
In the autumn of 2011 when Becky was 13 Anjie asked the children and young people services for help. She reported that Becky was finding it difficult to go to school and had anxieties about being outside the family home. She also said there was conflict between Becky and her father.
In the initial report, Becky was described as “controlling” and “lacking aspirations”. She was not seen alone and the dynamics of the wider family were not explored.
The report says Becky was treated as the problem and there was little understanding of the needs of a 13-year-old who felt isolated and fearful.
“From this point on the focus was on Becky being problematic and having problems without a consideration of what was the cause and what, therefore, might be the solution.”
The conclusion was that Becky should be considered a “child in need” but no plan was put into place and there was no lead professional or process to oversee the multi-agency work with her.
Becky was offered support from the family intervention support services. She told a support worker she felt scared about a lot of things including going back to school and being out alone. She said these fears were prompted by reading about abduction cases and watching horror films.
Later Becky reported conflict with her older brother and said she was unkindly teased about her weight by Matthews.
She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and referred to an eating disorder clinic. She responded well but by May 2014 professional concern about Becky was growing.
The teenager was being taught by the hospital education service (HES) because she still could not cope with going back to school.
Becky shared concerns with HES staff that “a young male peer” was threatening to publish explicit photographs of her on the internet and said she was worried about sexting. She said she did not want to contact the police because she was frightened of “repercussions”.
Later a referral to Barnardo’s child sexual exploitation project was discussed but this did not happen because of confusion over whose responsibility it was, the report says.
Five findings are made in the review including that there needs to be more focus on the needs of adolescents.
The review said: “There has been concern over the past few years from professionals, policymakers and researchers that services across the safeguarding continuum do not recognise the risks that adolescents face and do not adequately meet their needs.”