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‘Missed opportunities’ to protect murdered Elsie Scully-Hicks

The 18-month-old was murdered by her adoptive father, Matthew Scully-Hicks, in May 2016.

There were missed opportunities to protect a baby girl who was murdered by her father two weeks after he formally adopted her, a review has found.

Matthew Scully-Hicks, 32, passed the rigorous adoption process with flying colours and professionals viewed his care of 18-month-old Elsie Scully-Hicks through a “positive lens”.

The fitness instructor, who had previously adopted another child, violently shook Elsie and threw her to the floor at their home in Llandaff, Cardiff, on May 25 2016.

In the months before that fatal attack, Scully-Hicks had inflicted a catalogue of injuries on Elsie, including a large bruise to her forehead and her leg being fractured in two places.

An extended child practice review found professionals saw Elsie’s injuries in isolation, lacked “professional curiosity” and accepted what Scully-Hicks told them.

Scully-Hicks, of Delabole, Cornwall, was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 18 years after being convicted of murder following a trial at Cardiff Crown Court last year.

At a press conference in Cardiff on Thursday, Lance Carver – the director of social services at Vale of Glamorgan Council – apologised for errors in Elsie’s case.

“The findings do indicate that social workers and staff from all agencies saw the adoption as very positive,” Mr Carver said.

“They perceived the adoptive family as a really positive solution for Elsie.

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Matthew Scully-Hicks passed the rigorous adoption process with flying colours (South Wales Police/PA)

“The report identifies issues that ‘that positive lens’ meant that they were not looking in the way they should have been.

“That’s something as an organisation that we should have recognised and taken that fully on board.”

Mr Carver said no disciplinary actions had been taken against any members of staff as the report did not “indicate that it would be appropriate”.

Elsie, named Shayla O’Brien by her birth family, was born in November 2014 and was taken into care five days later.

The bright and alert baby was placed with Scully-Hicks and his husband, Craig, in September 2015, when she was aged 10 months.

Two months later, she was referred to an orthopaedic outpatient clinic by her GP after suffering an injury to her leg, which had not been weight-bearing for five days.

When you look back at the pattern of injuries, particularly between the period of November 2015 and March 2016, you can see that had there been one agency or one worker that had all of that information, potentially there would have been an opportunity to raise safeguarding concerns Sarah McGill, Cardiff and Vale Safeguarding Children Board

A registrar examined her X-ray and identified a fracture to Elsie’s lower leg but failed to spot another one to her upper leg.

“Had both fractures been recognised on the x-ray this would have raised safeguarding concerns that would have instigated the child protection process,” the report states.

Sarah McGill, of Cardiff and Vale Safeguarding Children Board, apologised on behalf of all agencies involved with Elsie for the missed opportunities in her case.

When asked whether Elsie’s death could have been prevented, she said: “I think that is a very, very difficult question to answer.

“When you look back at the pattern of injuries, particularly between the period of November 2015 and March 2016, you can see that had there been one agency or one worker that had all of that information, potentially there would have been an opportunity to raise safeguarding concerns.”

In December 2015, Elsie suffered a large bruise to her forehead, which lasted for eight weeks.

Two social workers and an independent reviewing officer, from Vale of Glamorgan Council, saw the bruise – described as “a real shiner” – but did not make any reference to it in their notes.

Days later, a health visitor also spotted the bruise and advised Scully-Hicks to seek medical attention. He lied and said he had already done so.

“The observations and recording of the large bruise to the child’s forehead both by children’s services and health was absent,” the report states.

“This resulted in the large bruise becoming ‘invisible’ to professionals and did not form part of the building an overall picture of what was happening to the child before the final report to the court prior to the adoption order hearing being made.”

Elsie suffered a further bruise to her forehead in January 2016, which Scully-Hicks gave no explanation for.

In March 2016, an ambulance was called to the family home after Elsie apparently fell down the stairs. She was taken to hospital but allowed to return home four hours later.

“The significance of the injuries that the child sustained were minimised to be compliant with the professional’s view that the child was an active toddler and receiving good care,” the report states.

“The explanations provided by the parents were considered by health professionals as being consistent with accidental injury.”

High Court judge Mr Justice Moor later ruled that Scully-Hicks had shaken Elsie on three occasions – when she broke her leg, when he claimed she fell down the stairs and when she suffered fatal injuries.

The judge described Scully-Hicks, who referred to Elsie as “Satan dressed up in a babygrow” in text messages, as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character.

All of Elsie’s injuries took place when she was alone with Scully-Hicks, who was known to be “under stress” caring for the little girl and her adoptive sibling, the report said.

His husband was frequently working away from home in his role as a company director.

The family court, which approved Elsie’s adoption on May 12 2016, was also not aware of concerns that she was developing a squint.

On May 25, Scully-Hicks called emergency services to the family home claiming that he had found Elsie unresponsive.

She died in hospital four days later. Her birth family was not informed of this until January 2017.

The report, which was published on Thursday, made nine recommendations.

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