Nicola Sturgeon backs inquiry into Liam Fee murder

NICOLA Sturgeon has called for maximum transparency from the official inquiry into the tragic death of toddler Liam Fee and admitted there are questions over whether the system could have done more.

Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Ian Rutherford

It came as a child protection expert who carried out a recent review of the system in Scotland hit out at a lack of action from the government to improve the regime of support for vulnerable youngsters.

Jackie Brock, chief executive of the charity Children in Scotland, said: “We could have made a lot more progress earlier on than we have done.”

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The government’s controversial Named Person scheme was also at the centre of renewed anger yesterday, amid claims the scheme was in operation in Fife where the toddler was murdered by his mother and her civil partner. This was denied by the Scottish Government.

Rachael Fee and her civil partner Nyomi Fee . Picture: PA

The First Minister said yesterday that a fresh review of Scotland’s child protection system now under way will investigate the “significant case review” regime which is carrying out the inquiry into the two-year-old’s death.

Liam died after being subjected to a catalogue of abuse and neglect at the hands of his mother, Rachel Trelfa, 31, and her partner, Nyomi Fee, 29. They are now facing life in prison after being convicted.

It emerged during the trial that Liam had been brought to the attention of social services and NHS in Fife but that he later “fell off the radar”.

The issue was raised at First Minister’s Questions by Mid Fife and Glenrothes MSP Jenny Gilruth yesterday. She called for all the relevant facts surrounding the youngster’s death be made public, and for “any failings of the relevant bodies involved to be dealt with robustly”.

Liam Fee. Picture: PA

The First Minister told MSPs of her “horror and sadness” at the death of the youngster.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I very much welcome the announcement by the Fife Council Protection Committee that a significant case review will now be carried out. We fully support publication of all appropriate findings from significant case reviews.

“There will always be in cases like this sensitive information which cannot be shared. However, taking that into account, we would hope and expect that the committee would decide to publish as much of the information as they possibly can.

“It is absolutely essential that any lessons that do need to be learned from this appalling tragedy are learned and acted on very swiftly.

Rachael Fee and her civil partner Nyomi Fee . Picture: PA

“We are also, of course, reviewing key aspects right now of the child protection system, including significant case reviews, as part of our child protection improvement programme.”

But she added: “The only people responsible for the death of Liam Fee are the people who were convicted of his murder – they’re to blame and no-one else.

“But there are questions rightly being asked about whether there is any more that the system could or should have done to protect this little boy. Those questions must be examined in detail and answers must be given and that’s what will now happen.”

Ms Brock’s 2014 review of the child protection system in Scotland found risks to vulnerable children could be “missed” unless greater priority was given to strengthening arrangements at every level.

Liam Fee. Picture: PA

She said yesterday: “I do think there could have been a lot more progress in relation to looking at areas of neglect for example.

“These are areas where children experience neglect, are areas where children are being killed and injured. These are the ones that don’t make it onto the child protection system, these are the ones that are most vulnerable.

“I think we could have made a lot more progress earlier on than we have done.”

Ms Brock added: “What is really good is that it sounds like the nursery, the childminder, did pick up on problems, and they were well aware of it, and I don’t understand why they weren’t listened to and why that action wasn’t taken.”

The Fee case had brought fresh concerns over the Scottish Government’s controversial Named Person scheme. Ministers had previously indicated the scheme was already in place in Fife, but the authorities denied Liam had a Named Person.

The scheme is being rolled out nationwide in August and will see every child in Scotland allocated a professional, such as a health visitor or teacher, from birth as a point of contact.

But official minutes from a 2013 meeting of the Getting It Right For Every Child programme at the Scottish Government’s Victoria Quay base in Edinburgh emerged yesterday. In these, government official Alan Small is recorded as claiming Fife is “a good example of information sharing”.

“Fife already had the Named Person in place and police had been sharing information since April 2013,” the minute stated.

The meeting was chaired by children’s minister Aileen Campbell who was in charge of the policy.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday insisted there was no Named Person in place for the toddler.

He said: “What is crucial about the Named Person, and this is the key point in this discussion, is that the named person brings with them… the ability to require other public authorities and public bodies to work with them to resolve the issues that are at stake. That is a crucial difference and as Fife Council have indicated, that was not in place for Liam Fee as is provided for in the legislation.”