UK

Neighbours raised concerns months before killing of Alfie Steele, nine

Alfie Steele, nine, was found submerged in a bath (West Mercia Police/PA)
Alfie Steele, nine, was found submerged in a bath (West Mercia Police/PA) Alfie Steele, nine, was found submerged in a bath (West Mercia Police/PA)

Neighbours had raised concerns for months before a nine-year-old boy was killed by his mother and her partner, who have been convicted over his death, with a safeguarding review now under way.

Alfie Steele had 50 injuries all over his body and was found submerged in a bath in Droitwich, Worcestershire.

Carla Scott, 35, has been found guilty at Coventry Crown Court of his manslaughter and 41-year-old Dirk Howell found guilty of his murder on February 18 2021.

In a 999 call made six months before he was killed, a neighbour told police: “It sounds like my neighbours are doing something bad to their kid in the bath.

“Like they are really hurting them.

“It sounds like someone thrashing around in the bathtub.

Alfie Steele death
Alfie Steele death Carla Scott has been convicted at Coventry Crown Court of the manslaughter of her nine-year-old son Alfie Steele (West Mercia Police/PA)

“It sounds like you can hear he’s being hit and held under the water or something … and like loads of thrashing around.

“It’s concerning because I know they have got social services involvement as well and the police have been before a few times.”

The call was played to jurors, along with further audio of an emergency call in 2020 in which a concerned resident told the operator “something strange is going on”.

In another call, it was reported that a family known to police had “got a young lad outside” and “had him in the garden standing like a statue”.

Another piece of evidence put before the jury was a video filmed by a neighbour in August 2019, recording Alfie’s voice as he pleaded to be allowed back into his home for around 25 minutes.

Despite a social services plan barring Howell from staying overnight at her home to protect Alfie, Scott frequently flouted this rule and allowed Howell to stay over regularly, the CPS said.

Alfie Steele death
Alfie Steele death Dirk Howell has been convicted at Coventry Crown Court of murdering Alfie Steele (West Mercia Police/PA)

Neighbours also witnessed Howell aggressively shouting and swearing at Alfie in the street while Scott stood by and let it happen.

Prosecutors said that Alfie was repeatedly assaulted, beaten and put in a cold bath as part of a cruel and “sinister” regime of correction by Scott and Howell.

A multi-agency review is now under way into the safeguarding of Alfie.

Stephen Eccleston, independent chair of Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Partnership, said: “Members of the Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Partnership are shocked and saddened by the death of Alfie.

“On behalf of the partnership I would like to take this opportunity to pass on our condolences to Alfie’s family.

“Following his death, we began a process of conducting a local Child Safeguarding Practice Review.

“With the completion of the trial, we will now be asking the independent reviewer to complete the review.

“The report is due to be published later this year and we will consider further comment at that time.”

Jurors took 10 hours and 13 minutes to convict Scott and Howell over the killing.

Scott was found guilty of manslaughter by a majority of 11-1, and cleared of his murder, with jurors returning their verdicts on Tuesday.

Howell was found guilty of murder by unanimous verdict.

Scott was also found guilty of four counts of child cruelty, while Howell had previously admitted child cruelty.

Opening the case last month, prosecutor Michelle Heeley KC said that the pair thought it was acceptable to hit Alfie with “belts, or a slider, like a heavy-duty flip flop, and use other more sinister forms of punishment”.

The six-week trial was told Scott and career criminal Howell tried to cover up the killing by delaying calling 999 after Alfie was either drowned, asphyxiated or went into cardiac arrest.

The court heard Alfie, who was found lifeless with a body temperature of 23C, may have been put back in a warm bath as the couple tried to pass off the murder as an accidental drowning.

Scott, of Vashon Drive, Droitwich, and Howell, of Princip Street, Birmingham, had denied the charges against them.

The judge, Mr Justice Wall, remanded both defendants into custody to be sentenced at 11am on Thursday.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: “The suffering that Alfie Steele endured in the months before he died is heart-breaking; a cruel ‘punishment’ regime inflicted by Dirk Howell and Alfie’s mother Carla Scott which culminated in his tragic death.

“It’s vital that a thorough review into the circumstances around Alfie’s death establishes whether more could have been done by professionals to protect this little boy.

“This is so important because such findings can help prevent future tragedies.”