UK

Police watchdog investigating response to 999 calls before Alfie Steele’s murder

An investigation into the contact police had with Alfie Steele and his family prior to his murder (West Mercia Police/PA)
An investigation into the contact police had with Alfie Steele and his family prior to his murder (West Mercia Police/PA) An investigation into the contact police had with Alfie Steele and his family prior to his murder (West Mercia Police/PA)

The police watchdog has launched an inquiry into a force’s response to concerns raised for the welfare of a nine-year-old boy before he was held down in a bath and killed by his mother and stepfather.

Alfie Steele, of Droitwich, Worcestershire, died in February 2021 after his head was repeatedly held under the water, following months of cruelty which left him with more than 50 injuries.

A trial at Coventry Crown Court was told 999 calls made by neighbours in April, May and August 2020 had supplied details of Alfie’s ordeal, including a call saying it sounded like he was “being hit and held under the water”.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it had begun an investigation into the contact that West Mercia Police had with Alfie, his mother Carla Scott, and her partner Dirk Howell, prior to the killing.

Alfie Steele death
Alfie Steele death Alfie’s stepfather Dirk Howell was jailed for his murder (West Mercia Police/PA)

The investigation follows the IOPC’s assessment of a mandatory referral from the force, made after June’s sentencing of Howell for murder and Scott for manslaughter.

The couple are known to have had contact with police officers on a number of occasions in the years prior to Alfie’s murder.

The IOPC said its investigation will consider “the actions and decisions of West Mercia Police” and “whether any person serving with the force may have behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings”.

IOPC regional director Derrick Campbell said: “First and foremost, my thoughts and sympathies go to Alfie’s family and friends and everyone who has understandably been left shocked and saddened by his death.

“I have recently discussed the referral with West Mercia Police, which followed the level of public concern raised by the trial of Alfie’s mother and her partner.

“Our investigation will be thorough and completely independent of the police.

“In examining the force’s response to the series of reports, we will be considering whether there is any organisational learning for West Mercia Police and if any change in policy or practice might help to prevent the awful circumstances of Alfie’s death from happening again.”

Alfie Steele death
Alfie Steele death Carla Scott was jailed for 27 years in June (West Mercia Police/PA)

A Child Safeguarding Practice Review is already under way into the role and involvement of a number of agencies.

Scott was jailed for 27 years and her partner was ordered to serve life with a minimum term of 32 years.

Scott, aged 35, and 41-year-old Howell were told at their sentencing hearing that what they had done amounted to the “torture” of Alfie.

Mr Justice Wall told the couple: “You have both refused to tell the truth about the day of Alfie’s death, preferring to lie to pretend that it was no more than a tragic accident and to cover up for one another.

“What is clear is that Alfie did not have the quiet death you tried to portray: a death in which he had an epileptic fit and gently fell asleep in the bath.

“His death was violent and brutal.”

Alfie Steele death
Alfie Steele death Body cam footage of Dirk Howell’s arrest after he fled following the murder (West Mercia Police/PA)

The six-week trial was told Alfie was denied food as an act of cruelty and routinely subjected to other “sinister” punishments, including being locked outside his Vashon Drive home in cold weather.

The evidence that secured the conviction of the couple included testimony from several neighbours who raised their concerns about alleged abuse with the police.

The material included a video recorded by a neighbour in August 2019, recording Alfie’s voice as he pleaded to be allowed back into his home for around 25 minutes, and a call six months before the boy’s death related to apparent abuse in a bathtub.

The female caller told an operator: “It sounds like my neighbours are doing something bad to their kid in the bath. Like they are really hurting them.

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

Further 999 calls in 2020 heard one concerned resident tell the operator “something strange is going on”, while another call reported that a family known to police had “got a young lad outside” and “had him in the garden standing like a statue.”