A teenage girl from Sunderland who had been the victim of a paedophile was found hanging in a children’s home, an inquest heard.
Danielle Formosa had written “RIP Sarah” on her hot water bottle – believed to be a tribute to Facebook friend, Sarah Clerkson, who was also in care and had died just 10 days earlier.
I must conclude that it was Danielle’s intention to take her own life when she died and that is one of suicide.County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle
Tragic Danielle had been placed in care in September 2013 after concerns were raised for her welfare.
The 14-year-old was found dead on December 17, 2013, in her room at a children’s home in County Durham.
An inquest at Crook yesterday heard that Danielle, who had been known to children’s services in Sunderland from the age of six, had a history of taking legal highs and was a victim of child sexual exploitation.
The teenager was sexually abused by paedophile Kevin Palmer just months before she took her own life.
The 39-year-old, who was living in a bail hostel in Pennywell, was caught by police with Danielle in a tent in June 2013.
He had first met her four months earlier, claiming he was a 19-year-old law student.
Danielle, who was in care at the time and described as a “troubled young girl”, had arranged the meeting with Palmer by text.
They went to a park where Palmer put up the tent, and they listened to music from his phone.
A passing police officer checked on them, and they both gave false names, but as he walked away, he heard Danielle refer to Palmer as ‘Kev’.
Another officer arrived later, asked them to get out of the tent and asked for their names and ages.
When Danielle gave her real details, Palmer packed up his tent and fled, before being arrested at home.
Palmer was originally accused of raping the schoolgirl and appeared at court for trial.
But he pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of engaging in sexual activity in her presence and causing or inciting her to engage in sexual activity.
He was jailed for four and a half years at Newcastle Crown Court in June 2014.
Judge Penny Moreland told him: “In my view, what you did was groom her for sexual activity by persisting in seeing her.
“I take the view that you planned to commit a sexual offence against her”.
Palmer was also ordered to sign the sex offences’ register for life, and will be banned from having contact with children under 16 without social workers present.
The inquest heard that Danielle was placed in care in September 2013, after concerns were raised for her welfare.
After first being sent to a secure unit in Newton Aycliffe, she was taken to East Farmhouse children’s home in Consett, County Durham, where she was given more freedom, albeit under supervision from staff.
Unit manager David Grayson said Danielle told him she had known of fellow Sunderland girl Sarah Clerkson, also 14, who was also in care.
Sarah was found hanged after a house party in Spennymoor, 10 days before Danielle died, and at an inquest into her death last week, the coroner recorded an open verdict, saying he could not be certain she meant to kill herself.
Mr Grayson said he was aware the girls knew each other, but could not say how friendly Danielle was with Sarah.
“I don’t know if it was Facebook friends, I couldn’t say for certain. She certainly did not say that they were close friends.”
He said there was no indication that Danielle was going to self-harm. She seemed “happy” and was keen to show she was learning to play the guitar.
Detective Chief Inspector Lindsey Hill told the hearing the theory Danielle and Sarah had been talking via Facebook messages had been investigated, but it could not be confirmed.
He said: “There was some mention of a tribute to Sarah on Danielle’s Facebook news feed, but we can’t retrieve those messages.”
Stephen Mason, a senior child protection manager with Sunderland City Council, said Danielle had been known to children’s services since she was a young child.
She would run away from home and when she was placed with foster parents she also absconded, he said.
Eventually, concerns about the risks she was placing herself in led the council to obtain a court order, placing her in secure accommodation in Newton Aycliffe.
Mr Mason said a review on November 28 found she could be moved to “semi-secure” accommodation, but no psychological assessment was carried out first, despite a social worker highlighting the issue.
The inquest heard that was because officials in Sunderland and at the secure accommodation each believed the other was due to carry it out.
Mr Mason said lessons have already been learned from a serious case review into the deaths of both Danielle and Sarah, which has not yet been published.
Danielle’s mother, Ellen Halliman, told the hearing she wasn’t satisfied with the reason the assessment was not carried out.
She said: “I feel if it had been done, we would not be here.”
The hearing was told that Danielle left a note, and County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle said he was “reasonably confident” the note on the hot water bottle referred to Sarah Clerkson.
Recording a finding of suicide, he added: “I must conclude that it was Danielle’s intention to take her own life when she died.”
Ms Halliman did not want to comment after the inquest.