Schoolgirl deaths: Coroner slams watchdog as delays hold up inquests

CRAIG THOMPSON PIC'Sarah Clerkson, 14, who was found hanged in the bedroom of a house party in Spennymoor, County Durham in the early hours of Saturday morning (DEC 8).  (house pictured)  Some posts on social media websites have suggested Sarah may have taken her own life after being targeted by online bullies.
CRAIG THOMPSON PIC'Sarah Clerkson, 14, who was found hanged in the bedroom of a house party in Spennymoor, County Durham in the early hours of Saturday morning (DEC 8). (house pictured) Some posts on social media websites have suggested Sarah may have taken her own life after being targeted by online bullies.
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HEARINGS into the deaths of two teenage girls have been “left in limbo” because of delays in serious case reviews into their care, a coroner has said.

County Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle said the hold-up to the reports into the deaths Sarah Clerkson and Danielle Formosa is causing their friends and family further distress as he cannot proceed with their inquests until the documents are complete.

At a review hearing for the Sunderland girls, who were both in care at the time of their deaths, Mr Tweddle was told Sunderland Safeguarding Children Board has been unable to give a date as to when the reports will be published.

They were originally scheduled to be complete in October, and then December,

Sarah, 14, who was living in foster care, died at the University Hospital of North Durham, on December 7, 2013, after she was found hanged in a bedroom after a party in Spennymoor.

Danielle, also 14, and a pupil at St Anthony’s Catholic Girls’ Academy, was found dead 10 days later at a care home in Consett.

In June, Kevin Palmer, then 40, was jailed for four and a half years by Newcastle Crown Court after admitting engaging in sexual activity in the presence of Danielle and causing or inciting her to engage in sexual activity.

Sunderland Safeguarding Board says a new way of carrying out the inquiries through an external organisation has taken longer than expected.

Lynne Thomas, business manager for the board, told the coroner’s office via one of his officers the reviews were more complex than first thought, and said the way they are being carried out will allow them to better reflect on any “learning opportunities” from what happened to the schoolgirls.

Mr Tweddle told the review hearing in Crook: “It causes further distress in respect of friends and family connected with these young people.

“This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.

“While I can understand they want to get the nature of them right, the fact that it’s taken so long is against procedure because if there are lessons to be learned, it is they are learned in a timely fashion.

“Unless and until that report comes, it’s not possible for me to act on inquiries, therefore I’m somewhat held in limbo.”

Mr Tweddle highlighted how he was also concerned because the deaths had happened more than 12 months ago, adding they were both “sad cases” which shared common features because they had been involved with the authorities in Sunderland.

The next review date was set for Monday, February 23.