Tragic teen Thomas Brookes spent seven weeks in 'wholly inadequate' accommodation due to 'national scandal' of insufficient secure places, inquest told

A troubled teenager spent almost two months in ‘wholly inadequate’ accommodation because of a nationwide shortage of secure placements, an inquest has heard.

Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 5:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 4:47 pm

Sixteen-year-old Thomas Brookes was found dead by mum Helen Wardropper at their home in Westheath Avenue, Grangetown, on Saturday, September 28, 2019.

An inquest into his death has resumed at Sunderland Coroner’s Court and heard yesterday post mortem toxicology tests revealed Thomas had died of an overdose of heroin. Traces of other drugs, including ketamine and cocaine were also found in his system.

The hearing was told Thomas had been subject to a care order, as part of which a decision had been taken to place him in secure accommodation in an effort to stop him obtaining drugs.

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Thomas Brookes and pictured with mum Helen Wardropper (left) and aunt Cheryl Coggins

He had initially been placed in a privately-rented house in Sunderland with agency staff while efforts were made to find a suitable placement outside the city.

Social worker Vincent Peart said everyone involved knew the property was unsuitable but it had only ever been intended as a stopgap measure.

"The facility was wholly inadequate,” he said. “This was a position everybody shared. Everyone was in agreement this was a placement that was not fit for Thomas’ needs.

"He was told it would be for 72 hours – it turned out to be seven weeks.”

The property was not intended as a secure residence: “It was a residential home, a family home. It was not built as a purpose-built provision,” said Mr Peart.

Every effort had been made by Commissioning Specialist Emma Stewart to find secure accommodation for Thomas.

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The lack of suitable placements for under-18s was ‘a national scandal’, said Mr Peart.

"I have worked for ten different authorities and this is an issue we find time and time again,” he said.

"It is a national scandal that we have problems of many, many children falling through the gaps.”

Eventually, Thomas had reached a point where he no longer met the criteria for a Deprivation of Liberty order.

Staff at the property no longer had any legal power to stop him from leaving and accessing drugs and his mental health was suffering so it was agreed he could return home while efforts to find a residential placement outside the city continued.

The hearing was told Thomas had previously been on a placement in Cumbria but had been unhappy there.

His-then social worker Keith Thirlaway said it had been intended Thomas would receive support from Cumbria’s Children and Adolescent Mental Health team but this had not been forthcoming: “In the three months he was on placement, they had seen him three times,” he said.

"Thomas did not receive the support from them that we were anticipating or that we wanted.”

Asked what had been done to help Thomas, he replied: “Off the top of my head, little or nothing.”

Mr Thirlaway said he had found Ms Wardropper ‘combative and belligerent’ and told the court: “I think it was because I was seen as the one key manager making decisions on behalf of the local authority and I was having to make decisions to safeguard Thomas that were not line with what she was happy with.”

But the hearing was told no other workers had reported problems with Ms Wardropper.

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