Tower Hamlets council admits failings over death of Alex Kelly, 15, in care

A catalogue of 11 failings by Tower Hamlets child care services led to a 15-year-old fostered teenager hanging himself, an investigation this week has concluded.

Alex Kelly had been sexually abused as a child, one of a family of four siblings in London’s East End all taken into care because of neglect and emotional abuse, each having a different father.

Later accounts by Alex were that they were living in an unsafe, chaotic and physically deprived environment.

He had been raped over a period of time by a family member which was to haunt him for the rest of his days, the independent Tower Hamlets Safeguarding Children’s Board reveals.

Alex, whose father was African, saw himself as white, being fostered by a white family at Rochester in Kent and growing up in a mainly white environment—but was treated as a young black. His confusion led to disruptive behaviour at school, eventual exclusion, then turning to street crime including theft and assault.

It was while he was being detained at Cookham Wood Youth Offending Institution in Kent that Alex used laces from a pair of trainers to hang himself in January, 2012—just weeks before his release.

But the Safeguarding Board’s case review has identified shortcomings in child care services long before he was detained in the institution, including lack of skills for children who have been sexually abused.

Most Read

Tower Hamlets failed to coordinate an effective response to Alex’s educational problems, it said.

No-one from the local authority was monitoring his welfare during the time he was detained—which the report says “was entirely unacceptable.”

Alex’s mother and father were not told of his exclusion from school. His father only learned of his detention after several weeks.

Tower Hamlets Education, Social Care and Wellbeing this week admitted its mistakes.

Its interim director Anne Canning said: “We apologise unreservedly for mistakes we made in his care and support.

“This young man had an exceptionally traumatic early childhood which included sexual abuse and neglect.”

Alex took “a disproportionate view of his race.”

She added: “He wanted to be white, but he couldn’t understand why he was put in care.

“He was confused and distressed—he had a right to be, with his early life experience.”

The shortcomings reflected the inexperience of Alex’s allocated social worker and lack of monitoring.

Alex had no effective education after 14 and ended up in youth custody in October, 2011, to serve five months.

But he began to withdraw, had self-harmed by cutting himself and had threatened to ‘string up’—prison slang for hanging himself.

He blocked the observation panel in his cell door, forcing prison officers to enter to make sure he wasn’t harming himself and increasing their monitoring to five observations an hour.

But that left a window of opportunity of 12 minutes—enough for Alex to take his young life, just weeks before his release.

His body was found slumped across the floor behind the door with a ligature made from long trainer laces tied round his neck, pushed through two small holes in his locker.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter