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Finley Boden: Children’s services sorry they were unable to prevent baby’s death

Children’s services have apologised after a review found safeguarding practice was inadequate in the final weeks of the life of a baby murdered not long after being handed back to his parents.

The children’s agency involved in the decision to return Finley Boden to the couple said it was “profoundly sorry that together we were unable to prevent his death”.

Its apology was echoed by both the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership and Derbyshire County Council, with the latter recognising there had been “missed opportunities”.

A review into the circumstances leading up to his murder said the 10-month-old “should have been one of the most protected children in the local authority area” but found “significant shortcomings” in plans for him to be reunited with his parents.

Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden inflicted 130 injuries on their son before he fatally collapsed at his family home in Old Whittington, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, on Christmas Day 2020.

He had been returned to their care on November 17 that year by a family court despite social services raising concerns over Boden and Marsden’s drug use and the state of the family home.

After returning home, the child was subjected to a campaign of abuse and was found to have a multitude of injuries at the time of his death, as well as conditions including sepsis and pneumonia.

Marsden and Boden were handed life sentences with respective minimum terms of 27 and 29 years at Derby Crown Court in May.

A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review into Finley’s death, published by the safeguarding children partnership on Wednesday, said while Finley’s parents were responsible for his death, “professional interventions should have protected him”.

The review, which has been anonymised, said: “In this instance, a child died as the result of abuse when he should have been one of the most protected children in the local authority area.”

It said the “most significant professional decision” was that he should live with his parents, and concluded that “the safeguarding environment in which that decision was made had been incrementally weakened by the decisions, actions, circumstances and events which preceded it”.

Most of what had been experienced by Finley in the final weeks of his life “was unknown to professionals working with the family at that time”, the report said.

But it added: “The review has found, nevertheless, that safeguarding practice during that time was inadequate.”

It noted there had been a six-week period where a social worker was off sick and that during that time no social work visits to Finley or his parents took place.

The review acknowledged that Covid 19 regulations and their consequences had “exacerbated” the couple’s inaccessibility to professionals, but added that the local authority had accepted “more could have been done to ‘work’ the case and to formulate the final care plan” in spite of the “unique” pressures of the pandemic.

At their sentencing last year, Mrs Justice Amanda Tipples said Marsden and Boden were “persuasive and accomplished liars” who “brutally assaulted” their son.

Details of a Family Court order, made in October 2020 and disclosed to the media last year, showed that magistrates said Finley should be given back to his parents within eight weeks and without them being drug tested.

That was despite Derbyshire County Council telling the Family Court they had “some concerns” over Boden and Marsden’s cannabis use, asking the court for a four-month transition period in order to have “complete confidence” in their parenting abilities.

The Family Court heard from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) that the risk of harm posed to Finley by his parents was not unmanageable and did not require him to be placed out of their care “in the foreseeable future”.

The safeguarding review found “significant shortcomings” in relation to plans for family reunification, stating that “positive assessments” of his parents’ capabilities to care for him “fell short of an adequate evaluation of the risks” to which he would be exposed.

Responding to the safeguarding review, Cafcass said it was “profoundly sorry that together we were unable to prevent” Finley’s death and blamed his parents’ deception.

The service said that at the time of the court decision in October 2020 “everyone involved – including his guardian – believed his parents had made and sustained the changes necessary to care for him safely”.

They added: “What led to his death was the ability of Finley’s parents to deceive everyone involved, about their love for him and their desire to care for him.

“No-one could have predicted from what was known at the time that they were capable of such cruelty or that there was a risk that they would intentionally hurt him, let alone murder him.”

Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden were convicted of murdering Finley Boden (Derbyshire Police/PA)
Shannon Marsden and Stephen Boden were convicted of murdering their 10-month-old son, Finley Boden (Derbyshire Police/PA)

The county council’s executive director for children’s services, Carol Cammiss, described Finley’s death as “a tragedy for everyone who knew him and everyone involved in his care”.

She said: “Despite the significant Covid restrictions placed on our work at the time, we know there were missed opportunities for stronger practice and we apologise for that.”

She said the council had acted quickly after Finley’s death to “review and strengthen our systems and continue to monitor the way we work with babies and families” and that it accepts the findings and recommendations of the review “and takes full responsibility for its actions in this case”.

She insisted the local authority “is definitely in a stronger place” now and that learning from what happened in Finley’s case “has already been embedded”.

She added: “That doesn’t mean that we’re complacent. We want to strive to be the best that we can be, and to provide safe services to all the children that we work with.”

The safeguarding partnership said it accepted the review’s recommendations in full and will “take the additional action necessary to further reduce the risk of a repeat of a similar incident”.

Its independent chairman and scrutineer, Steve Atkinson, said: “We owe it to Finley to take action on the basis of the recommendations in the report.”

He said that while it cannot be guaranteed a similar case would never happen in future, “we can significantly reduce the risk by taking on board and acting on the recommendations in the report”.

The review made 11 recommendations in total, including that the partnership carries out “a multi-agency audit” of recent parenting assessments to consider their quality, for local public health commissioners of substance misuse services and the local authority to “develop a working joint protocol”, and ensure arrangements are in place for effective local response to domestic abuse, with Marsden having been accepted during the court case as having been a victim of such abuse.