The school to which one of Brianna Ghey’s killers was moved before murdering the 16-year-old was not told their new pupil had already drugged a younger girl with a cannabis sweet.
Teachers were told only that Scarlett Jenkinson had been caught with cannabis edibles and was being given a “second chance”, an investigation has found.
The 13-year-old victim at Culcheth High School in Warrington, Cheshire, had fallen ill after Jenkinson gave her the sweet, and police were called in – but the victim’s parents did not want any further action.
Four months later, after moving to Birchwood Community High School, Jenkinson, together with Eddie Ratcliffe, murdered Brianna in a “frenzied and ferocious” attack with a hunting knife in a park in February 2023. They stabbed her 28 times.
At Manchester Crown Court, Jenkinson, 16, was told she must serve a minimum of 22 years, and Ratcliffe a minimum term of 20 years, less time on remand in both cases. The judge said they may never be free.
Ms Justice Yip said they had both taken part in a “brutal and planned murder which was sadistic in nature, and where a secondary motive was hostility to Brianna on the basis of her transgender identity”.
After poisoning the 13-year-old, Jenkinson had faced being expelled from Culcheth High School, which she attended alongside Ratcliffe, but instead a decision was made to avoid expulsion and transfer her to Birchwood.
Teachers at the new school were unaware Jenkinson, then 15, had drugged another pupil.
Messages that detectives discovered after the murder revealed how Jenkinson and Ratcliffe’s plans had escalated. They first started talking about murder in November, soon after Jenkinson had arrived at her new school.
By January, Ratcliffe was boasting about buying a knife while on a family skiing holiday in Bulgaria. His accomplice had a “kill list” that included Brianna’s name and those of five boys.
Emma Mills, Birchwood’s headteacher, said: “If I was to reflect on the whole situation then I would say that better communication, maybe between health and social care and education is something that’s needed, in order ... to get the best care possible.
“I’m not privy to the information about Scarlett that would say that there was any involvement from health or social care, but I think if there is anything that had happened previously or that other services knew about them, [then] better, joined up thinking is always going to be beneficial for everybody involved.”
Culcheth High School suspended Jenkinson for five days after the cannabis drugging, and arranged for her to be transferred to avoid a permanent exclusion and “to give her a second chance”. It was at her new school where she met and befriended Brianna.
Ms Mills said she had been told that Jenkinson had been caught with cannabis edibles.
“We were told it was a one-off incident, where she knew she’d made a mistake.
“We are a school that has absolutely zero tolerance in terms of drugs, so we knew that we had the systems in place to offer her a managed transfer,” she told BBC File on 4.
She added: “If anything came up where we thought that it would be a danger in any way, then you can simply refuse [the transfer]. In Scarlett’s case there was nothing that raised a concern in terms of the information that we were given.”
Less than four months after giving a 13-year-old the cannabis sweet – around two weeks before the murder – Jenkinson also gave Brianna spiked tablets. Esther Ghey arrived home to find her daughter being sick.
Ms Ghey told the BBC: “I remember it vividly. We didn’t know what it was, but it makes sense now that Scarlett had actually tried to kill Brianna prior to 11 February.
“That particular part of the evidence really scared me because I thought if she’d been successful in that, we would have thought that Brianna killed herself because of the issues that she had with her mental health at that point. That disturbed me immensely.”
She said: “I feel like Brianna was let down by quite a few agencies regarding her mental health.
“I don’t know the situation for Scarlett, for her family, but I just feel that nobody could predict that something like this would happen and even if you had a child in your school or you knew a child, even if they act strangely or they’re not coping very well, you still wouldn’t think that they will be capable of committing such a crime. You’re never going to think, oh yes, that child is a murderer.”
Chris Hunt, headteacher of Culcheth High School, said: “We offer our deepest sympathies to Brianna’s family, friends and those who knew and loved her.
“Since this tragic event, we have been working closely with partner agencies across Warrington. This will continue as part of the local child safeguarding practice review into this distressing incident and in line with wider safeguarding considerations.”
Amanda Holt, a criminologist at the University of Roehampton in London, said: “If you look at the history of children who engage in homicide, there is inevitably a history of increasing violence and some of that violence might involve previous attempts to commit homicide.
“It’s incredibly unusual for some to just wake up one day with no history of violence or offending and decide to kill somebody. What it tells me is that there were perhaps opportunities to intervene.”
The child safeguarding review, involving health, police, schools and council services in Warrington, has been set up to establish what can be learnt about Jenkinson’s actions.
Details of the investigation, which will include looking at her transfer between schools, will be published later this year.
When the pair were convicted in December, Detective Chief Supt Mike Evans, head of crime at Cheshire Police, described them as having a “thirst for killing” and relishing in the “enjoyment” of Brianna’s murder.
Brianna, who was reportedly bullied at school for being transgender, wrote on social media just days before her death that she had been excluded from school.
Mayor of Warrington Steve Wright said: “Today, we are thinking of Brianna, her family, friends and all who knew and loved her.
“What happened will always be regarded as one of Warrington’s darkest days, and while today’s sentencing brings about the judicial conclusion of the matter, we know that many people in Warrington continue to grieve and are suffering.
“The Peace in Mind campaign, led by Brianna’s mum, Esther, has been a small light amongst what has been a truly dark and distressing time for our town, and is an enduring symbol that Brianna will never be forgotten.”
A spokesperson for Cheshire Constabulary said the force was made aware of the earlier drugging on 27 September 2022.
“The matter was reviewed and the victim’s family spoken to. They did not support further police action so the matter was passed to the school to provide ongoing support.”