‘Alarm bells’ were ringing at the school ‘Cinderella girl’ Amber Peat attended, but social services failed to act, an inquest heard.
Concerns about Amber, who was found hanged in a hedgerow after she ran away from home following a row with her parents over chores, were called in to a safeguarding team, Nottingham County Council’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), by Amber’s former Vice Principal.
Amber had raised concerns with her teachers and claimed that she had been forced to wash every pot in her home.
On the seventh day of the hearing Vice Principal Karen Green said Amber and her family had moved around quite a bit, but said that once people started to work with them, they would move on.
When referring Amber to the council’s safeguarding unit she said: ‘This one is ringing alarm bells. It just does not feel right. My gut instinct is there is something not right here and I can’t put my finger on it.’
Amber Peat (left) was not allowed to talk about the ‘big secret’ that her stepfather Daniel Peat (right) had been jailed for tax fraud
Amber’s mother Kelly Peat (pictured above) attended the inquest at Nottingham Coroners Court today
The teacher added Amber had mentioned a ‘big secret’ at home she wasn’t allowed to talk about – which turned out to be her stepfather had been jailed for tax fraud – and that she had been subjected to the pot washing punishment.
In 2014 Daniel Peat was jailed for 16 months over a £120,000 tax fraud. He and an accomplice admitted attempting to falsely claim more than £200,000 in tax rebates.
Derby Crown Court had previously heard that Mr Peat was the instigator and received £78,000 from the scam.
Amber Peat, 13, from Mansfield was not found hanged for 72 hours despite going missing in the early evening of May 30
The inquest heard that a second call to the team listed a series of alleged incidents reported by Amber to her form tutor that had happened at home, one of which was a claim her stepfather had woken the schoolgirl at 11.30pm and made her clean the floor of their house.
However on neither occasion was Amber’s case escalated to the level of formal social care involvement – causing coroner Laurinda Bower to say she was ‘concerned’ about how the system operated.
Amber’s body was discovered in June 2015, three days after she walked out of the home in Mansfield that she shared with mother Kelly, stepfather Danny, and two younger siblings.
The inquest into her death, which is being held in Nottingham, has earlier been told her parents waited almost eight hours before they finally reported her missing in the early hours of the morning.
The family did not report Amber missing until they had ‘been to Tesco and had their tea’. Pictured above the missing poster which was put up once it had been reported that Amber was missing
Ms Bower was told two calls were made from Queen Elizabeth School in Mansfield, which Amber attended at the time of her death, to MASH before the tragedy – one in September 2014, and another six months later.
Both times a worker took information from the callers – one of whom was a key worker at the school and the other its vice principal – and handed it on to a qualified social worker.
But the inquest was told the case didn’t pass a ‘threshold’ that would have triggered statutory social services intervention.
On the second occasion the caller from the school was told to go back to Amber’s parents and ‘discuss’ the claims she had made without any evidence the potential impact on her of doing so had been assessed – something Ms Bower said ‘shocked’ her.
The coroner told MASH group manager Teresa Godfrey: ‘In the world of safeguarding there should have been an explicit conversation about risk.’
The first call to the safeguarding unit was made by Queen Elizabeth vice principal Karen Green.
But MASH officer Elizabeth Fisher, who took the call, said the information provided was ‘limited’ and ‘without context’ – and didn’t satisfy the criteria for a full social services referral. Instead, the school was advised to carry out an ‘Early Help’ assessment – something it ultimately didn’t do.
However, Mrs Fisher did accept a suggestion from Ms Bower that she could have asked more questions and ‘dug a little deeper’ to gain a wider picture of the situation. She said evidence she had heard during the inquest about Amber while sat in the public gallery had left her ‘shocked’.
A second call was made to the MASH team in March 2015, two months before Amber’s death, by her school key worker Sharon Clay.
She reported concerns over Amber wearing ill-fitting tracksuit bottoms to school, which the inquest has previously heard she was made to do by Mr Peat after failing to put her normal trousers in the wash, and bringing her items in a cheap plastic bag.
Ms Clay added that she thought Amber was being ’emotionally abused’ by her stepdad, who had also ordered her to wash the floors at 11.30pm at night.
However, the concerns again weren’t enough to merit the involvement of social services.
MASH worker Joanna Shepherd, who took the call, said ‘you would need more incidents over a period of time’ – adding she was not aware at the time of the ‘bigger picture’ surrounding Amber.
The inquest heard Mrs Shepherd had no knowledge of the earlier call. She told the hearing she could have asked for more details – but would have expected the caller to give a ‘full picture’.
After getting the advice of a social worker, Mrs Shepherd told Ms Clay the school should go back and discuss the matter with Amber’s mum.
But Ms Bower asked if any thought had been given to the impact it could have on Amber if the disclosures she’d made to her teacher were passed back to her parents, adding: ‘As we discuss this now, do you see the concerns I am raising?’
Mrs Shepherd replied: ‘Yes. But I could not question the social worker on that.’
The hearing was told that since Amber’s death procedures had been put in place, including better recording systems, that aimed to gather and collate information better.
The inquest continues.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article then you can call the Samaritans on 116 123, alternatively you can visit the website at by clicking here.