Children’s services criticised after teenager is killed by train

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The grieving mother of a West Sussex teenager who died after being hit by a train has criticised the decision to take him out of the care home where he was living.

Troubled Steffan Bonnot was 17 years old when he was killed at Warningcamp foot crossing near Arundel on New Year’s Day 2016.

An inquest into his death at Centenary House in Worthing on Wednesday heard how he had absconded during a field trip with other care home children on the day of his death.

‘He was funny and mischievous. He liked practical jokes,’ his mother, Barbara Bonnot, told the inquest.

‘He always wanted to be a fireman but he found numbers too difficult.’

Born in Brighton, Steffan had been in care since the age of four, his mother said.

He had been in and out of a series of foster homes until he moved into the Amicus Community in Littlehampton as a teenager.

The Amicus Community runs two care homes for ‘emotionally damaged children’, according to their website, with therapeutic care workers living at the homes to care for them.

‘He couldn’t manage in a normal school so Amicus had their own school to meet the children’s needs. I was quite pleased that Steffan was still there when he was 16,’ his mother said.

‘He had 24/7 care if he needed it. They understood him.’

His mother described how he would do things that were ‘really dangerous’ including ‘jumping out of windows from foster places’.

‘Had difficulty in making friends. He worried that he would never be accepted,’ she added.

However the Amicus Community usually only houses children up until the age of 18, and the decision was made that Steffan would be placed in a foster home.

‘I went straight against it. I said ‘no he’s not ready to be moved from Amicus’,’ Steffan’s mother said.

‘He liked it at Amicus, he felt secure.’

Paul Jones, manager of the Amicus home where Steffan lived, told the inquest he would have liked Steffan to be able to stay on longer.

‘I was very clear we would have liked to carry on working with Steffan for as long as posisble,’ he told the coroner.

However, while Amicus staff were involved in discussions about Steffan’s future, the final decision was made by Brighton and Hove children’s services that he should move to a foster home.

It was on a field trip during his final days at the Amicus Community that Steffan was last seen by his carers.

Georgios Vramis, a care worker at the Amicus home where Steffan lived, told the inquest how staff and children had stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant on the way back from the cinema on January 1, 2016.

He described how he saw Steffan walking away from the retail complex but by the time he had made sure another child was safe Steffan was out of sight.

Georgios and another care worker searched for Steffan for several hours in and around Arundel and Littlehampton.

‘I drove to Arundel train station and could see there was an incident. At the time my anxiety was quite significant,’ he said.

Mark Sutherland, coroner’s liaison officer for British Transport Police, told the inquest a man named Stephen Guard called the police just after 6pm.

‘The resident was at home with family. He heard the sound of a train horn which was more panicked as opposed to a standard blast of a train’s horn,’ Mr Sutherland said.

Soon afterwards the man could see a train at a standstill near the Warningcamp foot crossing and upon approach saw a lit-up phone lying near the tracks and called the police.

A body at the scene was formally identified as Steffan, Mr Sutherland said.

Dr Mark Appleton’s post-mortem examination report was read out at Wednesday’s hearing, which revealed the cause of death as ‘blunt head injury’.

Representatives from Brighton and Hove City Council were present at the inquest and will be giving evidence at a later date.

A serious case review is being compiled separately by the West Sussex Safeguarding Children Board and will be published by the end of June.

The inquest will resume on Wednesday, July 12.