Lucy McHugh murder: Southampton agencies 'missed chances to save her'

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image copyrightFamily handout
image captionLucy McHugh was found stabbed to death in woodland at Southampton Outdoor Sports Centre

Chances were missed to help a teenage girl in the months before she was raped and murdered by a lodger at her home, a report found.

Police and social services have both been criticised over the case of Lucy McHugh, 13, who was stabbed 27 times by Stephen Nicholson in Southampton.

Concerns Lucy was being abused were not investigated, the report by Southampton Safeguarding Children Partnership said.

Nicholson was jailed for life last year for Lucy's murder in July 2018.

During his trial at Winchester Crown Court, the jury heard the night before she was murdered Lucy had told Nicholson she was pregnant.

image copyrightHampshire Police
image captionStephen Nicholson began abusing Lucy when he began to stay with her family

The review said that before that, Lucy's teachers had flagged concerns she had an older boyfriend who could be sexually exploiting her.

But social workers considered the concerns had "no foundation" because they were given "assurances" by Lucy's mother.

As a result, the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (Mash) did not follow up the concerns and no information was connected with details held by police, the school or social services.

Both children's social care staff and police were aware Nicholson had a criminal history.

Lead reviewer Moira Murray said: "The referrals needed to be treated as one of child protection.

"If this had happened, a strategy discussion could have been convened concerning the risk this man posed to Lucy and her family.

"This did not happen and was a missed opportunity."

image copyrightFamily handout
image captionThe prosecution said Lucy McHugh was abused over the course of a year

The report added Hampshire Constabulary showed a "lack of professional curiosity" by not further investigating Nicholson's background when he came to their attention prior to Lucy's death, including when it became known he was tattooing under-age young people.

Southampton City Council's executive director apologised to Lucy's family for the "council's shortcomings", and said it had made a number of changes and was determined to keep improving its procedures.

Supt Kelly Whiting, district commander for Southampton, said the constabulary had taken action to improve referrals to other agencies and it had now set up a scrutiny panel to oversee such procedures.

Following publication of the report, an NSPCC spokesperson said it was "clear" that a "young victim was let down by a series of failings in the run-up to a brutal and shocking murder".

They added: "A number of safeguarding opportunities were very sadly missed and it's now vitally important that all recommendations are swiftly acted on and implemented.

"Cases where a young child is murdered in these horrific circumstances are mercifully rare but we all have a duty to look out for a child's welfare."

Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, called Lucy's murder a "tragedy for our city".

"It's important that the recommendations set out in the report are heeded and lessons are learned for all the organisations involved," he said.

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