Alfie Steele tortured and beaten to death by mum & fiancé: Authorities missed opportunities to save him

Alfie Steele died after his lifeless body was found in the bath - killed by his mother and her partner after months of harrowing abuse - these are the missed opportunities authorities had to save him
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Police and social services missed a string of opportunities to save a nine-year-old boy from being killed by his own mother and her fiancé, according to a report into his treatment by authorities.

Alfie Steele died in February 2021 from more than 50 different injuries after his lifeless body was found in the bath. Carla Scott, 35, and her partner, Dirk Howell, 41, killed the youngster after months of harrowing abuse at his home in Droitwich, Worcestershire.

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Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Partnership has now released a Child Safeguarding Practice Review. And the damning dossier revealed authorities missed a catalogue of chances to intervene in the years before Alfie's death.

The authorities received dozens of calls from people who were worried about him but repeatedly failed to act or share information with other agencies. The report also criticised professionals, saying they “became fixed in their thinking” when they spoke to Scott and Howell.

The review said: “There were concerns from neighbours about harsh and cruel parenting of Alfie reported to either children’s services or the police … but no joint plan agreed to respond.”

It added “the risk that Carla Scott presented to Alfie as a perpetrator should have been recognised earlier”. The report said the family were in contact with professionals from a number of agencies "over an extended period of time". Alfie was under a child protection plan but there was "little evidence it was being complied with".

Alfie Steele died from more than 50 different injuries after his lifeless body was found in the bath - killed by his mother, Carla Scott, and her partner, Dirk Howell, after months of harrowing abuse. Picture: SWNSAlfie Steele died from more than 50 different injuries after his lifeless body was found in the bath - killed by his mother, Carla Scott, and her partner, Dirk Howell, after months of harrowing abuse. Picture: SWNS
Alfie Steele died from more than 50 different injuries after his lifeless body was found in the bath - killed by his mother, Carla Scott, and her partner, Dirk Howell, after months of harrowing abuse. Picture: SWNS
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Between 2018 and 2020 more than 60 calls were made to police and social services, with many concerning Howell's "harsh and cruel" practices. But the report stated that “too often he (Alfie) was described as safe and well when he had not been spoken to".

It added that “there were many incidents of concern, they were different in nature, but all were treated in isolation”.

Last year Howell was found guilty of murder and was jailed for life with a minimum term of 32 years following a trial at Coventry Crown Court. Scott was convicted of manslaughter and handed sentences totaling 27 years.

The safeguarding review found police and social services failed to recognise the dangers posed to Alfie over a three-year period. The review stated: “There was intelligence of drug dealing by both Dirk Howell and Carla Scott, which was not shared with other professionals.”

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“There was insufficient consideration given to protecting Alfie by removing Dirk from the home,” it added.

Alfie was subject to a child protection plan for 18 months but the report found “little evidence” it was effective. During that time Howell stayed at the home overnight and was physically abusive to the child. 

Howell also smoked cannabis in the home and there were allegations of him “harshly and cruelly disciplining Alfie”. He was ordered to attend parenting classes and an anger management programme but failed to turn up. Scott was also told to attend a domestic abuse programme but left after one session.

The report found: “There were no consequences for Carla or Dirk, who continued to disregard the plan intended to keep Alfie safe.”

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The review found it was “surprising” concerns about the pair's physical abuse was “never sufficiently articulated” by the agencies. Police also failed to “follow through” on injuries Alfie showed, with the authorities believing Scott’s explanations about how he got them.

The review made eight recommendations to improve the protection of children, including better training and information sharing.

Responding to the report, Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Jones, of West Mercia Police, said: “Enhanced training has been put in place for our front-line officers and staff to ensure they fully understand the signs of vulnerability, that they are professionally curious and don’t take information on face value.”

Abuse suffered by Alfie Steele

Following a trial, on June 13, 2023, Scott and Howell were found guilty of killing Alfie in the bath following a campaign of "sinister" punishment. The defenceless schoolboy died after his lifeless body was pulled from a bath in February 2021, having suffered more than 50 injuries at the hands of the pair.

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A court heard Alfie had been tortured and beaten to death after being subjected to a regime of punishment at the property, on Vashon Drive. The brutal discipline techniques included Alfie being whipped with belts and flip flops, as well as being "dunked" in cold baths. He was also made to stand outside at night and have water thrown over him. 

Shockingly, the "physical and psychological" abuse which led to his murder was able to continue despite Alfie being under a social services protection plan. Legal discussions had also been ongoing to remove him from the household. But it proved too late as he was eventually battered to death.

Howell, who has spent more than half of his life in prison, was found guilty of murder following a six-week trial at Coventry Crown Court. Scott was cleared of murder but found guilty of manslaughter by a majority verdict following more than 10 hours of deliberations. 

The court heard the pair thought it was acceptable to hit Alfie with “belts, or a slider, like a heavy-duty flip flop, and use other more sinister forms of punishment", including holding Alfie under cold water in the bath for a prolonged amount of time whenever they believed he was lying.

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Medical experts said bruises suggested he had been "manhandled" and other marks on his buttocks were from being kicked by an adult who "had lost control".

Michelle Heeley KC said Alfie died after being "beaten and deliberately put in a cold bath" and he had been “made to endure a life that no child should lead”. She added: "Alfie had not simply fallen asleep in a comfortable bath. He had been deliberately and repeatedly assaulted, beaten, and put into and held under a cold bath as a punishment.”

Jurors sitting on the trial were played harrowing footage during the case - including of Alfie screaming and begging to be let in after being locked outside his house. The chilling clip captured Alfie crying for help repeatedly shouting, "Let me in, let me in", 18 months before he died.

Further footage included a 999 call from neighbour Gemma Allcott who said: "It sounds like my neighbours are doing something bad to their kid in the bath. Like they are really hurting them."

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The court heard Scott had Alfie with a man from a previous relationship and she started dating Howell in July 2019 and got engaged six months later. Neighbours raised concerns with the local authorities “within a short period of time of these two getting together”. 

Alfie had been under a social services protection plan and legal discussions had taken place on whether to remove him from Scott's care after teachers raised concerns he was "constantly hungry" at school in the months before his death.

He was pronounced dead at Worcester Royal Hospital and his injuries were later found to have been caused by "direct pressure”, which left him "susceptible to drowning while unconscious".

Alfie Steele’s tragic timeline

The following is a timeline of events and missed opportunities by authorities leading up to his death over a period of three years:

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2018 - Scott and Alfie move to Worcestershire. Alfie was subject to a child protection plan for neglect and he and his mother were homeless.

August 2019 - Howell meets Scott. There are concerns from family and neighbours about Howell's criminal history, his aggression, shouting at Alfie and cannabis use. A previous history of violence towards others was disclosed but there was no record of Howell connected to domestic abuse.

September 2019 - Howell's long criminal history, marker for violence and drug dealing is discussed in a strategy meeting. At the time Howell was under investigation for a burglary of an elderly man where firearms were stolen. Scott, however, said she did not believe he posed a risk to her or Alfie.

October 2019 - Child protection and safety plan agreed.

November 2019 - Neighbours share concerns Howell is behaving cruelly to Alfie. Howell found to be in the home by the police. Howell threatened neighbours with violence.

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February 2020 - Neighbours raise concerns about anti-social behaviour by Scott and Howell in the form of parties and loud music and Howell's aggressiveness in response to complaints. Alfie reported to be hungry in school.

March 2020 - Scott physically abusive to Alfie and there is evidence of Howell being drunk and aggressive to Alfie in the community.

March 2020 - Covid pandemic and first lockdown. Changes to operating procedures for all agencies. Schools remain open to support vulnerable children, but Scott does not allow Alfie to attend.

April 2020 - Further concerns from neighbours about Alfie, and Howell seen behaving inappropriately and aggressively to him.

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April 2020 - Alfie's head teacher raises concerns about the lack of progress of the child protection plan and increased risks to his welfare. Informed a Legal Planning Meeting would be convened.

May 2020 - Legal Planning Meeting held, at which it was decided a risk assessment would be completed for Howell. Parenting assessment to be made for Scott and Alfie's father.

June 2020 - Howell caught shoplifting on two occasions. On the second he punched a female shop assistant in the face. He was arrested and later charged.

July 2020 - At a meeting it was agreed the threshold for care proceedings was not met. A child protection plan would continue, but Howell was now allowed to be in the home and required to engage with a child protection plan, and attend meetings including a parenting course, and anger management support.

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July 2020 - A Child Protection Conference review was rescheduled to October 2020 due to the local authority Covid arrangements, which meant no children were removed from child protection plans during this period

August 2020 - Neighbour shares concern with police that they can hear a child being harmed. This was responded to and denied by Scott. Howell not seen at the home, but he subsequently threatens to burn neighbour's home down for sharing concerns.

September 2020 - Alfie returns to school. Concerns about him being hungry and unkempt.

October 2020 - Howell was convicted of physically assaulting a train guard. Two further offences were being investigated: a burglary and the assault of a shop assistant.

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November 2020 - Alfie's school was worried about him. He looked unkempt, had a nasty ear infection and seemed unsettled. Those fears were discussed with the lead social worker. Uncorroborated information suggested Scott and Howell might be dealing drugs from the home.

January 2021 - Change of social worker. The child protection plan is reviewed. Neighbours are contacted who were part of the plan and they expressed concerns. The maternal grandparents meanwhile said they were unaware of the child protection plan. Howell found in Scott's bedroom, having said he was not in the home. Scott asks for a different social worker.

February 2021 - Alfie was tortured and beaten to death.