RELATIVES have blamed social workers for the death of a 17-year-old who was moved 100 miles to live with the neighbour of a father he had never met.

The foster parent and birth father of Kyle Birchall claim the teenager would still be alive if Brighton and Hove City Council staff had not agreed to move him away from the city just five days before his death.

The family said social workers exaggerated the risk the teenager faced from Facebook threats received following a confrontation with a friend.

A Brighton and Hove local safeguarding children board (LSCB) serious case review (SCR) into Kyle’s death in December 2014 highlighted high staff turnover, an "over-reliance" on agency staff and "weak" management behind a breakdown in relationship between the council, the teenager and his family.

The local authority has apologised for their failings in handling the case while unions claim social workers are being placed under huge pressure by ever increasing workloads.

A breakdown in communication between council staff and police was also raised by the report’s authors who have proposed 11 improvements.

Kyle died from self-strangulation on December 2 2014 – a day after he was found hanging in the stairwell of the Bedfordshire home belonging to the neighbour of his birth father Rick Markham.

The report said: “BF [birth father] and FM [foster mother] expressed a very strong sense of anger at the actions of agencies, children’s social work services in particular.

“They believed that E would not have died had he not been allowed to go to the local authority area of BF.

“They felt that there had been ‘a total lack of preparation, a failure to follow protocols, and, more generally, a lack of resources offered to E.”

Graham Bartlett, Brighton and Hove LSCB's chairman, said it was clear a number of things needed to be done differently including better communication from Sussex Police to children’s services and more “young-people friendly” mental health services.

He added: “There are recurring themes in the review around poor record keeping by the agencies involved, the sharing of information among the professionals involved, and communication between the agencies.”

City council executive director Pinaki Ghoshal said: “We accept that some of our practice wasn’t as good as it should have been and we apologise for this.

“Since this tragic incident in late 2014 we have reviewed and improved the way we run some of our children’s services, particularly with regard to record keeping and data management, care planning and communication with carers.”

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “We have recognised that on occasions there can be a lack of clarity for officers as to when a single combined assessment of risk form should be completed and we are therefore reviewing the procedures.”

UNISON branch secretary Sue Beatty said “Quite simply there are not enough staff to cover the huge and ever- growing caseloads that our members are dealing with.

“Agency staff are expensive and using them for months, and sometimes years, adds to the problem as the money could and should be used to retain existing and future permanent employees on better terms and conditions.”


DESPITE a difficult upbringing in which he lost his mother, grandmother and uncle to suicide, Kyle Birchall’s future looked bright.

The 17-year-old – with the support of his aunt, partner and cousins with whom he had lived since the age of three – had become a hard-working “model pupil”, a “cheeky cheerful chappie” who dreamed of becoming an RAF engineer.

But things began to spiral out of control with the reintroduction of his father into his life, the loss of connection with social workers he had grown close to and a series of run-ins with the police which led to his removal from the only city he had ever called home.

His mother died of a drugs overdose when he was eight, part of a tragic family history of suicide which also included the deaths of her own mother and brother, while his father was absent throughout his childhood.

Described as a charming, polite and willing student, as Kyle progressed into his late teens, his behaviour outside school became increasingly challenging with reports of violent behaviour, drug taking and a motorbike crash.

Just before his 16th birthday, his father Rick Markham told children’s services he wanted to have contact with Kyle, who initially wanted only online contact with him.

In April 2013, police removed Kyle from his home overnight, though both the police and his foster mother failed to contact social services about the incident for three days and then only with incomplete information.

In the autumn, he went to sixth form college to study aeronautical engineering and while again impressing teachers, his behaviour outside school continued to deteriorate.

He was hospitalised from alcohol and drugs, told his foster mother he was experimenting with cocaine, confessed to breaking into a children’s centre to let off fire extinguishers, began stealing from his family and finally in June 2014, was arrested for burglary and theft – though Sussex Police again failed to inform children’s services.

Kyle was eventually placed in respite care in a nearby town and returned home after five weeks to learn that his foster parents’ house had been burgled.

He assaulted the carer of a friend he had gone to confront over the incident but the friend was linked to a gang involved in stabbings and a number of threats were made on Facebook which left the teen terrified and determined to leave Brighton immediately.

Mr Markham felt he had been pressurised into taking the son he had never met while an urgent foster placement could be arranged.

Phone contact was maintained for three days with father and son from Friday, November 28 but there was no contact and no checks carried out on the father’s neighbour who the teen was living with.

An agreed police check was not carried out due to a misunderstanding, while an immediate follow-up risk assessment by local children’s services was never conducted. On the Monday, Kyle was discovered to have hanged himself in his father’s friend’s house.

Following Kyle’s death, Brighton and Hove City Council has made significant changes to its children social work department to address problems of staff retention, management recruitment and oversized teams.

During his last 22 months, Kyle went through four changes of social workerwith no social worker seeing him more than five times.

Other concerns raised by the review include the downturn in Kyle’s behaviour coinciding with his transfer from a long-serving social worker to a new team designed to handle youngsters 16 and above – a team that was struggling with an absent manager and high proportion of agency staff.

Further disruption with staff who knew him best meant the organisation had less understanding of Kyle and his foster family, while social workers were criticised for a lack of preparation for the contact between the teenager and his father.