Betrayed before she was even born: Social workers knew Poppy, who died aged 4, was at risk before her addict mother gave birth. So why ARE they still in jobs?
- Mother’s texts to drug dealer showed they were giving youngster drugs
- Cocktail of substances were found in little girl’s system after her death
- Pair charged with child cruelty as the cause of death was not established
- Judge jails cruel heroin addict, who he says was ‘utterly unfit to be a mother’
An evil mother who plied her four-year-old daughter with drugs before she died was jailed yesterday as shocking social services failures were laid bare.
Michala Pyke, 38, and her dealer boyfriend John Rytting, 40, were both jailed for 13 years for forcing little Poppy Widdison into ‘the mire of drugs’ and a life of ‘utter degradation’.
As the judge sentenced the pair, he said Poppy’s life was ‘tragic from the moment she was conceived to the moment she died’.
Michala Pyke and John Rytting gave Poppy Widdison drugs so she wouldn’t get in their way
Poppy was born drug addicted due to her mother’s heroin habit, but stayed with her mother
It was also revealed that:
- Officials were so worried, they met three weeks before Poppy’s birth in 2009 to discuss her care, but agreed she could be looked after by her mother and father;
- Poppy – who was even named after the plant that heroin comes from – was born a drug addict due to her mother’s heroin habit, and doctors said she suffered withdrawal symptoms after birth;
- Social services were responsible for Poppy from birth, and three times closed investigations believing she was safe in her mother’s care;
- Social workers were called in just six months before her death, but found out only after her death that Poppy was living in a drug dealer’s den;
- Relatives criticised social services, and the local MP hit out at agencies for allowing Poppy to ‘slip through the cracks’;
- Pyke and Rytting fed the youngster illicit drugs they called ‘Smarties’ to sedate her so they could have sex;
- Poppy endured a brutal regime of physical and emotional cruelty, and was given heroin and other drugs over many months.
The youngster collapsed and died after suffering a cardiac arrest in Rytting’s squalid flat in Grimsby in June 2013. Paramedics found her blue and not breathing on the sofa.
A post-mortem examination revealed she had bruising to her upper arms, legs and buttocks.
Tests of her hair showed she had been given heroin, morphine and a range of other drugs, including the ‘dance drug’ ketamine. Experts agreed she had been plied with substances for months.
Rytting suffered from schizophrenia and has 42 previous convictions – yet social workers knew nothing about his contact with Poppy until after she died.
The primary school pupil died in June 2013 after ingesting heroin and methadone for months
Pyke accepts she is responsible for her daughter’s death, her lawyer told the court. Rytting tried to lessen his culpability by saying Poppy was Pyke’s responsibility
Police found more than 1,000 tablets of controlled – or illegal – drugs when they raided the property, used by Rytting as a base to buy and sell drugs.
However, an investigation failed to establish the cause of death and there was no evidence to prosecute the drug-dealing couple for Poppy’s death. Instead they were charged with child cruelty and drugs offences.
BUNGLING OFFICIALS CLOSED CASE 3 TIMES
Poppy Widdison was regularly under the supervision of agencies during her short life.
Yet social workers officially ‘closed’ their files three times in the naive belief that the four-year-old was safe. A local authority serious case review has now revealed a string of failings, including:
- Three weeks before Poppy’s birth in 2009 a meeting involving a midwife, health visitor and social worker discussed her future care due to her parents’ history of drug abuse and domestic violence.
- The child suffered drug withdrawal symptoms after birth, and at 24 days she was discharged from hospital into the care of her paternal grandmother – but with her mother Michala Pyke and addict father under the same roof.
- When Poppy returned to the family home social services ‘closed’ the case after nine months, unaware her parents were continuing to abuse drugs.
- The child was 21 months old in 2011 when a ‘serious incident’ was reported to police by a relative. Her father Brendan Widdison waved a chainsaw in front of Pyke and Poppy after the mother said she planned to leave him. He was later jailed.
- The case was closed again within three months as the ‘risk had been eliminated’, with Widdison no longer around.
- Poppy was three when a relative referred the family to social services again in December 2012 because Pyke was smoking cannabis.
- An NHS drug addict clinic reported Pyke’s failure to attend sessions and a social worker spoke to Poppy following concerns by a nursery. But after eight weeks social services closed the file.
- Poppy failed to return to nursery after the school holidays, a week before her death in June 2013. A meeting was planned with Pyke at the school to deal with the issue but it never went ahead ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’.
Passing sentence at Hull Crown Court yesterday, Judge Jeremy Richardson, QC, said one or both of the couple ‘know the truth’ about the child’s death.
He told the defendants: ‘You lived your lives in a mire of drugs embracing your own drug addiction and supplying drugs to others.’
Rytting replied from the dock: ‘Whatever.’ Pyke showed no emotion.
The judge said Poppy was sedated with drugs during her short life, which was ‘fundamentally blighted’ by the couple’s behaviour in a case of ‘unremitting degradation’.
He said Pyke’s expressions of love towards Poppy during her evidence in the trial were a ‘despicable masquerade’.
Melanie Onn, the Labour MP for Grimsby, slammed agencies for failing the little girl.
‘The whole town has been horrified to learn of what Poppy went through in her short life,’ she said.
‘That it happened in plain sight over a long period of time is the tragedy of this little girl who slipped through too many cracks in the system. After Baby P, those cracks were supposed to have been filled.
‘It will long be a scar on the face of our community that more was not done to intervene to save her life.
There were mistakes made by various agencies involved with Poppy’s family. Those mistakes cannot be undone, it is right that they have been accepted and all efforts should now be put into making our protection services fit for purpose.’
Pyke, a former launderette manager, began seeing Rytting when Poppy’s father Brendon Widdison – a crack cocaine addict – was in jail. The new relationship effectively sealed Poppy’s fate.
He and Pyke deliberately gave Poppy diazepam sedatives, which they called ‘blue Smarties’ because of the colour, so they could have sex.
A week before her death, Pyke sent two text messages to Rytting: ‘Got a bottle of wine if u wanna share. She can have a blue Smartie and go sleep. Lol! XXX.’
In a further text, Pyke asked him: ‘Do you wanna share this wine… Get them blue Smarties ready – the one she likes! Lol XXX.’
The mother went into graphic sexual detail about what she wanted to do to Rytting if only her daughter wasn’t around.
Poppy’s father Brendan Widdison said outside court that he could not have foreseen her death
Drugs littered the flat where little Poppy died in 2013, her mother’s trial has heard
Pyke, a drug addict since the age of 25, referred to her daughter as a ‘little thief’ and ‘bitch’, and was overheard telling her: ‘I hate you, you little b******.’
Pyke admitted or was convicted of three child cruelty charges and three drugs offences. Rytting admitted or was convicted of two child cruelty charges and four drugs offences.
A serious case review into Poppy’s death detailed numerous contacts with the little girl and her mother, and admitted ‘missed opportunities’ and mistakes in dealing with the tragic family.
A spokesman for the North East Lincolnshire Local Safeguarding Board said the authority was ‘doing their best to continually improve their practice to keep children safe’.
Michaela Pyke outside Hull Crown Court
He said in the three years since Poppy’s death, ‘significant changes have taken place’ and many of the recommendations in the review had been implemented.
No individuals were singled out in the report and the council refused to comment on whether anyone had been disciplined over Poppy’s death.
Speaking outside court flanked by the little girl’s grandparents, Poppy’s uncle, James Widdison, said the family ‘didn’t blame social services’ for the tragedy but ‘acknowledge there were failings on their part’.
Mr Widdison said none of the family was aware at the time that Poppy had been referred to social services six months before she died.
He added: ‘We’ve waited three and a half years for this day and it doesn’t get any easier.
The memories we’ve got of her are everlasting. We won’t ever be distanced from that. There’s no such thing as closure with regards to this case.’
The family last saw the girl on her fourth birthday when she was her ‘normal happy self’.
Mr Widdison added: ‘We couldn’t have foreseen what happened and we don’t believe social services could have either.’
Marilyn Hawes, founder of the Enough Abuse charity, added: ‘Poppy should have been whipped away from her mother and removed from the whole scenario – but she wasn’t because there are fundamental flaws with the social services system.’
Detective Superintendent Umberto Cuozzo, of Humberside Police, said: ‘Poppy Widdison was betrayed by the very people entrusted to keep her safe from harm.’
He called on the defendants to ‘tell the truth about how Poppy died’.
Police took this photo in the room where Poppy passed away. Drugs were found in her system
Born addicted to heroin and named after the drug her mother loved: Tragic life of Poppy Widdison
Judge Jeremy Richardson QC said: ‘Poppy was born in tragic circumstances – like her mother, Poppy was born addicted to heroin.
‘The baby was given the name Poppy – the very name of the plant from which heroin is derived. That is unlikely to be a coincidence.
‘Poppy was born addicted to heroin and you plunged that infant into the mire of drugs.
‘You were both living in the swamp of drug addiction and drug peddling.
‘The short life of poppy was blighted by drugs – you [both] fed drugs to poppy for your own baleful romance while living in a mire of drugs.
‘The abuse lasted several months and drugs were administered in that time.
‘You Pyke treated your daughter badly and changed your demeanour in front of others.
‘You both were the masters of unremitting degradation and authors of this horrific ordeal.
‘You both bear huge responsibility for blighting the life of a pretty, vivacious little girl.
‘Pyke you are malevolent and manipulative – you are utterly unfit to be a mother and abused Poppy by giving her drugs.
‘This was serious cruelty over a long period of time and regular ill treatment.’