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'Lessons learned' after death of man who Shropshire authorities thought was boy, 17

By Keri Trigg | Bridgnorth | Crime | Published:

Police and children’s services in Shropshire say lessons have been learned after a young man in care, who authorities believed at the time to be a teenager, was found dead after going missing.

Han Lam, also known as Hoang Trung, arrived in Shropshire from Vietnam on the back of a lorry in April 2016, and was arrested along with two others in a lay-by on the A41 near Tong.

He was taken into the care of Shropshire Council and placed with foster carers in Bridgnorth after a social services assessment determined he was 17, but was reported missing days later.

The body of Mr Lam – now known to have been 21 – was found in a park in Derbyshire on Christmas Day, eight months after he disappeared.

A serious case review by Shropshire’s Safeguarding Children Board has now concluded that the “tragic and untimely death” of Mr Lam could not have been foreseen, but identified a host of issues in the authorities’ handling of the case.

The report said social workers did not share important information about the ‘child’, and some notes taken during his initial assessment were lost.

Indicators that he had been trafficked were not factored into an analysis of his risk of going missing, so “no additional safeguards or contingency plan were put in place”.

The foster carers had not received training on children believed to have been trafficked, and he was accompanied to their house by police rather than social workers.

The report said these issues, as well as “inadequate systems of communication” between social workers meant an effective care plan was not in place.

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An allegation by the 'child' that he had been kidnapped in Russia was also not reported to police by social workers in a timely manner.

Asylum

After he went missing, no review meetings were held between June and November 2016, and "agencies did not consider the likelihood of increased risk as a result of his remaining missing for a longer time".

The review said that since 2016 the council had dealt with more cases of asylum-seeking children and young people from Vietnam, and now had specific strategies in place.

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The report concluded that national guidance on safeguarding trafficked children, and those who go missing, was "insufficiently adhered to".

It said: "It is apparent that, at the time, agencies did not have sufficient awareness or experience of child trafficking to fully evaluate the various indicators or to fully evaluate the risks at the outset.

"The fact that he had arrived on a ‘lorry drop’, that he maintained that he had arrived via Moscow after an alleged kidnapping and was claiming to be a juvenile did not alert professionals to the prospect that he may have been trafficked or that he may have been coached to provide information that would result in his being admitted to care.

"The Children’s Services assessment was not completed in a timely manner and nor was it subject to sufficient scrutiny and management oversight. Staff were not trained in age determination and therefore relied too heavily on his physical appearance."

It added that Shropshire Children's Services, West Mercia Police and West Midlands Police had brought in new policies to reflect issues identified by the review.

Further recommendations were also made, including that foster carers receive better training cultural awareness and working with asylum-seeking and trafficked children, and that staff are trained in age assessments.

Keri Trigg

By Keri Trigg
Reporter - @KeriTrigg_Star

Reporter for the Shropshire Star and Shrewsbury Chronicle based in Shrewsbury.

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