Review into deaths of Heathfield children Harry and Elise Donnison released

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The findings of a review into the tragic deaths of Heathfield toddlers Harry and Elise Donnison have been published.

The pair were murdered by their mother, Fiona Donnison in 2010. At Donnison’s trial, a jury heard how Harry and Elise were killed in their beds at her temporary home in Lightwater, Surrey and their bodies forced into sports bags. They were then driven to Heathfield and left in the boot of her car parked overnight in Mill Road.

A Serious Case Review run by the Surrey Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) examined the involvement of various agencies such as police and councils to to establish whether there were any lessons to be learnt. An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “Our contact with the family in this case was very limited and very low level and we are confident we acted correctly. The SCR has concluded that at no point could anyone, including ESCC, have predicted the mother would seriously harm or kill her children.”

The review hoped it would test “allegations and assumptions, particularly where factors such as class and gender may be influencing responses.”

A spokesman for the East Sussex LSCB added: “From a very sad tragedy like this it’s vitally important any lessons to be learned are highlighed and acted upon.”

The report made 42 recommendations for change including suggesting East Sussex Hospitals Trust reviews all sudden and unexpected deaths of children under the age of two, which the Trust has now confirmed is taking place. It also suggested children in the county should be assessed if there has been another youngster who has died in the family. Donnison’s first daughter, Mia died suddenly at the age of nine months in 2004.

Schools in East Sussex should be more aware of split-parent families, it said. At Donnison’s trial the jury was told she killed the children to get back at their father, Paul. The report also touched on the fact that supervisors in nursery or school environments working with children must be fully informed of their circumstances.

DCI Carwyn Hughes of Sussex Police confirmed action has been taken of two recommendations addressed to Sussex Police out of the 42 in total. “The recommendations did not relate so much to specific actions but rather to a wider issue about our ability to handle information and make it available within the force and to partners. Over the past three years our IT systems and supporting process have developed to a stage where we can operate more effectively.”

Jeni Woodhouse from the Huffle Nursery in Heathfield where Harry Donnison was a pupil said: “My staff and I were deeply affected by the tragedy and we have planted two weeping cherry trees in the garden in their memory. I have looked into my heart and considered if I should have done anything differently. There is nothing that we could have done that would have changed the devastating outcome.

The SCR does not criticise or call into question decisions and judgments of social care officers.