Joe’s mother is calling for an inquest to understand whether the state could have better protected him and prevented the murder
On 19 March 2021, Becki West-Davidson, aged 30, Sean Palmer, aged 31, and Sebastian Smith (formerly known as Luke Greenland), aged 35, were convicted of murdering Joe at Ipswich Crown Court.
On 13 August 2018, Joe’s body was pulled from the River Gipping in Ipswich. An investigation found that he was murdered on or around 7 August 2018.
Joe, who was born on 20 June 1996, was a vulnerable adult who suffered with a range of cognitive, social and behavioural difficulties. It was strongly suspected that Joe had Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and/or learning disabilities, although he never received a formal diagnosis.
He lived in several different care placements until he turned 18 years old, upon which he became a care leaver, and required the ongoing support of organisations, including the Suffolk County Council Adult and Community Services, the Mental Health Team and the Complex Care Team.
Joe was also assigned to Catch22’s leaving care service and, for a time, to Mencap for learning disability support. Joe was in contact with the police at different points. There were a number of safeguarding concerns and referrals made.
As an adult, Joe was regularly moved to alternative accommodation, never staying in any one place for very long. He also experienced periods of homelessness, including street homelessness, sofa-surfing and bed and breakfast and hostel-type accommodation.
At the time of his death, Joe had been placed in bed and breakfast accommodation, and was awaiting transfer to supported living accommodation.
Following Joe’s murder, one of the accused, Luke Greenland, changed his name to Sebastian Smith and moved to Scotland. He was on licence from prison at the time. It transpired that he ought to have been recalled to prison before Joe was murdered, and had that happened, he would have been in prison at the time Joe was murdered.
Joe’s mother, Sam Nicholls, now hopes there will be an inquest to fully understand the full circumstances leading up to her son’s death.
Sam said: “While nothing can bring my son back, at the very least, his killers have finally faced justice for the crime they committed. Joe was a vulnerable young man who should have been afforded all the support the state could muster, but it is clear that this did not happen. To get to the bottom of what happened in the lead up to my son’s murder I believe an inquest must be held to identify if and where failings occurred. We must get to the truth, so I can finally come to terms with what happened, as well as knowing that lessons have been learned, so this can never happen to another family.”
Sam is represented in calling for an inquest by Civil Liberties & Human Rights solicitor Sarah Flanagan, from Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, and counsel Una Morris, assisted by Danielle Manson, both of Garden Court Chambers.
Sarah said: “Joe’s mother, Sam Nicholls, hopes there will be an inquest into the wider circumstances that lead to Joe being murdered and whether there was anything that could and should have been done to protect him that might have altered the tragic outcome. Ms Nicholls hopes this will include looking into the adequacy of the care provided by the various organisations that were involved with Joe and also the failure to recall Luke Greenland to prison. While Ms Nicholls welcomes the conviction and sentencing of Joe’s killers, there are many unanswered questions.”
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