Children’s services in Sheffield were involved with the Barrass family at the time of the murders of the two oldest children, and the attempted murder of four others, by incestuous parents Sarah Barrass and Brandon Machin.
The detail of children’s services involvement with the six children was revealed during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, where Sarah Barrass and Brandon Machin were both handed down life sentences by Mr Justice Goss; to serve a minimum of 35 years apiece for the murder and attempted murder of their children.
During prosecution, Ms Kama Melly revealed how told the family most recently came to the attention of their local authority’s safeguarding department in November 2018. A case allocation, initially under a child in need plan, was made after children’s services received a referral alleging that Blake, aged 14, has sexually assaulted another child.
The Court heard how the children’s mother, Sarah Barrass, appeared to be initially open to engaging with her children’s allocated social worker and spoke openly of being willing to accept the support offered to the family.
Ms Melly revealed to the Court how: “Barrass appeared to work well with social services and attended all meetings and played a vocal part. Initially, there was due to be a Multi Agency Support Team referral, but this was closed as Barrass seemed to be acting appropriately”
Following this period of supposed compliance, similar allegations of sexual activity were received about the second oldest child Tristan.
Police investigating the murders found a number of text messages that Barrass had sent to a friend at the time of these second allegations. In these exchanges Barrass told her friend: “I still feel like I failed Blake, so this isn’t helping. I feel like I should lock me and my lot away so they can’t hurt anyone else. I want to die daily, to run away and hide from everyone”
“I’ve thought of every possible solution to this mess. Mass murder! putting em all in care…checking into the local nuthouse…I love my kids too much to kill ‘em, I can’t put ‘em into care for the same reasons.”
Following on from this second referral, Barrass was told by the children’s social worker on the 21st May that the latest concerns would require a strategy meeting be held within the next 24 hours. She was told that this would only involve professionals and she was not allowed to attend.
Ms Melly revealed the impact that this had on Barrass to the Court: “Barrass stated in messages that she now feared all her children would be removed from her care. Barrass also realised that the intervention now taking place was far more serious than when they had been dealing with Blake”
Following the strategy meeting on the 22nd May, Barrass was informed by the children’s social worker that the family would escalate in threshold from a child in need plan and instead be considered for child protection plans following an Initial Child Protection Conference.
Ms Melly told the court that: “On this date the social worker asked extensive further questions about the paternity of the children and attempted to establish whether they had been exposed to sexual behaviour or abuse”
“Sarah is described as seeming more defiant than had been before and refused to tell the social worker who the children’s father was”
In setting out the case against Barrass and Machin, Ms Melly explained to the Court that the plan to kill all six of their children must have been ‘hatched’ by their incestuous parents on the day of the strategy meeting:
“It is the Crown’s case that although the defendants were motivated to prevent the loss of their children to the care of the local authority, this was combined with their fear of the local authorities becoming aware of their unnatural relationship”
The couple initially planned to murder four of their children by poisoning them. To this effect, Barrass forced her four eldest children to take overdoses of ADHD tablets on the 23rd May. When the children woke up the next morning and she realised the plot to murder them with ADHD tablets did not work, Barrass searched online for other ways to kill her children. Her internet history showed how she looked at methods including suffocation, strangulation and drowning.
It was after this search that she and her lover and brother, Brandon Machin, began their efforts to murder all of their children by starting with the strangulation of Tristan and Blake.
In sentencing, Mr Justice Goss told Barrass: “You considered that your love for them and fear of being parted from them entitled you to take their lives as well as your own.
During a examination of Barrass following the murders, she told a doctor that she had given her children, “lots of ADHD tablets due to a social worker getting too close” before going on to murder Tristan and Blake.
A serious case review (SCR) is to be held into the deaths of Tristan and Blake.
John Macilwraith, Executive Director of People Services at Sheffield City Council, told the press that: “The Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership has initiated a SCR to investigate what happened. The national SCR panel have endorsed this and agreed that the review should go ahead locally. The council will be cooperating fully with the review and are already working to provide the relevant information”
“This is such a tragic and, we hope, isolated case that it is vital to examine every aspect in order to establish what can be learned to inform the development of future professional practice”
“We anticipate that the SCR will take up to six months, but this is subject to many factors and timescales may change. The most important thing is taking the necessary time to get the review right”
“We have many hundreds of families in Sheffield who are cared for by our children’s services but there are always new lessons to learn, so we need to understand, alongside all partners in the city, as much as we can about why and how these tragic events happened, as much as it is ever possible to understand such a terrible act”