Christopher's Story: Autistic Young Man Murdered following Contact With the Police
The following information is provided by Christopher’s family (supported by evidence) as most media reports on the incident are lacking in detail and not up to date.
Christopher Laskaris was a very vulnerable young man with Autism, who was murdered in his home in Leeds in November 2016 aged 24 following police contact which left him with no functioning front door for 5 days. His murderer, a violent drug dealer just released from prison on licence, wandered into his home as a passer-by during this period.
Astonishingly there has been no investigation into the circumstances leading to Christopher’s death. This is despite Professor Patricia Howlin, a leading autism expert commissioned by the Leeds Mental Health Trust, describing the situation in which he was left as “a total failure of care by local services”.
Christopher had a long, documented history of exploitation and abuse, not only whilst living in the community, but even whilst living in sheltered accommodation in Leeds in 2013. He had a recorded history of being abused by neighbours, which had recently resulted in him abandoning his previous flat, too afraid to return even to collect his possessions. But despite this he was not receiving the mental health or housing support he needed. He lived a reclusive life, barely ever leaving his flat due to social phobia related to his Autism.
Health and Social Care Failings
The Leeds Mental Health trust have acknowledged serious failings in Christopher’s care over his four years in Leeds, describing the quality impact of issues as “categorically unacceptable”. They have specifically acknowledged serious failures in assessment procedures at the Leeds Autism Diagnostic Service, which failed to follow NICE Guidelines and Autism Statutory Guidance in an assessment of Christopher in December 2015. The most serious of these was their failure to undertake a risk assessment of his needs for treatment and care, despite being sent details of his risk history and inability to function and look after himself. As a result, after the local authority then refused requests to conduct a needs assessment, he was placed in totally inappropriate accommodation which had failed just months before, without support for his condition, many miles away from his concerned family.
Christopher’s mother, beside herself with worry about him and in despair having found and passed on to the Leeds services details of suitable and available supported living accommodation for him nearer to her, was then given a telephone Carer’s Assessment by a social worker in Leeds and advised to stand back and let Christopher look after himself as he was an adult. Multiple letters of concern from her, and even from a mental health professional at her GP practice (where Christopher was known from childhood), to the authorities in Leeds, all flagging serious safeguarding issues, and stating he could not live safely on his own without a high level of support (as his history had proved), were all dismissed. Instead of conducting proper assessments of both his needs and his mental capacity in relation to care decisions (which the Maudsley Hospital in London had recently recorded as impaired due to his autism), social care notes recorded “over involvement of his mother in his life”. When, isolated, depressed and neglected, he himself requested help through his GP in the months before his death, the referral to mental health services was, like many before, rejected through a triaging process. The words “there is a history of vulnerability in the community” were then deliberately removed from his NHS risk assessment.
After special constables on a passing patrol broke down Christopher’s front door due to welfare concerns, officers found him alone inside living in a state of neglect and in a mental health crisis. After removing him from his house to the police station, they documented his Autism, mental health problems and vulnerability. They also assessed him as needing an appropriate adult. In spite of this, no safeguarding alert or alert to Christopher’s family was made.
Whilst in custody, police arranged for the door of Christopher’s home to be fully boarded with no padlock, leaving him unable to gain access on his return. This boarding was then fully ripped off in order for Christopher to regain access to his home after he left police custody. Christopher was then left without a serviceable front door for 5 days.
The Council claim that the police did not instruct them to fit a replacement door, but simply to board it up. Their documented policy was not to take responsibility for repairs for damage caused by the police justifiably forcing entry to a property.
During this period, Philip Craig, a drug dealer who had recently been released from prison on licence, wandered into Christopher’s flat because, as per evidence given at his murder trial, he saw the door “hanging off”, groomed Christopher and ultimately murdered him. Craig was convicted of Christopher’s murder in May 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 25 years. The Honourable Mr Justice Goss said of Christopher:
“He was an intelligent and gifted man who was 24 years of age. He had Asperger’s Syndrome and suffered from Bi-polar Disorder: he struggled to communicate and interact socially. He had only one friend in Leeds. It is clear from the evidence that his difficulties made him vulnerable and he lacked insight into his vulnerability. You preyed on this and saw him as someone you could use to your advantage….The effects of the death of Christopher Laskaris and its manner has, understandably, had an enormous impact on his family. They have been devastating and far reaching in every possible sense. His difficulties in life were not of his making: he needed help and support, not exploitation and abuse.”
Initially the West Yorkshire Police did not disclose to the family that Christopher had been in police custody, that they had broken his door down, or that, based on the mobile phone records and other evidence, this was likely to be how he met his murderer.
All these facts were known to them because they had access to their own logs and Christopher’s records, having retrieved his mobile phone which led them to arrest the murderer and his girlfriend. The family were only made aware of these facts from evidence given at the murder trial 6 months following Christopher’s death. In spite of this evidence, the murder trial left certain gaps as it was limited in its scope to whether the defendant was guilty or not.
Naturally the family wanted to fill the gaps, e.g., why and for how long was Christopher left without a door, how did the boarding get ripped off as Christopher could not have done this alone and none of his contacts had been notified or helped with this. The police refused to answer these questions, specifically whether or not officers had returned to the flat later that day and been involved in removing the boarding, even though this information was within their knowledge and vital to help protect other vulnerable people who may be left in this situation. They also refused to disclose to the family their logs and records from the day when the door was broken down which would shed light on what happened.
When police supplied Christopher’s phone records to the Coroner, large sections of the relevant dates, including during the period when there was no door to Christopher’s home, were missing with no explanation. The police also failed to refer the case to the IPCC as is mandatory for deaths following police contact, either immediately or following the trial evidence six months later when it was confirmed that police actions in breaking down Christopher’s door contributed to his death.
Happy times with his mother and sister, and Christopher in Sixth Form College
Christopher’s mother lodged a letter of complaint against the West Yorkshire Police with the IPCC in November 2017 after the force failed to refer the case themselves. But the IPCC then referred the complaint back to the force for them to investigate without IPCC oversight. Given the seriousness of the complaint and public interest issues it raises, the family questioned why the lowest possible mode of investigation had been agreed.
This decision was immediately challenged by the family, including evidence of the police action linked to Christopher’s death such as emails from the police admitting that they had broken down the door and that no temporary door was fitted for a further 5 days. There was also trial evidence that confirmed these actions and omissions had allowed the murderer to wander in, groom and kill this vulnerable autistic young man.
This appeal to the IPCC was rejected without explanation. The IPCC failed to carry out an independent investigation, limiting their review to the force’s complaint responses. The situation remains that due to serious non-disclosure issues and many unexplained inconsistencies in statements provided by various statutory authorities, the family have only been able to complain about specific matters already within their knowledge, rather than there being an investigation that would reveal the full circumstances. There are still too many unexplained factors surrounding Christopher’s death and lessons that will not be learned by those agencies who had a duty to safeguard and protect him.
9 months following the family’s complaint to the IPCC, the police responded to the initial complaint with worrying inconsistencies and direct contradictions to the trial evidence. They now stated, for example, that Christopher was not vulnerable which was why they had not made a safeguarding alert, and that a like-for-like door had been fitted immediately after they broke it down. This is in direct contradiction to the evidence shown at the murder trial and the emails the police had sent the family 12 months previously. These were provided to the IOPC—who replaced the IPCC in January 2018—by way of appealing the IPCC’s previous findings. They had, of course, already been provided to the IPCC in November 2017 when the mode of investigation was challenged. They failed to disclose that the door had been fully boarded up, on their instructions, despite the police photographs sent to Christopher’s mother clearly showing the boarding behind the temporary front door which was in place when Christopher was murdered.
Although the IOPC agreed that these new findings from the police were wrong, they refused to take the matter any further or refer the case for independent investigation, simply concluding that the police had just reached the wrong conclusions. On two points only did the IOPC raise concerns with West Yorkshire Police: a/ that their door boarding policy (which currently leaves many vulnerable people at risk) required review, pointing out it was not in line with other forces’ policies, i.e., that a padlock is fitted so people can regain access, and b/
that they gave an unsolicited and graphic description of the state of Christopher’s dead body in writing to his mother without warning.
West Yorkshire Police have still not responded to the IOPCs findings above. They maintain it was unnecessary to make any changes to their door boarding policy and have given no apology for the trauma caused to Christopher’s mother having to read about the state of her son’s decomposed body.
There remain many unanswered questions and large gaps in Christopher’s case because there has been no comprehensive review of the case to establish the circumstances which led to Christopher having no functioning front door for 5 days and allowing him to fall prey to his murderer.
What is particularly concerning about this case is that the reason the IOPC are giving for refusing to call it in for independent investigation, and in spite of accepting that the police’s internal review was inadequate and flawed, is that the IOPC claim they do not to have power to undertake an internal IOPC investigation of the case. This in is spite of reassurances that the rationale for rebranding and reorganising the former IPCC was that it needed more powers to hold the police accountable and give the public confidence in the new organisation.
Without an internal investigation, full police logs and records, which would clearly identify what happened, have never been disclosed or investigated, and the actions and evidence of the key officers involved will not be externally scrutinised. The family’s experience of the IOPC also raises a question about whether they can have confidence in that organisation delivering justice for Christopher and some degree of closure for them—not to mention the wider public interest concerns that Christopher’s death clearly raises. See section titled: Meeting with Michael Lockwood, Director General of the IOPC
Leeds Safeguarding Adult Board
To further add to the family’s distress, notwithstanding all the trial evidence and the judge’s sentencing remarks, the Leeds Adult Safeguarding Board rejected Christopher’s mother’s request to undertake a statutory safeguarding review following the murder trial. This is required under the Care Act 2014 where someone with care and support needs dies through abuse or neglect, and there is reasonable cause for concern about how agencies worked together to safeguard that person.
The family had to alert IOPC to further serious inconsistencies and mistruths stemming from West Yorkshire Police in relation to the events leading to Christopher’s death. Letters from the Safeguarding Board include a series of defamatory claims about Christopher, completely unsupported by any evidence. These included that Christopher was a ‘drug addict’ (he was not, but in any case, being a drug addict does not rule a person out from having care and support needs, that he had met the murderer out and about in the area looking for a drug fix, and that, most bizarrely, murder does not amount to abuse in terms of fitting the Board’s criteria for a statutory case review under the Care Act 2014. The statements they made as rationale for their decision contradicted the murder trial and medical evidence, as well as being at complete odds with the Statutory Guidance supporting the Care Act. These state clearly that that Local authority statutory adult safeguarding duties apply regardless of whether a person’s care and support needs are being met, regardless of whether the adult lacks mental capacity or not, and regardless of setting. In fact, murders by or of someone with major mental illness, are the most reported reasons for a Safeguarding Adult Review in the media. Are the family to assume from the Board’s assessment of the situation that somehow Christopher was responsible for his own murder?
The Board claimed that Christopher did not have the ‘care and support needs’ required under the Care Act, in spite of the fact that he had been assessed and was in receipt of Disability Living Allowance at the highest care component rate when he died. But even more concerning was that the Safeguarding Board informed Christopher’s family that the police claimed, in spite of the evidence at the murder trial, they had unequivocal advice from the trial that Christopher had only met the killer due to his need to buy substances from him and that there was at no point any concern that the door had been “broken down” or that the killer had accessed the property by chance dropping in having seen an open broken door. On this basis the Board claimed, the incident did not amount to a safeguarding concern.
After both these statements were proved to be completely untrue the police, when challenged, were unable to supply the “unequivocal advice” and claimed they had never made these statements to the Safeguarding Board. The Board then refused to disclose any statements from the agencies involved with Christopher, or explain why there were so many factual errors in what they had reported to the family.
International autism expert, Prof. Pat Howlin, who was commissioned by the local NHS Trust as an independent expert, undertook a detailed review of the case and identified many serious health, social care and other state agency failures which contributed to Christopher's isolation, abuse, neglect and ultimate murder, none of which have been independently explored and investigated. In relation to the door issue she stated as follows:
“Given Christopher’s long history of social and mental health problems, and well documented inability to care safely for himself, I consider it inconceivable, and totally unacceptable, that Christopher was left to cope in accommodation in a high crime city area with no front door for five days and was then provided only with a temporary door.
During the time Christopher was left unprotected in this way he was clearly placed in a situation that presented a serious risk of robbery or physical harm.
Indeed, for a highly vulnerable person, such as Christopher, who had a long history of being exposed to bullying and exploitation, this would have been unacceptable and a serious risk even in a non-high-crime city area.
A transcript from the murder trial confirms that the murderer, Philip Craig, first entered Christopher's flat at a time when Christopher lacked a working front door.
Christopher’s difficulties in making social relationships with his peers were persistent and pervasive and had been documented since his initial contacts with child mental health services. Indeed his social anxiety in early adolescence was so severe that Dr Connor described him as having “social phobia”.Thus it is most unlikely that Christopher would ever have met Philip Craig had his property not been left unsecured.
In addition the social vulnerability of someone with autism means that Christopher was probably neither able to recognise the potential danger of allowing strangers into his flat, nor able to protect himself from being exploited by such people.
The fact that he allowed Philip Craig, and Craig’s friend, into his room, apparently without any protest and, while the pair took drugs, merely, according to Craig, “Sat in the corner, playing on the computer” until they left, suggests how unaware he was of the potential dangers.
It is my opinion that for Christopher to have been placed in such an obvious position of danger represents a total failure of care by local services”.
Meeting with Michael Lockwood, Director General of the IOPC
The family met with Michael Lockwood in July 2019 and raised with him the serious gaps and concerns, giving him a list of unanswered questions about Christopher’s case, along with documentary evidence of the police’s false statements. Having read him a transcript of the murderer’s court evidence describing how, when and where he met Christopher, he expressed concern and sympathy and encouraged the family to keep in touch with him. He then referred the matter to the IOPC’s regional director to investigate.
The regional director failed to address the issues and told the family they were not entitled to the answers they were seeking, or an explanation for the inconsistencies. She said the IOPC’s decision not to investigate the case, or call it in for investigation later, was because Christopher’s mother had made a complaint against the force. This must raise serious concerns about the role and function of the IOPC itself when families in such tragic circumstances are denied the ability to move on in their life because public services are able to put their own reputations before safeguarding the public in this way.
The inquest into Christopher’s death was reopened in Wakefield following the murder trial. The family requested on health grounds that it was transferred to their local Coroner’s Court in Woking, near their home. The Woking Coroner, based on information supplied to him by the Wakefield Coroner, advised Christopher’s mother that, due to all the issues that needed looking into, it was likely to be a long Article 2 inquest. This is when Coroners are obliged to investigate under the Human Rights Act 1998 “Right to Life” where a state policy or systemic failure contributed to the death. This would have enabled the family to apply for Legal Aid for their legal representation for the inquest process, instead of struggling to fund it themselves. The Woking Coroner felt in the circumstances he couldn’t accept the transfer because of the number of witnesses who would be required from the Leeds area for this inquest, so he referred it back to the Wakefield Coroner.
The Wakefield Coroner then ruled that it was not an Article 2 inquest requiring a jury, and the scope of the inquest was to be incredibly narrow (limited to considering the supervision of the offender whilst on licence) with very few witnesses called. He ruled out looking into the issue of the broken down door as well as the health and social care issues, dismissing a witness statement from the National Autistic Society (explaining specific issues for people with autism) and the expert autism evidence. As there is no national coroner service the type of inquest you get, and consequent access to Legal Aid, is a postcode lottery.
The family’s lawyers raised a formal complaint to the Chief Coroner following the inquest, as they were so concerned at the Wakefield Coroner’s rude and dismissive attitude towards the family and their legal team during the inquest process. This included repeatedly calling Christopher by the name of his murderer in an important written ruling (suggesting that he didn’t read things properly), failing to make any provisions for vulnerable witnesses and refusing to allow their lawyer to make any submissions on the evidence heard in court, thus allowing it to go completely unchallenged.
Police and Crime Commissioner (“PCC”)
The role of the PCC is to be the voice of the people and to hold the police to account, so Christopher’s mother approached the West Yorkshire PCC about the case, and the ongoing concerns relating to the West Yorkshire Police and the door issue. Despite acknowledging that the insecure access following the police actions contributed to Christopher’s death, and that there were unanswered questions as to what happened, the family were told the PCC had no powers to investigate these issues with the force. They reported that they could do nothing further when the police confirmed that they were not changing their door boarding policy. The family were very disappointed and concerned at this response bearing in mind the core duties of the police are to prevent crime and protect life.
As there has been no investigation into the key issues that led to Christopher’s neglect and murder, including why he was left with no front door for 5 days allowing his murderer to wander in to his home, the family are calling for a full independent review of the case to find answers that are so important to them in their grieving process, explanations for all the serious inconsistencies in the statements made by the authorities, and to identify points of learning to ensure that nothing like this happens to anyone else.