Christopher Atkins: Sadistic pervert left free to sexually abuse toddler despite being suspected of previous child attacks
Amazingly, it was revealed that he was able to strike despite being suspected of a string of previous assaults on another child
Christopher Atkins, 30, was behind bars last night after being warned he is likely to face a life sentence for the savage attack which left the toddler with horrific life-threatening injuries.
And, amazingly, it was revealed that he was able to strike despite being suspected of a string of previous assaults on another child.
Case workers also failed to spot a series of injuries on the latest victim, who was under a child protection plan for neglect and cannot be named for legal reasons.
She was taken to hospital bleeding heavily and doctors found 18 separate injuries on her body, including bite marks, burns and a fracture.
This week, a jury at Nottingham crown court found Atkins guilty of sexual assault and child cruelty by neglect.
His former partner Sarah Sheppard, 24, from Bideford, Devon, had earlier pleaded guilty to child cruelty by neglect.
A Mirror investigation found that the child’s social worker in Nottingham, Sharon Smith, had concerns about Atkins – who Sheppard falsely claimed was her cousin – but failed to record them on the council’s database before she went on sick leave.
Ms Smith, who has since returned to her job, blamed her workload, saying she was “shattered, exhausted and overworked”. There was also a delay in carrying out requested background checks on Atkins.
He had previously been investigated by police and social services in Manchester over injuries to a second child.
The 18-month-old boy in that case suffered a catalogue of serious injuries, including a fractured leg and a broken nose.
But police could not prove whether Atkins or another adult was responsible.
An independent review found “considerable shortcomings” by Nottinghamshire children’s services and said proper checks could have “lessened the possibility of abuse occurring”.
Yesterday, the victim’s father blamed social services for failing her. He told the Mirror: “I feel totally let down by the system.
“I asked social services and police to do the checks on this maniac and their failure resulted in my daughter being battered and sexually abused and maimed for life before she was even two years old.”
The court heard that when the tot was admitted to hospital on August 22, 2011, her injuries were so severe that without medical attention she would have died.
Sheppard initially protected Atkins but later said she had left him to change the child’s nappy and returned after hearing a “high-pitched scream” to find him with blood on his hand.
Atkins at first told police he had injured the girl by accident but later denied any responsibility.
He had met Sheppard online and within weeks she moved with the child from Devon to Nottingham to be near him.
Judge Michael Stokes, QC, warned Atkins: “I regard this as a quite appalling piece of behaviour. I am certainly thinking of passing a life sentence.”
Steve Edwards, Nottinghamshire county council’s service director for children’s social care said: “This is a very serious offence and we are pleased that justice has been done.
“The council regrets that the background checks on Mr Atkins were not undertaken in a timely manner.”
He claimed that Atkins had no previous convictions, though the court heard he had admitted three counts of criminal damage in 2003 and was given a conditional discharge.
Mr Edwards said the council had taken formal action “to address shortcomings”.
He added: “Where we have concerns about individual practice we do take appropriate steps and we did so in this case.”
Three years ago Ofsted inspectors criticised “inadequate” safeguarding services for children in Nottinghamshire.
A later inspection found the service had improved to adequate.
But one in four local authorities are still ranked as inadequate.
The latest shocking case comes as experts warn of increasing risks to vulnerable children, with social services facing budget cutbacks and increasing workloads.
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “Cuts are leaving more children at risk of harm and neglect.
“Councils don’t have enough staff and social workers are struggling with stress. It is becoming a vicious circle.”
April 2011 – Sheppard met Atkins online through her Xbox.
June 10 – Sheppard moved to Nottingham with the child.
June 14 – Nottinghamshire children’s services were told by Devon social services about the infant.
June 29 – First home visit by a social worker Sharon Smith to Sheppard’s home in Nottingham, where Atkins was introduced as her cousin.
July 5 – The father’s concerns about Atkins were raised at a meeting of Nottinghamshire Children’s Services and the youngster was put under a child protection plan. It was agreed to carry out checks on Atkins but these never happened.
July 15 – Social worker Smith visited Sheppard’s house but child wasn’t there as she had been taken out by Atkins. Sheppard denied having a partner.
July 27 – Another social worker visited Sheppard but there was no-one home.
August 1 – The child’s father called Nottinghamshire children’s services, “very worried” that he hadn’t seen his daughter for eight weeks.
August 3 – Social worker Smith began three weeks’ sick leave followed by two weeks’ holiday.
August 17 – A Sure Start worker visited Sheppard’s house and found that the child had a very red eye and was told she had hit herself in the eye with a spoon and had been taken to A&E for treatment.
August 19 – A third social worker visited Sheppard but didn’t have access to the notes from previous visits.
August 22 – The child was taken to A&E where doctors found she had been sexually and physically abused.
August 23 – Sheppard was arrested.
August 25 – Atkins was arrested.