Viktorija Sokolova: Support services ordered to improve over West Park schoolgirl murder
Child support services may have missed opportunities to intervene in the chaotic life of schoolgirl Viktorija Sokolova before she was brutally murdered in West Park, a review has found.
Social services and police had close contact with the 14-year-old and her family in the 12 months before she was raped and killed by teenager Ayman Aziz in a chilling murder which stunned the nation.
A Serious Case Review, commissioned by safeguarding experts to examine the involvement various agencies had with Viktorija, who was known as Tori, in the lead up to her death, made eight recommendations for ways the system could be improved.
However the Wolverhampton Safeguarding Board, which carried out the review, ruled there was "no indication" her life was at risk from her eventual killer and that "what happened to her on that night could never have been predicted or prevented".
Its report revealed how social services had been made aware of Viktorija's troubled home life through concerns raised by her school and the police but did not become heavily involved until shortly before her death.
The troubled teen's increasingly rebellious behaviour had sent alarm bells ringing. She was involved in drink, drugs and had met with older eastern European men at parks and would frequently not return home, sometimes for days at a time.
Prior to her death she was the subject of a "Child in Need" plan as she had been known to go missing and there were concerns she could be at risk of being sexually exploited.
Viktorija was raped and bludgeoned to death in a horrific attack at the hands of 17-year-old Ayman Aziz in April 2018, who had reconnected with her a week before via Facebook Messenger and arranged to meet her at the park.
Aziz was jailed for a minimum of 19 years in February and later unmasked as her killer after restrictions on his identity were lifted at the High Court.
The Serious Case Review identified several areas of weakness, which included "the limitations of one of the assessments of her".
Concerns were also raised around "the way in which agencies respond to missing children reports, misperceptions around what constitutes good attendance at school, and communication and engagement with children".
The need for use of interpreters where a family's first language is not English was also flagged up. Viktorija's parents moved to the UK from Lithuania in 2011 when she was seven.
Safeguarding bosses were first alerted to Viktorija in June 2017 by the police over their concerns she had been seen with older men and developed an "association" with a child known to be at risk of child sexual exploitation, the report said.
The teenager was interviewed at school but despite her problems it was decided there was "no reason to be concerned" and a Child Protection Enquiry was hastily closed.
Viktorija's parents were not spoken to or even made aware of the enquiry at this stage and the decision to approach the teenager without informing the parents was criticised in the report.
It was only later in 2017 when leaders at her school, King's CoE in Tettenhall Wood, had concerns about attendance that her parents were invited to a meeting.
Viktorija was first reported missing in December 2017 and her mother shared her fears that she may have been using drugs and alcohol and "involved in sexual activity".
She began to go missing more frequently after returning to Wolverhampton following a short stay with her father in Northern Ireland at the start of 2018 and, according to her parents, had "become more like a lodger" but her disappearances were not always reported to the police, the report said.
The pupil was reported missing by her school in December 2017 when her parents disclosed she had not been home the night before.
Fears about her home life began to grow and the safeguarding board said closer scrutiny at this point "may have led to a co-ordinated multi-agency approach and a better understanding of (Viktorija's) home life which may have provided early help interventions to support change".
Social workers increased their focus on the schoolgirl, who is referred to in the report as Child N, in March 2018, just weeks before her death.
The report also revealed the mother and step-father's frustration at being told their parenting styles were "abusive, inappropriate and unacceptable" and their complaint that "they tied our hands and untied (Viktorija's)."
The report said "consideration of the family's culture, story and view of the world" could have helped ease tensions.
They said the "system" meant they "were not able to do anything" and made their daughter "unpunishable".
The report said the parents had burned her clothes to stop her going out, locked her in and out of the house and fitted a "complex alarm system".
Meanwhile, the safeguarding board also questioned the description of her school attendance as "good" in July 2017 by social services even though it was below 95 per cent, the starting point for good attendance according to national guidelines.
The lack of use of interpreters when speaking with the family was also criticised. The report said they were not used "consistently or effectively" as "there was a belief that the availability of Lithuanian interpreters was limited".
This was not the case. The use of an interpreter "would have enhanced mutual understanding", it added.
Viktorija's behaviour began to escalate and three days before her death she was arrested for stealing her step-father's bank card.
After returning home support services decided their concerns warranted the launch of an Initial Child Protection Conference in relation to the 14-year-old. However, it came too late to save her.
Agencies have been told to learn lessons from the issues raised by the safeguarding board.
The report gave no mention of killer Aziz, suggesting he was not on the radar of police or social services.
'A very complex case'
Linda Sanders, independent chair of Wolverhampton Safeguarding Board, said: "This was a tragic loss of a young, vibrant life, and our thoughts are with the victim's family and friends today.
"What happened to her highlights the risks which vulnerable children and young people can find themselves subject to – and sadly she experienced the dreadful and worst possible consequences which can result.
“What should have been an innocent meeting in a park with a boy that she knew ended with her life being cut cruelly short; what happened to her on that night could never have been foreseen.
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"The Serious Case Review was commissioned to see what, if anything, agencies involved could have done differently which could have led to a different outcome.
"The review is very clear in its conclusion that there were no indications that her life was at risk from the person convicted of killing her, nor that her death could have been predicted or prevented.
"She was clearly vulnerable, but despite this, there was no evidence of criminal or sexual exploitation in her life; nor was she involved in gangs.
WATCH: Mother and stepfather open up about death
In this video, Viktorija's mother and stepfather describe the awful moment they found out their 14-year-old daughter's body had been found.
"And while she knew her killer, they were not close friends and there was nothing to suggest that, on meeting her, he would embark on such a horrific attack.
"This was a very complex case and the review found a number of areas of good practice by professionals, for instance the good work of her schools in reporting and following up episodes in which she had gone missing, the use of a variety of methods by police including social media to find her when this happened, and the efforts of professionals who built good working relationships with her.
"It also made a number of findings, primarily around the limitations of one of the assessments of her, the way in which agencies respond to missing children reports, misperceptions around what constitutes good attendance at school, and communication and engagement with children, young people and their families – including the need to involve interpreters when English may not be a family's first language.
"Importantly, the review makes eight recommendations for ways in which practice can be improved going forward, and these either have been or are being implemented by the Board and the agencies themselves.
"As a board, we have also held an internal learning review process in relation to the perpetrator; this has recently been concluded and has also identified a number of actions which are being implemented.”
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