Bev Irving from West Denton, Newcastle, believed opportunities to keep son Lee safe were missed because his vulnerabilities were not recognized and he was treated as a normal adult
Image: Newcastle Chronicle)
The mum of a young disabled man killed at his murderer’s home is fighting to get his inquest reopened.
Lee Irving had severe learning disabilities and faced violence and abuse before being killed by James Wheatley.
The 24-year-old’s mum Bev Irvine believed opportunities to keep her son safe were missed because his vulnerabilities were not recognized.
She has spent several years calling for a change in the law which would make it a specific offense to abuse disabled people..
His mum wants to get Lee’s inquest re-opened so the circumstances leading to his death can be heard in public and be properly scrutinized.
The 48-year-old told ChronicleLive : “I think a coroner needs to reopen the case for the full truth to come out. I have had to apply to the coroner to get it reopened.
“I want to warn other parents of vulnerable adults because nobody believed how much at risk he was.”
Lee grew up in Newcastle with Bev and his three brothers, Joe, Charlie and Owen.
He was identified as having severe speech and learning difficulties at an early age and was educated at the Percy Hedley School, which caters for children with additional needs.
But his difficulties made him a target for evil Wheatley, who befriended him in 2014.
Lee began spending time at the Kenton Bar home Wheatley shared with his mum Julie Mills, sometimes disappearing for long periods.
Bev said she would regularly report her son missing to the police and other agencies, but was repeatedly told that because Lee was an adult he was free to go where he was pleased.
“Whenever Lee left my front door I reported him missing,” she said.
“I went into the police station and told them to get him out of that house.
“In the end, I was pulling my hair out just trying to get him protected. I knew him better than anyone and I knew he was at risk.”
And the horrifying reality was Lee was in serious danger.
He was held captive by and abused by Wheatley, while his mum, girlfriend and their lodger were present.
Newcastle Crown Court heard how Lee was beaten and sedated with drugs, including morphine, to prevent him from escaping his captors.
After he died, his body was wheeled in a pushchair and dumped near the A1 in Fawdon, Newcastle.
He had suffered a catalog of injuries, likened to those seen on car crash casualties, including 27 rib fractures.
Wheatley was found guilty of murder and jailed for life with a minimum of 23 years behind bars.
Mills was jailed for 10 years and Wheatley’s girlfriend Nicole Lawrence for seven – after both were found guilty of perverting the course of justice and causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.
Wheatley’s lodger Barry Imray was also found guilty of allowing Lee’s death and jailed for three years.
In 2017 Newcastle City Council published a serious case review, which highlighted failings and missed opportunities to save Lee.
The report, prepared by the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults Board, revealed despite repeated pleas from family members little was done to help Lee after he was targeted by Wheatley.
But Bev believes the review did not go far enough and she now wants Lee’s inquest, which was formally closed after the murder trial to be reopened.
The mum believes having Lee’s death examined by a coroner will help warn other parents of the danger vulnerable young people can be in once they become adults.
And she hopes lessons can be learned by police and social services that will help them spot vulnerable adults who are at risk of abuse.
“In the end, I was ringing the police 24/7, but he was never treated as a vulnerable missing person,” said Bev.
“The failures are absolutely shocking. There are many lessons that haven’t been learned.
“I want all these facts to come out at an inquest.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.