Inquest opens into death of toddler who died whilst her mum watched TV

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A tragic toddler who social services wanted to take into care died in a pool of her own vomit while her mum ‘who lacked affection’ watched TV, an inquest heard.

Autumn Gooch was found face down and unresponsive on her bed by her mum, Nikki, on April 11 last year, at around 2pm.

Miss Gooch, who was summoned to court for the inquest into her daughter’s death today (Tuesday) but did not attend.

She had previously been arrested on suspicion of murder and later charged with neglect but was never prosecuted.

The Bedfordshire and Luton Coroner’s Court at Ampthill heard that the youngster was discovered in a state of rigor mortis, a number of hours after she died at the family home in Maulden.

Paramedics were called to the scene but when they arrived it was clear there was nothing to be done and no attempts were made to resuscitate Autumn.

Kim Taylor from the East of England Ambulance service who was first on the scene said she found Autumn lying on the bed in a wet nappy with vomit on her, face down, next to a bottle of congealed milk.

Mrs Taylor said mother-of-two Miss Gooch kept saying “you can’t do anything, because she has passed away”.

Autumn’s death came after Miss Gooch, 29, and Autumn’s dad, Craig Macdonald, were told in February 2015 that the council wanted to place her into care because they were deemed “unable to provide care in the short, medium and long term”.

Central Bedfordshire Council had applied to have Autumn placed into foster care on March 20 of 2015 after a long period of observation dating back to October 2013 but this was refused by Luton Family Court.

It was agreed however that family members and professional members would visit her on a daily basis to support her and check Autumn.

Tragically, the hearing was told, that despite the visits there was no improvement in the toddler’s care.

The inquest was told authorities were first referred to Miss Gooch by police after she was found drunk while looking after Autumn in 2013.

Social workers made daily visits to the home to support the couple, who had an on-off relationship for five years, but the quality of care given to Autumn deteriorated as Miss Gooch and Mr Macdonald’s relationship broke down.

Mr Macdonald moved out on March 20 last year and saw his daughter twice before she died in the care of his ex-girlfriend.

He was at court today with members of his family.

The unemployed forklift driver told the court he learned of Autumn’s death at 4pm on April 11 when Miss Gooch called him.

He said: “Nikki got up around half past six, peaked into the bedroom to see if she was still asleep and left her, that is what Nikki told me.

“She was downstairs watching TV and on her phone until Brenda Gooch, Nikki’s mum rang her, but I don’t know what time that was.”

The court heard Miss Gooch checked on Autumn around 10 or 11am and not again until 2pm.

When Autumn died the council were in the process of requesting a review into the decision by Luton Family Court after the breakdown of an agreement which saw professionals and family members making daily visits to two-bedroom semi-detached home.

Claire Collins from the Biggleswade Family Support Team, said: “Concerns were raised due to the lack of progress despite daily input from professionals.”

She said there were worries about Autumn being under dressed at times, lack of routine for the child and a lack of communication and engagement with Autumn from her mum.

Ms Collins, added: “There was a lack of affection between Autumn and her mother, she was not engaging with her, she was not playing with her, taking her out, taking her to groups.”

When the parent’s were first reviewed by social services both were noted to have issues with alcohol.

Darren Gooch, Miss Gooch’s brother told the court he had raised concerns about his sister’s cannabis use in front of Autumn to social services in weeks before his niece died.

Speaking outside court the father-of-four, said: “We loved her, her life ended too soon, I’ve got four kids and they miss her every day. She was a wonderful little girl.

“It was me, my wife and other family members who looked after her. We just want to know how she died.”

Doctor Nathaniel Cary told the hearing that the infant’s cause of death was unknown despite a thorough post-mortem examination.

He said the results of the examination indicated two possible causes of death, one being an ‘enforced airway obstruction’ which would have starved Autumn of oxygen.

The other, based on observation of the brain, was an epileptic fit.

Dr Cary, said: “The conclusion is that the cause of death remains unascertained despite carrying out all those tests, we really have a range of possibilities.

“The problem is here there is not enough information whether it was some kind of natural death linked to an epileptic seizure or whether there was an element of enforced airway obstruction.”

There were no signs of injury, malnutrition or dehydration on Autumn’s body.

The inquest which is expected to last two days continues.