Died 29th March 2011.
Chevonea Kendall-Bryan (13) fell 60 feet from her bedroom window in Seldon House, a block of flats in Savona Street, Battersea, London on 29th March 2011. She suffered devastating brain injuries and was declared dead later that evening.
Chevonea was a Year 9 pupil at St Cecilia’s Church of England School, Sutherland Grove, Southfields, Wandsworth, southwest London. Angela Kendall, her mother, spoke of her heartbreak at Chevonea’s death and said that she had been “bubbly” but that bullying had led to her self-harming.
Westminster Coroner’s Court heard that Chevonea had been repeatedly bullied by more than 11 boys, most of them at her school. The bullying had got worse after two boys forced her into sex acts, one of whom had threatened to break her windows.
A friend said: “There was loads of bullying going on, coming from the boys at school. It started off verbal, then physical, then cyber bullying. It never stopped for a few months or a few weeks – it was at least every day there was some kind of bullying happening. The teachers weren’t stopping it, they didn’t know anything about it, and several times we had gone to them – Chevonea on her own and with friends – and they tried to stop it but it was never a priority of theirs. I remember having conversations with them and they said formally they can’t do anything, they can’t exclude the boys. A teacher said they hadn’t done anything wrong and kids will be kids, and kids will be cruel.”
Chevonea told teachers that she had been raped twice by two different boys in February 2011, just a month before her death. She said a boy known as TG had forced her to perform a sex act on him following a half-term party – one she had been reluctant to attend. The inquest heard E6, the second boy, threatened to smash all Chevonea’s windows if she did not repeat the act on him the following day. Mobile phone footage was passed around her school. A video was allegedly distributed by pupils.
Chevonea’s fall was witnessed by E6 (then 15), who reportedly filmed her performing the sex act on him. According to a witness, E6 started crying when she fell and said, “That wasn’t meant to happen”. He cycled off without going for help, but later returned and watched paramedics try unsuccessfully to revive her.
She called one of the boys to ask him to delete mobile phone footage of the incident. She threatened to jump from her bedroom window unless the footage was wiped. She posted online: “He wants me to die.” Hours before her death Chevonea changed her BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) profile to picture to someone with their head in a bin, saying: ‘F**k this Life’. The court heard she also texted a friend saying “he wants me to jump”.
At the end of the day she died, Chevonea had gone around school saying she was sorry for anything bad she had done and one friend said she “seemed suicidal” for someone normally “bubbly and smiley”. The friend said “We talked through BBM, I was the person who told her about the video and I regretfully did it through BBM. I found out about the video on Tuesday from another friend.” Another friend confirmed: “She had put up a picture on her BBM profile sometime around 5pm of someone throwing their head in a bin saying ‘F**k this Life’. I asked what it was about. She said: “Nothing, don’t worry”. I told her not to throw her life away because of some p***k.”
On 16th January 2013 Coroner Bernard Richmond QC ruled that the fall was an accident and that Chevonea didn’t intend to kill herself. He said that Chevonea was leaning out of the window threatening to jump as the boy cycled past. He said: “At a time when she knew him to be on the pavement below her bedroom, Chevonea climbed out onto the window ledge.” He said “She was attempting to demonstrate to him that she would jump if he did not do as she asked.” adding that in his opinion “She either jumped or lost her balance and fell whilst on the ledge. She had no settled intention to kill herself.”
Chevonea had endured 3 years of physical, emotional and cyber bullying from the age of 11, which she and others had reported to teachers. Not only was it was dismissed as “kids being cruel”, the schoolgirl herself was painted as a bully and a “narcissistic attention seeker”. She started to cut herself in class and had to be restrained from swallowing a handful of paracetamol tablets. Despite this, teachers made her sign a complex “anti-bullying contract” with 6 of the boys. E6, who attended a different school did not sign the agreement.
The Coroner said there had been clear failings at the school, where repeated signs of concern were not followed up, and at Wandsworth Council children’s services where a referral for treatment was largely ignored.
A friend of Chevonea’s told the inquest that the boy who had had allegedly forced her into a sex act at a party, phoned before Chevonea fell, to say she had fallen from her window and died. The witness said: “He said she had jumped out the window. I called her and she answered and she started crying and talking about life and stuff. She said she couldn’t take life no more and didn’t want to be here anymore. We both said bye and that was the last time I heard from her.” The witness also claimed Chevonea had changed her BBM status to “he wants me dead, he wants me to jump” two days earlier.
A friend of Chevonea, named as E3, spoke of how the video began circulating among fellow pupils. The friend told the hearing: “There was girls on my bus talking about a video and Chevonea was in it. I saw it when I was at my friend’s nan’s. We were outside and some boys were next to us and they was like “do you know Chevonea?”. They gave us the phone and said ‘watch this’. I looked at it until I realised what was going on and then looked away.”
The friend told the hearing that someone else was recording a sex act from directly behind the teen so she did not know if she knew she was being recorded. She added: “There was a friend who was talking to me. She said Chevonea was getting bullied about the video because people from her school had seen or heard about it. Her friends were saying she weren’t really happy and she was a bubbly person, but got really sad and weren’t who she was.”
Chevonea discovered the sex tape of her and E6 was being passed around at school just hours before she died. The Coroner said “It is clear from texts to E6 that she believed there was a video and that he had the power to delete it”. On the evening she died Chevonea sent a text to E6, pleading: “How much can I handle? HONESTLY. I beg you, delete that.” She spent 12 minutes on the phone to the boy, and was speaking to him moments before falling from the window, at around 8.10pm. The Coroner said he was satisfied the conversation centred on the sex tape. He said: “From the texts, it is clear she believed him to have the video which she begged him to delete.
There’s evidence from a number of sources that on her Blackberry BBM Messenger, she posted a status: ‘He wants me to die’. It is plain she was highly distressed. She was so hopeless and desperate she decided to do something dramatic to try to force E6 into doing what she wanted.”
The Coroner said: “Chevonea climbed out of the window ledge and attempted to demonstrate to him she would jump if he did not do as she asked.” He added “She either jumped or lost her balance while out on the ledge. Of the two it is more probably she lost her balance, as she had no settled intention to kill herself.”
Of the first alleged rape, the Coroner said: “I am satisfied TG did have sexual activity with Chevonea after the party. Whether she was intimidated to comply or out of her depth and unable to process what to do to extricate herself from the situation is less than clear.” Mr Richmond said he was also convinced Chevonea had performed a sex act on E6, and that it was filmed by one of his friends. The Coroner also said: “I have formed the view there was a video in existence and it or a copy of it was under the control of E6.”
E6 and TG both testified to the inquest, but were criticised for evading questions and claiming neither had any sexual contact with Chevonea. However, despite rejecting the bulk of E6’s evidence, the coroner cleared E6 of encouraging Chevonea to carry out her threats to jump. he said “I am quite satisfied what ever happened to Chevonea, it was not E6’s intention that she should kill herself, or even, I’m satisfied, jump. E6 insisted he did not see Chevonea fall, but few who observed him will forget the interminable silence when asked the question did you see her fall before he answered I can’t recall. Such an event would have been unforgettable.That’s what has driven me to the conclusion E6 did witness the fall and was simply unwilling to assist the court on this point.”
The Coroner said there had been a “chain” of mistakes from school staff responsible for pupil welfare. Zach Darlington, who was the teacher responsible for child protection, admitted repeated failures, including giving the impression that Chevonea was a “narcissistic attention-seeker” in a referral to a mental health authority. Darlington, who handed in his notice before Chevonea’s death, claimed he was “let down” by Wandsworth social services who failed to pass the case on to mental health services.
Despite the fact that he was responsible for child protection, Darlington reportedly did not know the school had a social worker who would have been able to offer advice and help. Darlington admitted that he had delayed passing on information about the sexual assault, including to the head teacher. He did not pursue a referral to Social Services as he should have done. He also gave only partial information in his referral to mental health services and focussed on Chevonea’s behaviour, not the abuse she was experiencing or the abusive behaviour of the boys.
When asked by Westminster Coroner Bernard Richmond QC if he should have done anything differently, Zach Darlington replied: “Yes. There are three main areas I would’ve done differently. Firstly, the delay in the sexual assault information being passed on. I waited for fuller information, but I should’ve let Mr Gallagher [the head teacher] know straight away. Secondly, I focused on the support which had already been given to Chevonea which led me to let social services fall off my radar and I shouldn’t have done that. Finally, I hadn’t painted a full picture on the CAMHS referral. I was trying to paint a picture on the behaviours Chevonea was displaying. I should’ve focused on other pupils. It would’ve have provided a clearer picture had I done that.”
Mr Richmond said to Darlington: “The impression you gave was that she was narcissistic and attention-seeking.” Darlington replied: “If that is the conclusion, that was not my intention.”Darlington claimed that he did not know how to deal with the abuse claims.
He told the inquest he turned to head teacher Mr Gallagher for advice what to do when the allegations first came to light. Despite the fact that he had responsibility for child protection, he said “It was a situation I have never come across before.” He admitted “I was slow and action should be taken as soon as possible.” He said he not had “direct training” in filling out referral documents. Remarkably, Darlington told the hearing that in his opinion this was not a child protection issue.
The Coroner pointed out “nobody seemed to understand” what was going to happen to Chevonea after the allegations surfaced because she had not been taken to a police station for DNA testing.
Sally Bishop, a nurse at Saint Cecilia’s School, told the inquest that although she saw Chevonea, she never followed up on the referral to mental health services regarding her self-harming because of “work demands”.
The Coroner said: “There is a difference between someone who has no problems with pupils and those who self-harm. If Chevonea threw herself out the window, that is one of the most destructive things she can do. If she did, it might be because of mental health problems that started when she cut herself.”
The Coroner said that Chevonea’s was a case which “slipped through the net and exposed a hole in” what he called “otherwise good practices at the school and social services”. He said “I am satisfied those involved with Chevonea at St Cecilia honestly believed they were tacking the bullying. But regrettably there seems there has been a gulf between the rhetoric and the reality.”
He reserved his sternest criticism for a social worker who “inconceivably” rejected Chevonea’s referral for assessment following the alleged rapes. He said “Had her case been properly considered and a closer assessment which would doubtless have followed, focusing attention on Chevonea and how she got into this position with these boys, with such scrutiny on her the events of March 29 may not have unfolded in the way they sadly did”.
Inexplicably, the Coroner appears to have made no criticism of the school’s failure to involve the police or to support Chevonea to do so. He said he would not report her alleged abuser E6 for lying to the inquiry, because he felt he had been “evasive” rather than deliberately misleading and should escape “draconian punishment”.
The Coroner recorded a narrative verdict of accidental death.
Evans Amoah-Nyamekye represented Chevonea’s family.
Note: This report was drawn from Mail Online, the Independent and the Evening Standard.
For Our Daughters Notes: This is one of the most shocking cases we have ever had to report. Legally there was no homicide, but a young, vulnerable girl lost her life as a result of systematic bullying and sexual assault. She was isolated and desperate, tormented by up to 11 boys over a period of years. Yet those with a responsibility to assist her failed to do so and blamed her. Even the Coroner appears to have been more concerned about the agencies’ failure to respond to her mental health issues than to the sexist bullying, abuse and cruelty which gave rise to it. Chevonea was a child with a right to protection, but was abandoned by those with a duty of care towards her. She was a victim of violent crime, but received no justice. It is to be hoped that police investigation continues into the abuse Chevonea experienced – and that an inquiry takes place within educational, health and social services as well as the Church of England, as to what went wrong in this dreadful case.