Havering Council changes policy on shared housing after ‘perfect storm’ that led to Luke Harwood murder

10:34 26 April 2013

Billy Duggan

Billy Duggan's lawyer described the situation as a "perfect storm"


Havering Council has introduced new background checks on housing applicants following the “perfect storm” that led to Luke Harwood’s murder.

At the time Luke moved into 72, Crow Lane, the council only carried out basic checks when a person applied for shared council housing – proof of ID, proof of income and proof of residence in the borough.

As a result, two people with a criminal history were allowed to move in with a vulnerable young woman.

Emma Hall’s reaction to the rape allegation made against Luke Harwood may have been due in part to her own history of sexual abuse, it was said in court.

The accusation against Luke was made by a visitor to the council house Hall shared with him and her co-defendants – but in interviews with police it became clear that the allegation was untrue.

Havering Council says...

“The shared accommodation scheme was set up because of the lack of housing available for young single people – bearing in mind the recent changes to housing benefit regulations, which now dictate anyone under 35 can only receive housing benefit for a room in a shared house.

“At the time, we carried out all the standard verification checks we would on any applicant around their identification, income, and savings. However, since the tragic incident with Luke Harwood, we have introduced more stringent checks on all shared housing applicants.”

Standard checks on all applicants were:

Proof of identification

Proof of residence in the borough

Proof of income and savings

Additional checks carried out on shared accommodation applicants after May 2012:

Criminal background checks with police

Mental health checks with Mental Health Services

Checks with Drug and Alcohol Services

Combined with the “atmosphere of fear” created in the household by Danby, the stage was set for a tragic unfolding of events.

New checks have now been introduced that see the council contacting police, mental health services and drug and alcohol services before handing over the keys to shared accommodation.

Tony O’Toole, 30, had moved into the house in March 2012 along with Emma Hall, 21, and Billy Duggan, also 21.

Unknown to the council, James Danby had joined them and began living at the address.

Danby, who had a previous conviction for violence, was arrested days before the killing for breaching a community order.

The matter was dealt with at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court on May 8 and Danby was allowed back to the house.

He suffered from a “mild personality disorder”, his solicitor Henry Grunwald said, and was prescribed mood-stabilising drugs – which he hadn’t taken the night he killed Luke. He had also been drinking heavily.

Meanwhile, O’Toole had a conviction for dishonesty and Duggan, then “isolated from his family” and with “nowhere else to go”, had previously had “brief brushes with the law”, said his counsel.

Hall had a troubled history, having been abused as a child at the hands of her step-father, said counsel Max Hill.

Mr Hill said his client had “been the victim of abusive conduct at the hands of others” on two occasions – the first when she was six.

“There were suggestions of sexual abuse by a young male relative as long ago as 1997,” Mr Hill told the Old Bailey.

“Correspondence from Havering hospitals from November 1997 indicate there was an investigation to see whether Emma Hall, then aged six, had suffered sexual abuse.

“This case speaks of a tragic history and sequence of events within the Hall family.”

He added: “In Emma’s own background I will not forget the fact of her own rape over several years at the hands of her own step-father.”

She also suffered from anorexia as a result of her abuse, and had been treated for anxiety and stress.

Mitigating for Duggan, the youngest defendant’s solicitor said: “Here we have a perfect storm – a violent and wicked man living in the home with Billy Duggan who was isolated by his family.”

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