'My Megan was failed by the system': Teenager's mum wants rape case re-opened
- Credit: Supplied by family
The heartbroken mother of a "bubbly" drama student is demanding justice for her daughter and claims she was "let down by the very system there to protect her".
Ipswich teenager Megan Younger-Watson died in February 2019 after a night out with friends, during which she reported being raped at a house party.
A coroner ruled her death as "misadventure" last week and highlighted two 'missed opportunities' on behalf of her 16-21 supported housing scheme Christchurch House, in Fonnereau Road, where vulnerable Megan was observed to be intoxicated twice but official protocols were not followed.
Now her mother Natashia Younger-Watson wants the teenager's rape case re-opened as she feels compelling witness evidence came out at her inquest – and is considering pursuing a civil case over her care.
“This is not about money, this is not about compensation, this is about my child being let down. I can’t afford to let this go," she said.
"I want justice for my child, and action has got to be taken so other parents don’t have to go through this.
"Because every day for me is an absolute struggle."
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Every person who met Megan, born in Ipswich on January 13, 2002, fell in love with her “infectious” personality, her mum recalls.
Bright, always laughing and full of character, as a child she was determined to become a vet.
Teachers at Whitehouse Primary School and beyond adored her, and never had a bad word to say.
Popular with her classmates, Megan’s death sent shockwaves through the community, and memories of her continue to be cherished with a special display at the Sir Bobby Robson bridge.
Despite her young age, Megan had faced trauma. In her early teens, she was raped, exploited by gang members, and experienced an abusive relationship.
Diagnosed with ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Megan struggled with depression and anxiety and could go to “dark places”, friends said.
But she had been seeking help, enrolled on a performing arts course at Suffolk New College, and seemed on a “confident road to adulthood” in the months before she died, her stepfather Stuart Haggar added.
“She was a blessing from the day she was born,” her mother said.
“We clashed a lot because we were like two peas in a pod.
"She was my best friend, my only daughter, my everything.
"We had our ups and downs – she was a stubborn little madam who always wanted to get her point across, but my God, I was so proud of her.
“So beautiful, with her big beautiful brown eyes which would turn green if she was hyperactive or being mischievous.
“No words can express the pain I feel without her.”
What happened the night she died?
On the afternoon of Friday, February 15, 2019, Megan was happy.
She was celebrating being allowed to stay at the Christchurch House housing scheme in Ipswich.
Just days earlier, the teenager had been facing eviction over fears she was not engaging with medics about her mental health, her inquest was told.
Happy to not be losing her home, the 17-year-old decided to join friends on a rare night out at the Grinning Rat pub.
Before they left, the group took the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and drank alcohol.
Within a few minutes of arriving, Megan intervened in a mugging outside the pub, retrieving the victim’s trainers and trousers. Friends say she appeared drunk; telling one “I don’t know what I’m doing”.
At midnight on Saturday, the pub’s kicking-out time, the girls in the group were invited to a party at a flat where drink and drugs “flowed freely”. The boys were made to wait outside. Inside, Megan had a sexual encounter.
On leaving, an intoxicated Megan had to be carried home. She appeared “distraught” and told friends she was raped.
Back at the hostel, Megan was found lying drunk outside the building by the night concierge Michael Hughes – who “scooped her up” and took her to a hallway with two friends.
Just after 6am, Mr Hughes found Megan again – this time asleep in a corridor – picked her up, and took her to her room, leaving her with two residents.
Mr Hughes told the inquest that as they were going up the stairs, Megan told him “I’m sorry I got drunk, I love you Michael, please don’t kick me out”.
At around 8am, Megan is captured on CCTV visiting her partner's room where an argument occurred. She later calmed down and returned to her own room.
Friends dialled 999 at 10am after hearing choking noises coming from Megan’s room and being unable to get inside.
Paramedics used crowbars to try and open the door, with a policeman eventually breaking it down by taking it off its hinges.
Despite their best efforts, Megan was found dead inside. Her cause of death was given as compression of the neck, consistent with hanging.
The coroner said he believed Megan would have been too distraught from the events of the previous evening to make any rational decision to end her own life.
He also said that her mental health issues made her prone to impulsive acts.
The youth hostel
Megan had moved into Christchurch House, a supported living scheme for people aged between 16 and 21, in a quest for more independence in 2018.
Phyl Chigome, service manager, told Megan’s inquest the Fonnereau Road facility provides low to medium levels of support, creating a “conducive” environment for young people to express themselves and develop skills to live independently.
Each resident has a risk assessment in place within the first week and Megan was no exception, he told the coroner, but as the scheme’s speciality is housing, tenants are signposted to appropriate support services.
An agreement outlining rent charges and expected standards of behaviour is drawn up at the same time, with residents under 18 referred to appropriate services immediately and daily contact maintained.
“My honest judgment is that this was just a young lady who needed more support in engaging with her medication and her GP,” Mr Chigome told the inquest.
“Because in most situations she was very bubbly, it came across that she had a plan, she was in college, but the challenge as a manager was how best I can provide an environment to support Megan.”
During January 2019, Megan had begun to display “high-risk” behaviour, Mr Chigome said, and was struggling to cope with her emotions.
He began to question whether he could continue to offer her support and informed Megan, her mother, and her social worker on February 11 that she was being asked to leave the scheme.
The inquest heard Megan was very upset by this development as she felt she had been making progress.
Her mother was furious and arranged a meeting on February 13, after which the decision was overturned.
Mr Chigome said this discussion and a letter sent by Megan’s GP had convinced him it would be counterproductive to ask her to leave.
He told the coroner he didn’t feel he could have done anything differently in Megan’s case.
Nigel Parsley, senior coroner for Suffolk, identified two 'missed opportunities' to protect Megan at Christchurch House.
The 17-year-old had been seen in an intoxicated state the night she died twice by a staff member at the hostel.
The service manager said there was a protocol in place for when staff were concerned about residents’ wellbeing, including for when vulnerable tenants, like Megan, were intoxicated.
Overnight staff needed to call NHS 111 for advice and inform a duty manager about the situation.
However, on the night Megan died, this did not happen.
Mr Hughes, the night concierge, said he was allowed access to her file as part of his role so knew about her mental health.
He told the coroner he believed Megan was safe and well when he took her back to her room with friends around 6am.
The service manager said that after Megan’s death a plan was drawn up with Mr Hughes to consider his actions that night and ensure protocols were clear.
Mr Parsley said these incidents amounted to two missed opportunities to protect Megan, but added that they raise more questions than provide answers.
“We have no idea what 111 would have said and we also don’t know what the duty manager would have said,” he added.
“Because we don’t know what might have happened, we cannot say if any additional guidance or support would have changed the tragic outcome."
Mr Parsley has requested more CCTV at the premises, and wants this done within 28 days.
Footage of Megan intoxicated in a downstairs corridor was captured on CCTV, but the coroner said he was concerned by potential gaps on the top floor, where her room was located.
Because of the lack of CCTV, it is not known whether anyone visited her in the hours before she was found dead.
Megan's mother said she doesn't feel the scheme, run by Orwell Housing, has taken her death seriously enough. She is considering launching a civil case over her daughter's care.
Ms Younger-Watson claims her daughter was "let down" and questioned why there was no adult supervision in the building on Saturday mornings, between the hours of 6.30am and 1pm, at the time of her death.
Mr Chigome told the inquest shifts now overlap so there is always someone on shift from 7am.
"Young, vulnerable adults are in the building for protection," Megan's mother added.
"Megan was such an amazing person which is what makes it even more heartbreaking. I feel she was let down by the system that was there to protect her."
A spokesman for Orwell Housing said that the association was "deeply saddened" at the death of Megan, adding that sympathies go out to her family.
"We fully participated in the coroner's thorough investigations, and take extremely seriously the two recommendations made," they added.
The spokesman added that Christchurch House provides temporary supported accommodation for young people needing additional support with day-to-day living, providing guidance to help residents engage with other mental health, wellbeing and social care agencies.
They added: "The service at Christchurch House supports and enables young people to work towards independent living and residents are given appropriate privacy and freedom to reflect this.
"It is not required to provide 24-hour staffing on-site, and is offered as part of a wider multi-agency network of support through signposting and partnership working."
The rape investigation
Police fully investigated Megan’s allegation of rape and identified a suspect.
However, no further action was taken after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to press charges.
Detective Inspector Daniel Connick of Suffolk police said it was very apparent from friends of Megan that she had been “too intoxicated to give informed consent”.
Her mother now wants the CPS to re-open the case having heard detailed witness evidence given to the coroner.
In September 2020, Megan's family appealed the CPS’ decision not to start a prosecution, through what is known as a victims’ right to review.
After hearing fresh evidence at the inquest, her mother is considering applying for a further review, after the initial appeal was upheld.
“I cannot understand why the CPS didn’t make a case of rape," she added.
“There were lots of people at that party and it should only take one witness to say they saw her in that state to make them question whether she was able to consent."
The CPS said it first received a file of evidence from Suffolk police in May 2020.
A spokesman said this was a "heartbreaking case" and extended condolences to the family.
They added: “Rape and serious sexual offences are some of the most complex cases the CPS prosecutes but where there is sufficient evidence we will always seek to prosecute, no matter how challenging.
“We carefully considered materials, including CCTV footage and witness accounts, but it was concluded there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute. This decision was later reviewed by a senior specialist prosecutor.
“We recognise this has been an extremely upsetting time for Megan’s family but where there is insufficient evidence we cannot charge an offence, no matter how serious the allegation.”
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the CPS' decision to not press charges in Megan's case is not uncommon for rapes and sexual assaults.
Just 2% of rapes reported in Suffolk in the year 2019/20 led to a charge, police data revealed last October.
Ms Simon stressed the importance of the ability to appeal CPS charging decisions, adding: "It is a really important right for victims who may have been denied justice, and a crucial safeguard against the possibility of further offences."
Megan's mother says she will not stop fighting until she gets justice for her daughter.
She notes that there have been some positive changes so far since she died.
The teenager's death sparked a police probe into the illegal supply of anti-anxiety drug Xanax in Ipswich, DI Connick told the coroner, with a 17-year-old boy charged with and eventually fined for intent to supply a class C drug.
And the Grinning Rat, where Megan and her friends were drinking that night, is now closed having had its licence stripped in May 2019.
Her mother's focus is now on discovering more about what happened that night and taking action if necessary to prevent further tragedies.
"I will do all I can to help other parents in similar situations," she added.
"The system failed my beautiful angel. No parent should go through this ache I feel for the loss of my beautiful girl.
"She was an amazing big sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, auntie and friend to so many.
"We all miss her terribly."
Samaritans can be contacted for free, day and night, on 116 123 or via their website.