Concerns raised with CYF before Leon Jayet-Cole's death

Leon Jayet-Cole died last year after suffering a serious head injury while in the care of his stepfather, James Roberts.
SUPPLIED

Leon Jayet-Cole died last year after suffering a serious head injury while in the care of his stepfather, James Roberts.

Child, Youth and Family (CYF) were alerted to concerns about the care of slain autistic schoolboy Leon Jayet-Cole at least a dozen times in the three years before he was allegedly murdered.

The 5-year-old's father says his son's death last year was preventable and has called for an inquiry into the agency's handling of the case.

James Roberts, 35, the man accused of killing Leon, his stepson, was found dead at his father's home in Riccarton, Christchurch, on Monday. Roberts was on electronically monitored bail awaiting trial. 

Emma Jayet, Leon's mother, and her husband James Roberts, Leon's stepfather.
SUPPLIED

Emma Jayet, Leon's mother, and her husband James Roberts, Leon's stepfather.

Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Ford would not confirm the identity of the person found dead at the property, but said it was a 35-year-old man.

The matter was not suspicious and would be referred to the coroner, Ford said. He declined to comment further.

It is understood the death is suspected suicide.

A hearse at the home where James Roberts was found dead.

A hearse at the home where James Roberts was found dead.

Roberts' wife and Leon's mother, Emma Jayet, said she was in shock at the news.

"All it says to me is that he was guilty. Now I'll never know what happened to my little boy."

READ MORE: Faces of Innocents

James Roberts was found dead at a home in Christchurch on Monday.
Supplied

James Roberts was found dead at a home in Christchurch on Monday.

Jayet said she recently realised Roberts was responsible for her son's death after being shown an autopsy report of his injuries. 

Ad Feedback

She told Roberts a week ago their marriage was over because: "I knew what he'd done."

Leon's father, Michael Cole, said he felt "deflated and ripped off" after learning about Roberts' death. 

"I'm still left with a big hole, because someone has to be accountable.

"I would have liked to have seen him do 17 to 20 years in jail."

Cole said he raised concerns with CYF and police about the care Leon and his siblings were receiving long before the alleged murder.

It is understood CYF received at least a dozen notifications about the children over a three year period. They included concerns about neglect, abuse and suspected drug use in the home.

"Absolutely it [Leon's death] was preventable," Cole said. There should be an inquiry into how agencies like CYF and police handled the case, he said.

Jayet said she was unaware of any abuse in her home, prior to her son's death.

Both Leon and his older brother were autistic.

CYF southern regional director Theresa Perham confirmed concerns had been raised about the family before Leon's death, but investigations found no evidence of physical abuse.

"[Before Leon's death our] involvement . . . mostly concerned issues arising from the stress in the household of caring for the boys with high needs, the health challenges they presented, and appropriate agencies were engaged with Ms Jayet and the family to help support them," Perham said.

"All concerns received about the family were responded to."

The agency's handling of the case would be explored further by the coroner, she said.

Cole remembered Leon as an "unconditional loving little monster" with an infectious giggle.

"I was very lucky to have him in my life."

Leon was rushed to Christchurch Hospital after he suffered a serious head injury at his family's home in Papanui on May 27, last year. He died the next day. 

Roberts was charged with the boy's murder. His trial was scheduled to begin on October 31. The prosecution can no longer proceed.

Jayet was initially charged with failing to get Leon medical treatment on the day of his death. That charge was later withdrawn.

It is understood Roberts had previous convictions for drugs and aggravated robbery.

LEON'S MOTHER BREAKS HER SILENCE

Until the age of 4, Leon Jayet-Cole barely uttered a word.

The young autistic boy was destined for a special needs school, like his older brother, who suffered from the same condition.

However, within a matter of months Leon surprised his family when he began to talk and learned to read, write and do maths.

The dramatic turnaround earned him the nickname "Superman".

When Leon celebrated his 5th birthday he was enrolled as a new entrant at Northcote School in the suburb of Papanui, a short distance from his family's home, a state house in Lambeth Cres.

Each morning he would put on his uniform – a white polo shirt, green sweatshirt and black track pants – and walk to school with his mother, Emma Jayet.

"He loved school so much. It was such an accomplishment for him," she said. He was only doing half days.

On Wednesday, May 27, 2015, Jayet took Leon to school as normal. He put his name on the the board in Room 1 to say he was there and then stowed his red fire engine bag in the cloak room.

"Then I gave him a big cuddle and said 'I love you dude'. I guess I have a nice memory of the last time I saw him," she said.

Jayet, who was heavily pregnant at the time, went to Christchurch Women's Hospital later that morning thinking she was in labour.

She phoned her husband, James Roberts, and asked him if he could leave his asphalting job early to pick up Leon, his stepson, from school.

"Probably the next thing I can remember after that was getting a call from James saying he'd found him [Leon] unresponsive [at home] and 'we're coming to hospital'," Jayet said.

"He sounded like he was in a state."

She rushed to Christchurch Hospital's emergency department and waited for her son to arrive.

Police alleged Leon suffered a serious, non-accidental head injury. He was pronounced dead the next day, but kept on life support so his organs could be harvested.

Jayet said it was not until after the surgery when all the tubes were removed that she "realised my little boy had gone".

Leon's liver was transplanted to a baby boy, while his kidneys helped save a man and a woman.

Roberts was charged with Leon's murder. 

Jayet was charged with failing to provide the necessities of life. That charge was later withdrawn by police.

Leon, who had thick blonde hair and blue eyes, was born at Christchurch Hospital on April 19, 2010. At the time he was the youngest of five children. Today, he would be six and have a younger sister, who was born after his death.

Leon started preschool when he was 3-years-old and required a teacher aid, his mother said.

He attended Kidsfirst Kindergartens in New Brighton and Northcote where he earned a reputation as an "escape artist".

"He could get out of anywhere and very quickly. He had no knowledge of road safety or anything like that. He had a fascination with traffic lights and we think that's what the attraction was."

Leon had no fear and "had me on the edge of my seat the whole time", his mother said. He loved to pillow fight and ran riot on his pink trike (that had no pedals).

"He was very quirky. He had a certain place where he'd sit in the lounge, a certain place where he'd sit at the table and a certain plate [which he'd eat from]. You had to ask him how he wanted his toast cut in the morning otherwise he wouldn't eat it. He was quite eccentric."

Leon loved car rides and trips to the beach. His favourite movie was Frozen, an animated children's film about two princesses. He enjoyed reading, particularly Dr Seuss.

Jayet said looking after Leon was hard work, but rewarding. Several agencies were involved with the family and provided respite care.

She has fond memories of his cheeky laugh and big smile.

"He was my little buddy. I just miss having him around."

Leon's funeral was held at Avonhead Baptist Church. He was buried in his school uniform inside a white casket.

Jayet said the case had ripped her family apart. She and James married three weeks before Leon died. Her surviving children were removed from her care by Child, Youth and Family.

"I thought I had my fairytale. I had what I thought was a supportive husband who loved me and my child, I had my kids, I had my home, I had my security and the next moment I literally had nothing and it hasn't really got much better since then.

"I just feel like a shell of who I used to be. I wouldn't wish what I'm going through on anybody. I couldn't even try and explain how it is - it's awful."

Jayet said she met Roberts through mutual friends several years ago and "right from the start we just clicked".

"I'm not saying we were this perfect couple or anything, but he was my best friend."

When Roberts was charged with Leon's murder, Jayet stood by her husband believing police had got it wrong.

However, six weeks ago she obtained a copy of the child's autopsy report that revealed "he had a head injury that the chances of it being an accident are pretty small".

"The thing that gets to me the most was how he [Roberts] could continue to be there for me, but yet be lying [about what he'd done]. I went into bat for him and I got angry at people who were abusing him."

Jayet said she did not neglect her children and should be allowed to have them back. The Family Court will decide that. 

"We were just a normal, typical family. We weren't rich as far as material things . . . but there was a lot of love in our house and a lot of good times."

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback