A woman who murdered her two eldest children and plotted to kill the other four was seen by professionals involved with the family as ‘a loving, caring and competent mother’, a serious case review has found.
Incestuous couple Sarah Barrass, 35, and her half-brother Brandon Machin, 39, were jailed for life last year with a minimum term of 35 years for the murder of 13-year-old Tristan Barrass and his 14-year-old brother Blake, at their home in the Shiregreen area of Sheffield.
On Friday, an SCR found that none of the practitioners or agencies who had contact with Barrass and her children could have predicted what happened.
Social services thought Machin was supporting Barrass as her brother – not realising he was in fact the father of her children, who were born as a result of their secret incestuous relationship.
The report, published on Friday, concluded: ‘The deaths of these two children is a tragedy and there is no evidence from this review process that any of the practitioners and agencies involved with the family could have predicted the actions taken by their parents.
‘This review has seen significant evidence of effective and caring practice with the children by all agencies involved with the family.’
The review said: ‘Practitioners saw (Barrass) as a loving, caring and competent mother.’
Sheffield Crown Court heard last year that Barrass and Machin worked together to strangle the two teenagers before ensuring their deaths by placing bin bags over their heads.
The court heard that two of the children they had plotted to murder were under the age of three.
The family had contact with a large number of staff and a variety of agencies but the SCR said: ‘Professionals’ view of mother’s parenting was overwhelmingly positive and she was seen as a competent, caring and articulate parent who supported and fought hard for her children’s access to appropriate support and help.
‘She frequently self-referred to support services and the police.’
When the pair were sentenced, the court heard how, a day before murdering Tristan and Blake on May 24 2019, they had also forced the two teenagers, as well as two more of their children, to take tablets gathered from around the family home.
The court that Barrass and Machin expected the mixture, which included prescribed ADHD medication, to kill all four of them.
When that failed, they killed Tristan and Blake before attempting to drown another child in the bath.
Prosecutors said the picture of the family before the events in 2019 was, to the outside world, ‘a household of a loving single mum with six children, heavily supported by her brother Brandon Machin’.
But none of the professionals working with the family knew that Barrass and Machin were in a relationship and that he was the father of all six children.
The court heard: ‘The children believed and even told officers at the scene that their father was dead, having died in the Second World War.’
A judge was told that the mother-of-six was heard repeatedly making remarks such as ‘I gave you life, I can take it away’ to the children.
The court heard that she had sought help from the local authority with the youngsters, texting a friend: ‘I’ve thought of every possible solution to this mess. Mass murder, putting them all in care, checking in to the local nut house.
‘I love my kids too much to kill them, I can’t put them into care for the same reason.’
At last year’s trial Bryan Cox QC, mitigating for Barrass, described her crimes as ‘evil and nothing but evil’ but said she was ‘profoundly damaged by her childhood’.
He continued: ‘The defendant was desperate to prevent her children being taken into care. She couldn’t cope with the prospect of them being removed.’
Speaking outside court following today’s sentencing, friend of the family Matt Saunders said: ‘Blake and Tristan were two beautiful, confident and outgoing boys who both had a bright future ahead of them.
‘They had so many friends and they lit up any room they were in, especially Tristan, who loved to dye his hair bright colours.
‘Daily life will never be the same again now. The boys have left behind younger siblings, whose lives have been turned upside down. They adored their older brothers and they looked up to them.
‘A piece of all our hearts died on the 24th of May 2019, which we will never get back. Blake and Tristan leave a huge empty void in our lives and we did not get the chance to say goodbye.
‘We are relieved justice has been served but it should never have come to this.’