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Grieving parents search for answers after baby's 'avoidable' choking death at preschool

By Merryn Porter |

Parents of a baby who died after he choked on food at preschool say they are still ?searching for answers almost 18 months after the tragedy.

Oliver Keith Steeper died in hospital days after the choking incident while he was in the care of a preschool in Kent in the UK in 2021.

Now his grieving parents Zoe and Lewis Steeper say they will leave "no stone unturned" in their search for answers and to find out if inadequate staff-to-child ratios at the preschool on the day contributed to his death.

Oliver was nine months old when he died on September 29, 2021, following a choking incident at Jelly Beans Day Nursery.

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Oliver Keith Steeper died in hospital days after choking on food at preschool
Oliver Keith Steeper was nine months old when he died after a choking incident at preschool in the UK in September 2021. (Oliver Steeper Foundation)

At the time, he was the couple's only child. They have since set up the Oliver Steeper Foundation, which is awaiting official registration as a charity, and have launched a petition to stop proposed changes to childcare ratios in the UK. It reached 100,000 signatures on the first anniversary of their son's death.

In a statement on the foundation's website last week, the couple said they had instructed their lawyers to lodge an appeal with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK after it decided late last year there was insufficient evidence to take action against anyone over Oliver's death.

"On December 9, we received the news that the Crown Prosecution Service had reached a decision on the criminal case and investigation into the death of our beloved son Oliver Keith Steeper, who died following choking on food whilst in the trusted care of Jelly Beans Day Nursery in Ashford, Kent in September 2021," the statement said.

?"?Whilst the initial investigation concluded that the nursery's policies and procedures were 'of poor quality and inconsistent', no accountability for our son's tragic and avoidable death will prevail at this moment in time.

"We have serious concerns as to whether or not management chose to ignore ratio guidelines, on a day of high staff sickness, therefore operating without ratio and paediatric first-aid forefront."

The couple said in their statement ?medical consultants who performed two bronchoscopies on Oliver stated he was given "a substantial amount of food, inappropriate for his age" which was not pureed.

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Oliver Steeper died after he choked on food at preschool
Oliver's parents are still searching for answers following their son's death. (Oliver Steeper Foundation)

"We are concerned no thought was given into the stage of his development whilst eating, despite the nursery being informed he was only just starting on pureed foods."

Top of the couple's list of grievances is the handling of the investigation into their son's death.

They also allege the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills? (OFSTED) in the UK failed to complete its own investigation.

"We are disappointed and still in disbelief having been told that OFSTED did not investigate Oliver's death as the regulator, as the nursery handed back their registration to OFSTED two days before they were due to be inspected," they said.

"OFSTED did not visit the setting as the company was no longer a registered provider.

"We are dismayed that despite being a registered provider at the time of the incident nothing was done even to look forward and preventing future incidents."

The nursery has since closed.

The couple vowed to "leave no stone unturned" in their hunt for answers.

Oliver Steeper died after choking on food at preschool
The baby died in hospital days after the choking incident. (Facebook/Lewis Steeper)

"We feel that many key aspects of what happened on that day have been missed or ignored by the CPS."

The couple said their son's final days "will be forever engraved into our hearts as a constant pain."

??"The pain and heartache of losing your only child just as he was starting to say 'da da' and so on, is nothing short of inhumane," they said.

"We have spent many days and nights sobbing, wishing we could change things, wishing he was still here and this was just some form of dream and we'd wake up soon."

The couple said while they were "hugely disappointed and shocked at the initial decision" by the CPS they were "far from deterred."

"We will leave no stone unturned as we feel that many key aspects of what happened on that day have been missed or ignored by the CPS," they said.

The couple welcomed a second child last month, a boy they named Jake Oliver in memory of the brother he will never meet.

On December 14, Zoe ?Steeper took to Facebook with an emotional post on what would have been his second birthday, sharing one of the first and last photos taken of him.

"We can't see you, hug you, be with you today and yet we're together always," she wrote.

"I dreamt about you last night. You were toddling along and yabbering away, your way of showing us you're doing just great wherever you may be.

"Miss you every day, always wondering what adventures we could, no, should have been having together.

"Everything we fight for now is in your name dude, your legacy to keep others safe in the future."

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