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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Climbie inquiry could call killers
Victoria Climbie suffered months of abuse at the hands of Kouao and Manning
Victoria suffered months of abuse
The chairman of the public inquiry into the death of an eight-year-old girl who suffered months of abuse has said it could hear evidence from her killers.

Victoria Climbie's great aunt Marie Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning were convicted of murder in January after the court heard how Victoria had suffered a harrowing catalogue of abuse.

Victoria, who was known as Anna by Kouao and Manning, died of multiple organ failure, hypothermia and malnutrition.

We should at least accord to this little girl the name she was given by her parents rather than that used by the people who murdered her

Lord Laming
The eight-year-old from the Ivory Coast had been kept bound and naked in a freezing bath, and attacked with a bicycle chain, belt buckle, hammer and wire, leaving her with 128 separate wounds on her body when she died.

Kouao had told police Victoria was possessed by witches which had caused her injuries.

Chairman Lord Laming has opened the inquiry into why social workers, police and medical staff failed to save her despite being told she was being abused.

Setting out the three-part inquiry's objectives on Thursday, Lord Laming said: "I am determined that through a process that is thorough, open and fair we will discover the truth about what happened to Victoria."

Killers' evidence

He admitted it was possible Victoria's killers would be called before the inquiry, which could also hear testimony from the girl's family in the Ivory Coast.

Both killers have been sent letters asking for their co-operation in the inquiry and Lord Laming said Manning had already given a "very positive response".

Lord Laming
Lord Laming wants the inquiry to be as open as possible
It will be up to the inquiry's counsel whether the pair give evidence in person, over a video link or by written statements.

As a statutory inquiry, Lord Laming could subpoena Kouao and force her to give a statement if she refuses.

He said he hoped the inquiry would bring "something good" out of the tragedy.

'Appalling ill-treatment'

The former chief inspector of social services in England emphasised the inquiry was not "litigation or prosecution".

He said the girl should be known by her real name during the inquiry.

"She died as a result of months of the most appalling ill-treatment at the hand of those who were supposed to be caring for her.

"We should at least accord to this little girl the name she was given by her parents rather than that used by the people who murdered her. She will be known to this inquiry as Victoria."

Beaten by chain

Victoria had been sent from Africa to the UK by her parents in the hope she would get a better education.

But by February 2000, after a year-and-a-half in the country, she had died in a tiny studio flat in Tottenham, north London.

The ensuing trial heard how Manning regularly beat the girl with hammers, belt buckles and a bicycle chain, claiming she was possessed by the devil.

Bethe Climbie
Bethe Climbie: Devastated by daughter's death
But the jury also heard how one doctor from the Central Middlesex Hospital returned Victoria to the pair after diagnosing scabies.

A social worker and police child protection officer from Haringey in north London then delayed visiting the family in case they caught the disease, the court heard.

In all, three local authorities, police and two hospitals had been involved with Victoria's case before she died.

Victoria's mother Bethe Climbié has said she was appalled the British authorities failed to prevent her daughter's death.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Alison Holt
"Victoria was beaten and forced to live in a freezing bathroom"
  The BBC's Sue Littlemore
reports from outside the inquiry in South London
  Alan Levy, QC, expert in child law
"As a country we don't seem to give a great priority to children"

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