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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Climbie case is 'turning point'
Francis and Berthe Climbie at the inquiry
Victoria's Climbie's parents may give evidence
The man heading the public inquiry into the case of Victoria Climbie has said it will be a turning point in the protection of children.

Lord Laming told the hearing, which opened on Wednesday, that the eight-year-old's death had shocked the nation.

He added that its recommendations may affect the way the police, NHS and social services carry out their functions in the future.


My little girl was taken to the hospital, it was there that she should have been saved, yet it wasn't done

Berthe Climbie
Mother
The young girl died after being abused by her great aunt and her partner in north London, in one of the worst cases of child neglect in Britain.

Therese Kouao and Carl Manning were jailed for life in January this year for the murder of the girl in February 2000.

Victoria's parents, who have travelled from the Ivory Coast to attend the inquiry, have called for child protection chiefs to be called to account.

In his opening statement, Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, said Victoria had been kept bound and naked in a freezing bath, and repeatedly attacked, leaving her with 128 separate wounds on her body when she died.

'Unimaginable' suffering

He said that she must have gone through "unimaginable" suffering.

Mr Garnham told the inquiry that Kouao took Victoria to Europe in 1998. Her parents had hoped she would receive a better education.

They received just three messages giving news of Victoria after she left. All said she was in good health.

It is thought that the girl arrived in Britain with her great aunt in April, 1999, after an initial stay in France.

The hearing was told that Manning, a bus driver, met Kouao in June that year and they moved into his flat in Tottenham.

Berthe Climbie
Berthe Climbie: Devastated by daughter's death
Mr Garnham described how Victoria's case moved between Brent, Ealing, Haringey and Enfield social services, two separate hospitals in different health authorities and the police, but she was returned to her abusers time and again.

He said: "There were at least 12 chances for the agencies charged with duties of child protection to have saved her. All of those chances were missed."

Brent Social Services received an anonymous call about Victoria's welfare in June 1999 and three weeks later a "cursory" home visit was made, Mr Garnham said.

Social workers accepted the family had moved away but "at that very moment she was at Central Middlesex Hospital because of concerns she was being abused".

Victoria was taken to the west London hospital by a childminder named as Mrs Cameron. She was immediately taken under police protection.

But doctors at the hospital attributed Victoria's injuries to scabies and found nothing to substantiate abuse.

Severe burns

Mr Garnham said Brent Social Services removed her from police protection "without ever having seen or interviewed Victoria, Kouao or Mrs Cameron".

Just a month later Kouao took Victoria to North Middlesex Hospital.

The hospital was told that Victoria had poured hot water over her head for relief from the itching from scabies.

The inquiry was shown three photographs taken by the hospital showing terrible burns to Victoria's face.

Her mother Berthe was escorted from the hearing in distress after looking at the photos.

Victoria and her great-aunt Kouao
Marie Therese Kouao used Victoria to get benefits
Concerned nurses spoke to senior staff and doctors about a series of concerns about Victoria's condition.

But despite visits from two different social workers and a police officer she was allowed to return to her great aunt and Manning. She died six months later from multiple organ failure, malnutrition and neglect.

Mr Graham urged the inquiry to be "alive to the possibility" that race may have influenced the way the case was dealt with.

Earlier Victoria's father Francis Climbie had told the BBC that someone should take responsibility for his daughter's death.

Witnesses

"If someone is to take responsibility it must be the person at the very top," he said.

Mrs Climbie added: "My little girl was taken to the hospital, it was there that she should have been saved, yet it wasn't done.

"The people there didn't seem able to do their job. Today this has happened to me but tomorrow it could happen to somebody else."

A total of 232 witnesses have been called to give evidence to the inquiry with 144 taking the stand.

It is the first of its kind to involve three separate agencies - social services, the NHS and police.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The NHS, the police and the social services all failed to act"
Moria Gibb, President of social services directors
"We welcome the inquiry"
Victoria Climbie's parents
"If those in charge had done their job, our daughter would not be dead"

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TALKING POINT
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