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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Climbie hearing sparks B&B inquiry
Victoria Climbie died after horrific abuse
The chairman of the Victoria Climbie inquiry has ordered an urgent investigation into accusations that a London council put unaccompanied 13-year-olds into bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Before the start of Thursday's proceedings, Lord Laming said it was important to find out if children in the borough of Brent were being exposed to "undue risk".

The allegations, made by suspended social services manager Edward Armstrong, were denied by the council.

There were unaccompanied minors coming from Kosovo and we were told that they were not priority cases

Edward Armstrong
Suspended social services manager
It was also alleged that children in need had been turned away and case files had been closed prematurely.

Lord Laming's inquiry is examining the death of eight-year-old Victoria in one of the UK's worst child abuse cases.

Marie Therese Kouao, 44, and her boyfriend, Carl Manning, 28, were both jailed for life for Victoria's murder in January this year.

When she died in February 2000, she had 128 separate injuries on her emaciated body after being kept bound and gagged in a bath and fed on scraps.

'Undue risk'

Lord Laming said: "During the course of the evidence from Mr Armstrong, he made some assertions about practice in Brent which caused me some concern.

"I have no reason to know whether or not those practices that he referred to are current today but if they are it would potentially expose some young people to undue risk."

Mr Armstrong had earlier told the inquiry: "There were unaccompanied minors coming from Kosovo and we were told that they were not priority cases and we could place them in bed and breakfasts and I am talking about 13 and 14-year-old children.

We expect later evidence to disprove his charges

Brent council
"Now looking at it, those cases could have been deemed child protection."

Brent Council had dealings with the Climbie case with Ealing Council and Haringey Council.

Mr Armstrong also explained how one young girl was turned away by the social services department.

He said: "One example I can remember is of a young girl whose mother was - I am trying to think of the word - serving a custodial sentence, and had nowhere to live.

Turned away

"Basically I was told 'close the case and tell her to go to her sister', who was living in another borough and that was the end of the matter.

"That girl turned up again this year because she had nobody to look after her and she was still turned away."

Mr Armstrong agreed that he was concerned he was being asked to close cases which should not have been closed.

He said a social services inspectorate visit had prompted senior management to ask for cases to be closed.

"The instruction in 1999 was from senior management for us to close cases and I remember coming back from my annual leave at the end of August, and within the first week of September 1999 I closed 190 cases."

Barrister instructed

The inquiry earlier heard that in 1997-1998, the Government earmarked 26.5 million for Brent Council's children's services but the council only spent 14.5 million.

The following year 28.1 million was allocated for children's services but again only 14.5 million was spent.

Lord Laming asked the barrister for Brent Council, David Turner QC, to "make some inquiries".

Mr Turner said: "I too was very concerned about the suggestion that either young people were being turned away or that files were still being prematurely closed."

A spokesman for Brent council said: "The evidence in question came from a manager who is currently suspended, pending investigation into his conduct. We expect later evidence to disprove his charges."

The inquiry continues.

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