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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Climbie social worker admits 'shortcoming'
Victoria Climbie died after horrific abuse
A senior social worker has admitted to a public inquiry that it was a "shortcoming" on her part that she never saw Victoria Climbie.

Michelle Hines, an officer at Brent council's child protection team, said she now accepted that her failure to see eight-year-old Victoria was a missed opportunity.

Ms Hines had no personal contact with Victoria as the decision was being made to withdraw police protection from her while she was in Central Middlesex Hospital in July 1999.


I was told that the child was seen by Dr Schwartz, a respected child physician in Brent

Michelle Hines
Social worker
She was returned to her great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, in whose north London flat she died from abuse and neglect months later.

When Victoria 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.

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

Ms Hines had been convinced that Victoria was in need of child protection after receiving a report on 14 July 1999, saying that the girl had cuts, bruises and bloodshot eyes.

Scabies diagnosis

Victoria had been taken to hospital after waking up groaning in pain at her childminder Priscilla Cameron's home in Brent, north London, with pus seeping from her fingers and her swollen face.

Alarm bells were not triggered when consultant paediatrician Dr Ruby Schwartz diagnosed Victoria's injuries as scabies, in direct contrast to Ms Hines' own judgment, Lord Laming's inquiry was told.

Police protection was withdrawn the next day on the strength of this diagnosis without Victoria, Kouao or Mrs Cameron being interviewed or any assessment of Victoria's needs.

Respected physician

Ms Hines said it was not usual for her to seek a second medical opinion, particularly after an initial consultation had been made with someone as well respected as Dr Schwartz.

She told the inquiry: "I was told that the child was seen by Dr Schwartz, a respected child physician in Brent.

"I felt that if Dr Schwartz had seen the child her diagnosis would have been correct and I could not argue with that.

"Dr Schwartz was always the person that I came to in hospital and I would always rely on her diagnosis."

A link with information already contained on the protection team's database of a tip-off on 18 June 1999, that Victoria was in danger, made by Esther Ackah, one of Kouao's relatives by marriage, was also not made, she said.

Crucial timing

A full child protection investigation would have been triggered the following day, 15 July 1999, but by that time Victoria's level of care had been downgraded to that of a child who was in "need" as opposed to being a child protection case.

If the referral had been made in the morning instead of close to the end of the working day Ms Hines' full investigation could have been triggered on the same day, she told the inquiry.

Kouao had said that Victoria's injuries were self-inflicted.

The inquiry continues.

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The BBC's Alison Holt
"Dr Schwartz admitted that at no time did she see Victoria on her own"

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