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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 12:47 GMT
NSPCC 'delayed action' over Climbie
Victoria Climbie
Victoria had 128 injuries on her body when she died
The public inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie has heard damning evidence about the role of the NSPCC in events leading up to the eight-year-old's death.

Victoria, who was murdered by her great aunt and her boyfriend, was referred to a centre run by the charity but no action was taken for nearly seven months.

Confidential documents shown to BBC Radio 4's Today programme suggest that crucial details on NSPCC files were changed after Victoria's death.

NSPCC logo
Charity's family centre described as a "shambles"
One read that Victoria's case was "accepted for ongoing service" when she was first referred to them, while another version, made - according to computer records - after the girl's death, was marked "no further action".

The charity has strongly denied that its records had been falsified.

During the inquiry, the NSPCC family centre was described as a "shambles" and a project in crisis.

Victoria was referred to the centre in north London on 5 August 1999 amid concerns about her poor hygiene, inappropriate dress and that she seemed anxious around her great-aunt.

The case was seen as urgent but it was a week before she was allocated a social worker.

The inquiry heard that staff had been preoccupied with organising a party.

'Widespread concern'

The BBC has been shown evidence that key information in confidential documents put before the inquiry by the charity had been changed.

The NSPCC provided photocopies to the inquiry rather than originals and details in them had been changed, it said, to protect the identity of individual staff.

The charity then told the inquiry that the originals were lost but later produced them after pressure from inquiry chairman Lord Laming.

Lord Laming described these inconsistencies as of potentially "great and widespread concern".

One of the barristers complained that it had reduced the inquiry to the level of amateur detective work.

It was not the first time that the inquiry had heard allegations that files had been changed.

Victoria and her great-aunt Kouao
Kouao systematically abused Victoria

Social worker Sylvia Henry, who had been assigned Victoria's case, told the inquiry that she contacted North Tottenham social services who told her the family had moved out of the borough, so the case was closed.

Social services denied the conversation took place and the department was still seeing Victoria and her aunt in December 1999 - fully four months after she was referred to the NSPCC.

Victoria died in February 2000 and the case was shown closed in NSPCC computer records on 15 March.

Detective work

Ms Henry admitted she could not remember exactly when the phone conversation had taken place nor had she dated the entry in Victoria's files.

When a barrister at the inquiry put it to her that she had added the note about the phone call to social services after the girl's murder in "an effort to explain away the fact that you had done nothing with this referral for months and months and months?" she said: "No, I dispute that".

The NSPCC says it held an internal investigation into the case and accepts that more appropriate action could have been taken.

'Extremely disturbing'

At the time of Victoria's referral, it says the centre, which has since closed, was facing "difficulties" and since her death, the charity has strengthened lines of responsibility and improved its record keeping system.

But it denies documents were doctored.

In a statement, the charity said: "Despite suggestions to the contrary, we have found no evidence of deception or falsification of NSPCC records."

Victoria died after months of abuse and torture by her carers - her great-aunt Marie Therese Kouao and Kouao's boyfriend, Carl Manning.

Kouao, 44, and Manning, 29, were convicted of her murder and jailed for life in January 2001.

Alan Levy QC, an expert on child law who was involved in the "pin-down" inquiry into mistreatment of children in homes in Staffordshire, said an "extremely disturbing" picture was emerging of practices at the family centre.

"If the inquiry is critical of the NSPCC, it has to take a very hard look at its organisation," he said.

The BBC's Angus Stickler
"The NSPCC family centre was described as a shambles"
Barrister specialising in child law, Alan Levy
"The NSPCC needs to take a hard look at itself "

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03 Dec 01 | England
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