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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 14:24 GMT
Council blunder halts Climbie inquiry
Marie Therese Kouao (left) abused Victoria (centre)
The public inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbie was temporarily suspended on Friday morning after the council involved in her care handed over 71 new documents relevant to the case.

The papers, originally requested in May, were found at the bottom of a filing cabinet by staff at Haringey Council in north London.

Inquiry chairman, Lord Laming, said he was "absolutely furious" about the "unacceptable delay".

The blunder reopens the prospect that the council's director of social services Anne Bristow could face six months' imprisonment, accused of breaching a summons to produce all relevant documents the inquiry.

The inquiry - which had resumed by Friday afternoon - is now considering the new documents and was due to proceed with non-Haringey witnesses.


Our embarrassment level about all of this is now off the scale

Elizabeth Lawson QC
Haringey's counsel

Haringey Council, responsible for eight-year-old Victoria's care for seven months before she died in February 2000, has always known it would be a vital witness to the government-appointed public inquiry.

Lord Laming said of the latest event: "It shows a blatant and flagrant disregard to the work of this inquiry.

"It is a terrible disservice to the other interested parties. It is grossly unreasonable to counsel to the inquiry and its staff."

Lord Laming
Lord Laming said he was 'absolutely furious'

Victoria died in one of Britain's worst child abuse cases despite regular contact with social workers, doctors and police.

Her death came after suffering months of torture at the hands of her great-aunt Marie Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning who were jailed for life for murder.

Elizabeth Lawson QC, Haringey's counsel to inquiry, said: "Our embarrassment level about all of this is now off the scale."

An apology letter was attached to the late bundle but she added: "Our amazement is as great as anybody's.


These documents are not coming from some distant office or from some unidentified filing cabinet or filing system

Neil Garnham QC
Counsel for the inquiry

"We had been led to believe was always that this sort of material had been searched for and not found, not that it was there and not discovered."

Neil Garnham QC, counsel for the inquiry, added: "These documents are not coming from some distant office or from some unidentified filing cabinet or filing system.

"These appear to have come from the top drawer of the filing cabinet in the office that had dealings directly with Victoria."

Lawyers are now reviewing the information, which includes memos relating to senior social worker Carole Baptiste's absence, a report into Haringey's social service department and assorted documents on case allocation in North Tottenham District Office.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kim Catcheside
"The council has been repeatedly criticised"

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Background

THE TRIAL

TALKING POINT
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03 Dec 01 | England
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