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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 18:28 GMT
Officers in Climbie case 'scapegoats'
Victoria Climbie
Victoria had 128 injuries on her body when she died
Junior policemen who worked on the Victoria Climbie abuse case have accused senior officers of making them scapegoats.

The claims were made at the public inquiry into the eight-year-old's death, which also heard apologies from both the Metropolitan Police and the NSPCC for failing the child.

Solicitor Gareth Rees, representing three sergeants who were part of Haringey council's highly criticised child protection team, said senior Met officers may be trying to blame the men for their own failings.

Perhaps the apologies and admission of responsibility provide some reassurance to the family and the public that the Metropolitan Police Service has matured

Solicitor for the Met police force

He said junior officers were unfairly being made to look like the fault lay with them and that the inquiry should be sceptical about the Met's official stance that the police protection system at the time was "sound and effective".

Senior officers attempting to "excuse their own failures in the responsibilities they had" had a strong motive in promoting this approach, Mr Rees said.

Earlier on Monday, the Met police apologised for its failure to interview Victoria, visit original informants or investigate the crime scene while she was still alive.

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

Sir John Stevens
Sir John led apologies to Victoria's parents

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

The Met admitted the case, although serious, should have been within the capabilities of a rookie constable.

Ronald Thwaites QC, on behalf of Met Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens, apologised to Victoria's parents and pledged that problems in the system had been tackled.

"It will not be of any assistance to Victoria but it may prove to be a fitting tribute to her memory," he said.

I know that an apology can never be enough but I am very sorry

Mary Marsh

There were apologies also from children's charity the NSPCC.

Director and chief executive Mary Marsh told the public inquiry that the charity had "let Victoria down".

"It is clear that we had an opportunity to help Victoria.

"It is profoundly to my regret that we did not act in a timely, adequate and appropriate way."

She added: "I know that an apology can never be enough but I am very sorry."

NSPCC logo
Charity head 'very sorry that we let Victoria down'

The inquiry heard how a catalogue of blunders by staff at the NSPCC support centre in Tottenham, north London, let Victoria slip through the care safety net.

They failed to check on Victoria for a week after she was referred to them in August 1999 because they were busy planning a party.

"This delay should not have happened," Ms Marsh said.

They also did not act on the eight-year-old's multiple injuries for several months despite her being referred to them as an urgent case, the inquiry was told.

And once they had received the referral, vital clarification of the information and the expectations of social services were not sought.

'Learning from mistakes'

Ms Marsh told the inquiry their records were "inadequate and incomplete" despite the "recognition of the urgency" of the situation.

The inquiry earlier heard that NSPCC officials had altered documents to show they closed the case.

Ms Marsh denied there had been attempts at a cover-up.

Victoria died in February 2000 with 128 separate injuries to her body.

A radical overhaul of the NSPCC's database and administration systems is being made to boost standards.

Ms Marsh added: "I'm very sorry that we let Victoria down.

"I greatly regret the mistakes we made and I know that everyone at the NSPCC shares with me my absolute determination to learn from them."

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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