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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 17:41 GMT
Accusations fly at Climbie inquiry
Victoria Climbie
Victoria had 128 injuries on her body when she died
Accusations of blame have been flying as the first phase of the inquiry into the death of eight-year old Victoria Climbie drew to a close.

The barrister for the inquiry, Neil Garnham QC, concluded that she could have been saved if police, health and social services had acted.


At the heart of their case is that key people charged with the responsibility of ensuring Victoria's safety and welfare simply did not do their jobs

The Climbies

Victoria's parents accused Haringey Council of irresponsibility and incompetence, bizarre practices and insensitivity.

Victoria's social worker, Lisa Arthurworrey, accused Haringey Council of using her as a "sacrificial lamb".

Haringey Council, in turn, bitterly attacked the inquiry for its "apparent determination to blame everyone from top to bottom".

Victoria died in February 2000 after suffering months of abuse at the hands of her great aunt Marie Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning, in their north London flat.

She had 128 separate injuries on her body at the time of her death, and the child protection system missed at least 12 chances to save her life. The pair are now serving life for murder.


It is simply not open to agencies.. to contend that they could never be expected to anticipate the possibility that Victoria would be abused

Neil Garnham QC
Neil Garnham QC, for the inquiry, said although the murder was committed by sick individuals, it was still important to be critical of public services.

"It is simply not open to agencies involved in an inquiry like this to contend that they could never be expected to anticipate the possibility that Victoria would be abused."

Francis and Berthe Climbie launched a scathing attack on incompetent professionals within Britain's child protection services.

'Disturbing and disappointing'

In a closing statement read by their lawyer Margot Boye, the Climbies - who sent Victoria to Europe under Kouao's care for a better education - said the only people who tried to do something about Victoria were untrained members of the public.


[Haringey's office] is truly bizarre, witchcraft in one corner and a religious fanatic in the other and in the middle absolutely nobody reading a file

The Climbies

Ms Boye said: "At the heart of their case is that key people charged with the responsibility of ensuring Victoria's safety and welfare simply did not do their jobs."

The Climbies singled out Gurbux Singh, Haringey's former chief executive and now the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, for the "very disturbing and disappointing" way in which they said he had distanced himself from blame.

The chaotic management style of the social services' office, and the behaviour of Ms Arthurworrey's supervisor Carol Baptiste, also horrified the Climbies.

Ms Boye said the office was "truly bizarre, witchcraft in one corner and a religious fanatic in the other and in the middle absolutely nobody reading a file."

Council defends itself

Haringey Council's lawyer Elizabeth Lawson QC warned that the attitude of the inquiry could lead to children being taken into care without sufficient evidence of abuse.


The atmosphere of blame... meant this inquiry has lost the opportunity to allow those actually doing the job to offer their reflections in an atmosphere of open-minded inquiry

Haringey Council

She said Kouao had convinced everyone she was a loving mother to Victoria, and that the death could have happened in any part of the country.

She said the inquiry had created an atmosphere of fear and blame among the care professionals, and in doing so failed to uncover any significant facts.

Ms Arthurworrey's lawyer later said: "Lisa is not a paediatrician, detective or psychiatrist, yet other agencies have sought to shield behind her back."

The five-month first phase of the inquiry - which deals specifically with circumstances surrounding Victoria's death - will be followed by a second stage to look at ways to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alison Holt
"What the family has heard has made them increasingly angry"
Barnardos Chief Executive Roger Singleton
"This is a landmark case"
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The buck keeps on being passed"
Michael Ledbetter, Assoc. Directors Social Services
"A key finding is the need to listen to the children"

Key stories

Background

THE TRIAL

TALKING POINT
See also:

03 Dec 01 | England
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