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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
Climbie social worker guilty
Carole Baptiste
Baptiste claimed she was suffering from mental illness
The senior social worker involved in the care of murdered child abuse victim Victoria Climbie has been found guilty of deliberately failing to attend a public inquiry into her death.

Carole Baptiste, 39, is the first person in Britain to be tried for deliberately breaching an inquiry summons.

She was found guilty by magistrates in Camberwell Green, south London, on Tuesday and fined 500.

Marie Therese Kouao
Kouao made Victoria sleep naked in a bath

In January 2001, Victoria's great aunt Marie Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning were convicted of the eight-year-old's murder.

The little girl had died after being kept in a bath, beaten, and fed scraps of food.

After their conviction, questions were raised about the involvement of social workers in the case and an inquiry was called.

Manning appeared at the inquiry, as did Kouao - although she refused to answer questions - but Baptiste failed to attend altogether to explain her part.

'She was fit to attend'

On Tuesday, District Judge Hayden Gott said he did not accept Baptiste's defence that she was still suffering from a mental illness during the seven months in which she ignored calls to attend.

He said he believed she had deliberately failed to attend and added: "In my judgment the balance of medical evidence is that Ms Baptiste had recovered from mental illness and objectively speaking was fit to attend the inquiry."

After the verdict, Victoria's parents, Francis and Berthe Climbie, were said to be "very disappointed" that Baptiste had not received a harsher sentence.

In a statement issued through a family friend, they said: "We, the family, expected her to be dealt with more severely."

I absolutely do think that I have been persecuted

Carole Baptiste

Raju Bhatt, the Climbie family lawyer, told BBC News: "She in her role as a managing social worker shared responsibilty for the care of, not just Victoria Climbie, but all our children.

"And when a public servant fails, we expect that public servant to be accountable to us."

Brian Altman, prosecuting, told the court the first phase of the inquiry could have concluded sooner had Baptiste complied.

She was asked to give evidence from May last year but constantly failed to appear and was finally presented with a summons in December.
Berthe Climbie, Victoria's mother
Berthe Climbie expected a harsher sentence

The former social services team manager at Haringey Council, north London, eventually gave evidence in January this year.

The government-appointed inquiry, which is set to report next month, was trying to establish how three local authorities, police and social services who all came into contact with Victoria before her death failed to save her.

Outside the court after the case, Baptiste said she felt "aggrieved" with the way the inquiry had treated her in light of her recovery from mental illness.

"I absolutely do think that I have been persecuted," she added.

Peter Herbert, mitigating, said Baptiste - who has not worked since the inquiry - had been "pilloried in the press and the media".

He said his client had "made her peace" with Victoria's family and the court action against her had partly undermined the work of the inquiry.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Westhead
"The public inquiry was hampered for seven months by Baptiste's refusal to co-operate"
Social worker Carole Baptiste
"I absolutely do think that I have been persecuted"
Climbie Family Lawyer Raju Bhatt
"My clients found their distress was prolonged by Carole Baptiste's conduct"

Click here to go to BBC London Online

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THE TRIAL

TALKING POINT
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