Page last updated at 21:31 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Council boss 'will not quit' over starvation death

Khyra Ishaq
Khyra Ishaq was found severely emaciated

The head of Birmingham children's services says he will not quit after seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq was starved to death in the city in 2008.

Tony Howell said his resignation would "serve no purpose", despite a High Court judge saying it was "beyond belief" such a death could occur.

The judge said concerns raised by a school were not taken seriously enough.

Angela Gordon, Khyra's mother, and her partner Junaid Abuhamza both admitted manslaughter at Birmingham Crown Court.

Khyra weighed 2st 9lb (16.5kg) when she was found severely emaciated at home in Leyton Road, Handsworth, on 17 May 2008.

Khyra's mother Angela Gordon, 35, pleaded guilty to manslaughter two weeks ago but prosecutors only decided on Thursday to accept her plea based on psychiatrists' reports that she was severely depressed when her daughter died.

Concerns were not taken sufficiently seriously and were not adequately investigated
Mrs Justice King

Gordon's partner, Junaid Abuhamza, 31, had previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter following a report into his mental health.

The review of care proceedings took place under a High Court judge in 2008, but details could not be reported until the criminal case against Gordon and Abuhamza had ended.

Following the care review, Judge Mrs Justice King said: "It is beyond belief that, in 2008, in a bustling, energetic and modern city like Birmingham, a child of seven was withdrawn from school and thereafter kept in squalid conditions for a period of five months before finally dying of starvation."

While acknowledging Khyra was the responsibility of Gordon and Abuhamza, Mrs Justice King said: "In all probability had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, Khyra would not have died."

Dangerous malnutrition

She said serious concerns about malnutrition had been raised by schools attended by other children in Gordon and Abuhamza's care.

"The schools did all they could to bring their concerns to the attention of the relevant authorities.

"These concerns were not taken sufficiently seriously and were not adequately investigated," she added.

Tony Howell, Birmingham City Council's strategic director for children, young people and families
Tony Howell said Khyra's death was "difficult to comprehend"

No professionals, including teachers or social workers, saw any of the children in Gordon and Abuhamza's care at their home between December 2007 and Khyra's death in May, 2008, Mrs Justice Smith said.

Other children in the couple's care were found in an acute state of severe and dangerous malnutrition.

Following the guilty pleas of Gordon and Abuhamza, Mr Howell, Birmingham City Council's strategic director for children, young people and families, told reporters he would not resign.

He said: "We have been working on improving children's social care for over a year now, working closely alongside Government.

"Improvements have been made. There would be no purpose served simply by resigning."

He said he was "sorry" social services "were unable to save Khyra Ishaq".

Mr Howell added: "It is difficult to comprehend that in this day and age a child can starve to death in Britain without anyone appearing to notice.

"But the fact of the matter is that it did happen, and it has caused a great deal of hard reflection among all the agencies in the city who have a responsibility to protect vulnerable children."

'Could have intervened'

Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB) said on Thursday it knew of 30 people who could have helped Khyra but felt unable to.

In a statement the board said: "It is of serious concern that the police investigation identified at least 30 individuals out of a potential 90 witnesses scheduled to be called to give evidence against Khyra's killers who could have intervened and made a difference.

Angela Gordon and Junaid Abuhamza both had manslaughter pleas accepted
Gordon and Abuhamza will be sentenced next Friday

"It is alarming because it was clear to us that many people in the community had concerns but did not feel able to share them with the many agencies that are there to help."

Meanwhile, Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "It is very hard for any of us to understand how adults could do this to children in their care.

"There are clearly serious questions to be answered about what local services and professionals were doing in the months before this tragedy took place.

"As the trial has shown, it is now clear that concerns about these children were not acted upon effectively."

BSCB is now conducting a Serious Case Review and Mr Balls promised to publish a full and detailed summary detailing what had happened in the case and what action will be taken as a result.


Birmingham Crown Court was shown video footage of the house where Khyra was starved to death'

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