Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Handsworth asks 'how could Khyra be allowed to die?'

By Katie Townsend
BBC Birmingham

Khyra Ishaq
Khyra Ishaq died in May 2008

The fact a seven-year-old girl could slowly starve to death over a period of weeks shocked not only the community at the heart of the police inquiry but people across the country.

Khyra Ishaq's mother, Angela Gordon, and her partner Junaid Abuhamza have now both admitted her manslaughter.

In life, Khyra Ishaq was described as a shy but happy little girl.

In death, doctors and paramedics described her body as the most extreme sight they had seen in careers often spanning decades.

She weighed just 2st 9lbs (16.7 kg) when she died, reportedly without an ounce of fat on her body.

In court, pathologist Dr Roger Malcomson said: "This is the most severe case of malnutrition that I have ever seen in my professional life."

Neighbours speak of Khyra's death

But at Leyton Road, Handsworth, where Khyra lived, there was no shortage of food.

Photos taken inside the family kitchen show a fridge and cupboards full to bursting but Junaid Abuhamza had fitted a lock to its door.

The court heard how he implemented a severe punishment regime. Khyra was hit with a cane and put in detention in the garden; standing outside in the February cold.

The children were forced to eat from one bowl or force fed until they were sick if they ate too much.

At a late stage of the trial, which was a retrial after the first one collapsed, it emerged Gordon was suffering from severe depression at the time of Khyra's death.

Paramedics said she showed no emotion as they tried to resuscitate Khyra and in police interviews she answered "no comment" to every question.

The court heard the fridge inside Khyra's home was well-stocked
The fridge inside Khyra Ishaq's home

In contrast, Junaid Abuhamza, 31, who has schizophreia, has explained and at times tried to justify his actions.

He said he implemented discipline for the good of the children and wanted them to stop eating junk food and be healthy but he believed Khyra was possessed by an evil spirit.

His defence lawyers told the court Abuhamza's own father implemented similar punishments and beatings.

The court heard that at the age of five he watched his father beat his four-year-old sister to death.

On the stand he said: "In retrospect I see that all actions I exhibited in the household were due to my childhood."

While the authorities have come in for some criticism, many people in Handsworth have been forced to examine their own roles in this tragedy.

In court, some residents said they had seen a small child standing in the garden.

Others said they were told not to let her eat stale bread they left out for the birds.

The house where Khyra Ishaq lived
Handsworth residents have been shocked at what happened

One couple, now moved away, heard screams of "let me out" from children inside an upstairs bedroom.

In the 18 months since Khyra died there has been a lot of time for reflection.

"We should have been able to see the warning signs. It's our own community," one lady said.

"If someone had said something it could have saved her life."

Another, herself a mother, said she was now more vigilant.

She said: "Now I'll look at a child in the street and check if they're OK... where's their mum or dad?"

Many cannot believe that in a modern British city, Khyra starved to death.

As one resident of Handsworth commented: "It's the way she lost her life. We don't live in the Third World. Everybody has food. It's unbelievable."

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