Prostitute dies of overdose - at 13

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ALIYAH ISMAIL was a homeless prostitute, hooked on methadone, desperate for money and exploited by dozens of men. She died of a drugs overdose, alone on a threadbare blanket in a derelict building in the red light district of King's Cross. She was just 13 years old.

The St Pancras coroner's court this week recorded a verdict of death by misadventure, but details of her short life tell a story of failure by her parents, friends and society.

During her final few months, she was put into the care of Harrow council. Just how her carers in the north-west London borough allowed the vulnerable teenager to disappear into London's underworld will be the key question before an inquiry by an independent child care expert, appointed by Harrow to study its own conduct.

So what happened to Aliyah Ismail? Carol Sensky, a Harrow social worker, told the inquest that the marriage between Aliyah's Jordanian father, Jamal, and her mother, Agnes, fell apart when she was four. By the time she was seven she had signs of serious physical abuse. A year later teachers reported her as aggressive and sexually precocious.

Then there was some respite. When Aliyah was nine she spent three years with her father, first in France, then Jordan where, according to her close friend Zoe, 18, she attended a private girls' school and was happy.

But the adolescent began to rebel against the restrictions on young women in the Muslim country. When Aliyah returned to Britain for a holiday in 1997, she found London exhilarating. "She wanted to have too much fun in too short a time. She wanted to grow up quickly but in reality she was so very vulnerable and naive," said Zoe.

Aliyah went to live with her mother in a dilapidated council house in Northolt, on the outskirts of west London, and was soon hanging out with the "wrong crowd," said Zoe.

Her depressed mother could not cope with the headstrong teenager and put her into the care of social workers.

In early 1998, Aliyah was placed in a children's home, but absconded. By April her social worker reported that Aliyah's life was out of control. Her file noted an arrest for theft and suspicions of "abusing drugs and sexual promiscuity". It concluded that she could not be "contained". On 23 September she told her social worker that she was a prostitute. She was working the streets around King's Cross station and had become infected with herpes and hepatitis B. Kelly, 16, a young beggar who knew Aliyah well, claimed the men who had sex with her knew she was under-age. "She looked 13. There was no way you could mistake her for even a 16 or 17- year-old," he said.

Harrow social services agreed that Aliyah ought to be in a secure unit, but failed to act. Less than a month later, on 27 October, she was dead.

Aliyah's last days were spent with a heroin addict, Anthony Hughes, himself only 17. In a witness statement he said that Aliyah was a regular user of crack cocaine and cannabis. The night she died, another prostitute sold her methadone, the heroin substitute distributed to addicts by the NHS.

Aliyah drank it immediately and was soon "buzzing". In the early hours of 27 October, they returned to his mother's rundown flat close to King's Cross, and fell asleep. When he awoke the following afternoon, Aliyah's mouth was encrusted with blood and vomit. "Her body was all floppy," he said. She was dead.

Pathologist Dr Diane Cox said that Aliyah died of methadone poisoning: she had twice the lethal dose of the drug in her bloodstream. Aliyah's father believes the police are not doing enough to find the methadone supplier. He is also incensed at the failure of the social workers to prevent his daughter's death. "Regardless of whether she was a naughty girl or not, they should have helped Aliyah and placed her somewhere safe," he told the Independent on Sunday.

The coroner, Dr Stephen Chan, summed it up: "It is sad to hear such a sorry tale of a very short life - a child's really - so tragically flawed and self-destructive ... She was clearly spiralling down the dark alley of drugs, and vice."

But later that night, a few minutes walk from the coroner's court, it was business as usual on Aliyah's old patch. A disturbed young woman sat on the pavement rocking to and fro, and a prostitute discussed business with a punter, while two police officers searched a suspected drugs dealer. A pretty young girl, aged about 14, paused to check her hair in a window, then disappeared into the dark heart of King's Cross.