'Baby P' stepfather may challenge rape verdict

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The Independent Online

Lawyers representing Baby P's 'stepfather' confirmed today they are considering an appeal against his conviction for raping a two-year-old girl.

Tim Bittlestone, of Leslie Franks Solicitors, said: "We will go through the process with this client as we do with every client.

"We presented his defence fearlessly as we are required to do so by the rules and now we will consider the possibilities with him as to any appeal as we do with all defendants."

Legal sources suggested any appeal could focus on the age of the victim, who was the prosecution's main witness.

She was just four when she testified at the Old Bailey via videolink and questions have been raised about basing a prosecution on the evidence of such a young witness.

The defendant is facing a life sentence after his conviction for the rape on Friday.

Baby P's mother denied a cruelty charge involving the same girl and was found not guilty by the jurors, who had no idea they were trying the couple in the Baby P case.

The 32-year-old's victim, like Baby P, was on Haringey council's at risk register.

The defendant, who Baby P knew as 'Dad', was convicted with lodger Jason Owen, 36, of causing or allowing Baby P's death last November.

Baby P's mother, 27, pleaded guilty to the same charge.

The child, whose first name was Peter, was found dead in his blood-spattered cot with a broken back and fractured ribs.

He had 50 injuries and died despite having had 60 contacts with health and social workers over the final eight months of his life.

His mother was arrested twice after injuries were spotted but she was not charged after hoodwinking officials.

Peter suffered months of ill-treatment, culminating in his death after a punch in the mouth knocked one of his teeth down his throat.

The woman and her boyfriend cannot be named for legal reasons.

It emerged today that Haringey council should have known Peter's mother had a new boyfriend more than four months before the toddler's death.

Social workers from Haringey Council maintained they never suspected the mother was harbouring a violent boyfriend in the house.

But a Panorama investigation to be screened tonight has uncovered footage taken by the council in which the mother talks about a "very good friend" for whom she cooked a Valentine's Day dinner.

In March 2007, she was filmed as the subject of an academic study, two weeks after the mother's estranged husband warned social workers that she had a new boyfriend, the BBC said.

The mother's boyfriend moved into her home in November 2006 although his presence was kept from police and social workers.

She was arrested the following month after bruises were spotted on the boy's face and he was placed on the child protection register.

The video was made by Sue Gilmore, the senior team manager in charge of Peter's case, who told programme makers she put a note of the filmed interview on the boy's electronic file.

Anyone accessing the system would have been able to see it.

Panorama said police investigating Peter's injuries in the months before he died were never told about the video or that it contained details of the boyfriend.

The video was also never shown to detectives investigating the boy's death or to the jury at the Old Bailey trial.

The council told the BBC responsibility for deciding what information was given to detectives lay with former director of children's services Sharon Shoesmith and her former deputy Cecilia Hitchen.

But Mrs Shoesmith and her deputy declined to comment.

Mrs Gilmore, who has since left the council, said she told police about the interview in January 2008.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "We were not made aware of video footage capturing or relating to defendants linked to the trial of baby P."