Climbie: Call for children to be on national database

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The Independent Online

A national database of vulnerable children should be set up to prevent a repetition of the Victoria Climbie tragedy, a senior consultant said yesterday.

Howard Baderman, a retired A&E consultant, was speaking at the opening of the second phase of the inquiry into the eight-year-old's death.

He said: "I feel that most children come into contact with one or other agency during their early years and yet there is this concern, amply exemplified by Victoria's case, that children fall through the net, get lost, are not spotted or are spotted but inter-agency working does not go as it should.

"And although I am fully cognisant of the principles of freedom of the individual and over intervention by the state, it does seem to me that there would be advantages and not a great deal of disadvantage from the civil liberties point of view."

Mr Baderman explained that there would be varying levels of information – from simply a child's name through to issues of abuse – which could only be accessed by those who "needed to know".

Victoria suffered a "miserable and lonely" death in February 2000, having been imprisoned, beaten and starved for months on end by her father's aunt Marie Therese Kouao, 45, and the aunt's partner Carl Manning, 28, at a flat in Tottenham, north London. The pair were later jailed for life for her murder.

The investigation into one of the worst child abuse cases in this country is now concentrating on ways to prevent a similar tragedy happening again. The first part of the inquiry heard that a lack of communication between four local authorities, two police child protection teams and two hospitals had led to a fundamental failure in the case.

Mr Baderman's suggestion was welcomed by several of the agencies at the inquiry – which included social services, police, housing, health and charity representatives – though there were concerns about the practicalities of maintaining a database of all children as well as civil liberty issues.

Detective Sergeant Dave McCallum, police child protection expert for Avon and Somerset Police, suggested that the database might focus on "children in need". He said that "very often, different people have different slices of information" about vulnerable children.

If a child went on to a database when concerns about matters such as domestic violence were first noted, he said, a clearer picture would build up which all concerned could see.

The introduction of the Data Protection and Human Rights acts, he added, had deterred professionals further from sharing information, though this should not be the case if the legislation was properly interpreted.

Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, said there would be considerable advantages to such a scheme, but added: "It becomes more difficult if you are including all children at risk But even at the more modest level, there is a slight feeling of big brother about this."

Dr Yomi McEwan, a GP, agreed that there would be definite merits for the medical profession but felt there were "civil reservations".

Doctors, she said, were faced with a dilemma as to when to breach confidentiality in the interests of the child.

Chris Cloke, policy advisor for the children's charity, the NSPCC, also felt such noting of information on a database might deter people from coming forward to report abuse.

Nigel Parton, director of applied childhood studies at the University of Huddersfield, added there was evidence that even the existing child protection registers were referred to very little by professionals.