The inquiry into the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie was halted abruptly yesterday when a smartly dressed woman strode into the hearing and poured black paint over a witness.
In front of a packed room, the 32-year-old walked calmly up to Detective Chief Inspector Philip Wheeler and doused him in the paint before yelling: "You're taking the p***. That's my f****** relative you're talking about."
Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, reacted fastest. "Someone arrest that woman!" he called, before plain-clothes officers grabbed the intruder. It appeared that the attacker, dressed in a smart blue trouser suit, had been seeking the little girl's killer.
Victoria suffered a "miserable and lonely" death in February 2000, after having been "imprisoned, beaten and starved" for months on end by her father's aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, 45, and her partner, Carl Manning, 28, at a flat in Tottenham, north London.
The two of them were able to inflict terrible injuries – 128 at the time of her death – despite repeated involvement by social services, the police and doctors. When they were jailed for life for murder in January, the Government ordered a public inquiry into what has been called one of Britain's worst child abuse cases.
Earlier this week, Kouao was brought before the hearing to give evidence during a day in which she continued to protest her innocence. In a display of disdain and arrogance, she offered no explanation for the little girl's treatment, insisting she was the victim of a conspiracy to cover up medical incompetence.
Yesterday the woman, who had not been seen at the inquiry before, asked reception staff whether the great-aunt was still giving evidence before questioning them about Victoria's key social worker, Lisa Arthurworrey. Informed that neither was giving evidence that day, she appeared "crestfallen".
One witness described how she then walked into the hearing, heading for the public gallery, before suddenly "veering" over to the witness stand.
Det Ch Insp Wheeler, who wrote a damning report on the standards of the child-protection services handling Victoria's case, was in the middle of giving evidence on the manuals used when he was hit. He had to be taken to hospital after paint seeped into his eyes but was said to be unharmed.
Lord Laming, the inquiry chairman, immediately halted proceedings. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that you will realise that I take that incident very seriously indeed, to put it mildly," he said. "I think we have no choice now other than to adjourn the proceedings and inquire after the well-being of the witness."
Yesterday, Scotland Yard said the woman, whose identity was being verified, did not seem to be related to the Climbies. She was being held at Southwark police station and could face charges of assault and criminal damage.Reuse content