Victoria Climbie's parents have revealed that her abuse and death at the hands of her great aunt has torn their family apart.
Francis and Berthe Climbie have been an almost constant fixture at the inquiry into their daughter's death, the first phase of which draws to a close in a fortnight. But they revealed that when they returned to their home in Ivory Coast over Christmas, they were greeted by a family riven with discord about what happened.
Eight-year-old Victoria suffered a "miserable and lonely" death, having been "imprisoned, beaten and starved" for months by her father's aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, 45, and her partner Carl Manning, 28, at a flat in Tottenham, north London. The girl's parents had entrusted her care to Kouao so she could bring her to England for her education.
Instead Kouao, along with her lover, inflicted terrible injuries – 128 at the time of her death. When they were jailed for life for murder in January, the Government ordered a public inquiry into how four authorities, two police child protection teams and two hospitals failed to save Victoria.
Francis Berthe told Community Care magazine that many of the relatives back in Africa still refuse to believe the truth about such a respected older member of the family. The elders particularly, were still "highly shocked".
Many, he said, believe that Victoria's death must have been an accident and, therefore, Kouao being convicted in a British court and forced to appear before Lord Laming's inquiry has brought dishonour on the family. "Marie Theresa came to us and was going to help our child to study in Europe. This is not uncommon at all. Everyone was excited about Victoria going because there was a possibility that other family members could follow," explained Mr Climbie.
Yet, while some family members continue to believe in Kouao, Victoria's parents were forced to listen to her defiant and unrepentant testimony before the inquiry. She never even looked them in the eye.
The couple said they hoped Lord Laming's report will heal the rifts and compel their relatives to accept the truth. Despite everything they have gone through, they have faith in his public investigation. "The inquiry team has been extremely well organised from our perspective," said Mr Climbie.
He and his wife, he explained, still believe their daughter's spirit exists and it will help ensure that no other child dies in such circumstances "not just in England but anywhere".Reuse content