Climbie social worker was suffering 'psychotic illness'

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The Independent Online

In the months leading up to Victoria Climbie's death, the senior social worker in charge of her case was developing a "serious psychotic illness".

The inquiry into the eight-year-old's death heard yesterday that Carole Baptiste had informed her manager at Haringey Social Services about her mental health problems. But, Ms Baptiste told the hearing, together they had dismissed the problem as "not something that was taken particularly seriously".

The 39-year-old former team manager, who has been accused of running a chaotic office and failing to supervise Lisa Arthurworrey, the social worker directly charged with Victoria's case, believed her memory loss and difficulty in grappling with concepts were simply stress-related.

Her barrister, Peter Herbert, told the inquiry yesterday that a report by a consultant psychiatrist concluded that she was clinically depressed and developing a severe psychotic illness at the time. The report read: "It is likely that this mental illness would have impaired her capacity to function as a social work team leader.

"In particular I would expect that her capacity to work would have been lower than before she developed the mental illness and that her capacity to take decisions would have been impaired. Given later events, it is reasonable to suppose that she would not have been aware of the fact that she was becoming ill."

The inquiry also heard that during 1999, the social worker had become involved with a "charismatic church" that promoted aggressive prayer and "spiritual warfare".

She admitted her attendance at the Rhema church, in south London, would have affected how she handled Victoria's case because of new spiritual beliefs.

Victoria was imprisoned, beaten and starved by her father's aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, 45, and her partner, Carl Manning, 28, at a flat in north London, until she died in February 2000. The pair were both jailed for life for murder last year.

Despite being deemed "absolutely crucial" to the inquiry into how four local authorities, two child protection teams and two hospitals failed to save Victoria from abuse and death, Ms Baptiste, who was made redundant in February 2000, had initially ignored repeated requests and summons to testify, saying she was suffering from depression.

Next month she will become the first person to be prosecuted for allegedly breaching an inquiry summons. She denies the charge, which carries a fine of £1,000 and up to six months imprisonment.