Courage of couple during 55 ugly days

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The Independent Online

Midway through the inquiry into her daughter's death Berthe Climbie burst into tears when she learnt Victoria had responded excitedly to the suggestion that she could go home from hospital. As social workers and lawyers argued the semantics of exactly whether the eight-year-old girl was actually pleased to be returning to her abusive aunt in London, her mother knew the truth.

"Mrs Climbie burst into tearsbecause to her it was completely clear Victoria's excitement was because she thought she was returning to her family in the Ivory Coast,'' the Climbies' lawyer, Margot Boye, told Lord Laming's inquiry yesterday.

Mrs Climbie, 42, and her husband, Francis, travelled from Abidjan to endure 55 days of deeply disturbing evidence. They have had to confront a language barrier, an alien country and a culture they feared would not understand their willingness to entrust their daughter to a relative, or their innocent belief that she would get a better chance in life than they could offer. The couple and two of their other six children, a son of seven and a two-year-old daughter, stayed in a flat in west London paid for by well-wishers.

With dogged determination the Climbies listened to the evidence through an interpreter, read thousands of translated documents and visited the places Victoria had been.

Their emotions, they said, had been conflicting; relief at hearing the truth, mixed with horror at what the truth was. They were also baffled and angered at the failures of the social welfare system they had believed to be far more sophisticated than anything they had at home."The death of my daughter has opened my eyes to this world," Mrs Climbie has said. "When I return to the Ivory Coast I want to spend more time with my children.''

The Climbies are determined to know the truth about Victoria's death, and they hope lessons will be learnt.

"God has taken her soul to help other people not suffer what she has been through,'' Mrs Climbie has said.