Fury as Baby P stepfather is guilty of raping girl aged two

Council under fire because child was on 'at risk' register / Baby P's mother cleared of child cruelty by jury
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The Independent Online

Haringey council faced fresh condemnation last night after Baby P's stepfather was convicted of raping a two-year-old girl who was also on the authority's at risk register.

The 32-year-old man, who still cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty at the Old Bailey yesterday. He showed no emotion as the verdict was returned. Baby P's mother, who also still has her anonymity protected, was charged with child cruelty after she allegedly saw the rape take place but did nothing to stop it. She was found not guilty and mouthed "thank you" to the jury before breaking down and sobbing in the dock.

The pair will be sentenced on 22 May, alongside their 36-year-old lodger Jason Owen, for causing or allowing the death of Baby P – who can now be known by his real name of Peter. The rape conviction will be dealt with at the same time. Police had wanted to avoid bringing the rape trial, so as not to put the young girl through the ordeal of giving evidence, but in order to ensure that Peter's stepfather gets a life sentence and is put on the sex offenders register, decided they had to.

In a highly unusual move to give the defendants a fair trial, the judge imposed a complete reporting ban and in a legal first, agreed that they should be given false names in court.

It was only after they returned their verdicts, after 14 hours and 45 minutes of deliberation, that the jury was told of the defendants' previous crimes.

After the trial, Haringey said it had launched a fresh Serious Case Review into the rape case. The council also released excerpts from the Serious Case review it carried out into Peter's death. He died aged 17 months in August 2007 after being abused despite being on the council's at risk register and being seen by social workers 60 times.

Graham Badman, chairman of the Haringey Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: "The review concludes that Baby P's horrifying death could and should have been prevented. It says if doctors, lawyers, police and social workers had adopted a more urgent, thorough and challenging approach the case would have been stopped in its tracks at the first serious incident. Baby P deserved better from the services there to protect him."

Mr Badman, a Government adviser and visiting professor at the University of London, added: "The review says that cases like that of Baby P do not involve problems that are restricted to Haringey. Lessons need to be learned more widely. Services generally need to place greater emphasis upon improvement in parenting."

The council sacked three managers and a social worker, Cecilia Hitchen, Clive Preece, Gillie Christou and Maria Ward on Wednesday. But it has been suggested that the sackings were timed to pre-empt more criticism.

The Children's secretary Ed Balls said: "People will be horrified to learn that an adult in the household of Baby Peter has also committed another vile and disgusting crime against a small and vulnerable child. This conviction means sentencing can now begin and justice can be done for this crime and the terrible death of Baby Peter."

The local MP Lynne Featherstone said: "This is yet another tragedy in Haringey connected with Baby P. We desperately need a public inquiry."

The rapes, of which the girl said there were three, happened in a bedroom of a house in Haringey, north London, between February and August 2007. Her ordeal only ended when Peter's stepfather was arrested following his death in August 2007.

But it was not until October 2007 that the girl told her foster carer what had happened to her. In a recorded interview with police, she said that as the attack was happening a woman walked in, but did nothing to stop it, save for wagging her finger at her boyfriend and telling him not to do it again.

After the tape was played, the girl, via a video link, became the youngest rape victim to give evidence at the Old Bailey. She played with two teddy bears and a toy hedgehog as she was asked in cross examination if she knew what "fibbing" was. She said: "It means you are lying". When asked if she was "telling fibs" she shook her head.

But when asked about the rape incident she refused to speak. Staring at the camera, she sat silently for nearly five minutes at one point as the court waited for her to answer. The court also heard from other witnesses the girl told about the rape, but the defence teams called no witnesses, preferring not to put Peter's killers on the stand. Instead the jury was told about what each had said in police interviews.

Peter's mother refused to answer questions when arrested, but did give the police a statement in which she said she had never seen her boyfriend sexually abuse a child. She added: "I would have stopped him myself and contacted the police." Her boyfriend denied the rape and also went on to defend his treatment of Peter, saying that he had never hurt the child and claimed he had given him a better life.

Speaking after the verdicts Judge Kramer warned the couple: "The likelihood is of very substantial sentences in both cases."

Detective Chief Inspector Graham Grant said that the case had shocked his child abuse investigation team "to the core". He added: "There is no doubt that Peter and this young girl suffered terribly at the hands of these people. There were many lies to conceal the violent treatment of Peter and the sexual abuse of a toddler.

"It is telling that this man denied rape and forced a very young and vulnerable child to endure a daunting criminal trial at the Old Bailey. Her resilience is extraordinary and I sincerely hope that ... she will be able to lead a happy and fulfilled life."

Haringey Council leader Claire Kober said: "We accept that things went badly wrong with our child protection services in 2007. Now it is our job to put them right. I am determined that we will make the changes necessary. That work is already well under way but we have more to do."

Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the children's charity NSPCC, said: "The brutal death of Baby Peter and the rape of a two-year-old girl are among the most heinous crimes against small children we have ever seen.

"They leave all decent people bewildered and revolted. Thankfully, those responsible have been convicted. Hopefully they will receive severe prison sentences which will keep them away from children for a very long time.

"The violence, neglect and sexual brutality inflicted on these babies cuts deep into all our hearts – what happened to them is the stuff of nightmares. But tragically it is not unique. It is all too common for babies and toddlers to be abused behind closed doors."