Late arrival of Climbie document forces chairman to reconvene public inquiry

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The Independent Online

The public inquiry into the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie will have to be reopened next month because an important document was not supplied on time by a government department.

Yesterday the inquiry office said the findings of the inquiry led by Lord Laming, initially promised for early summer, were unlikely to be ready before the end of the year. Lord Laming said he had been forced to reopen his investigation five months after the hearing ended, in what is believed to be an unprecedented move.

Victoria suffered a "miserable and lonely" death, having been "imprisoned, beaten and starved" for months on end by her father's aunt and her partner despite repeated involvement by social services, police and doctors.

The inquiry has promised to provide a turning point for child protection in this country. Yet it has been plagued by delays, most notably because of the late production of documents by Haringey social services, the local authority in north London responsible for Victoria.

The latest setback has been brought about by the belated receipt of a report from the Social Services Inspectorate – part of the Department of Health, which with the Home Office ordered the inquiry. The key document was not sent until 26 February this year – after the public hearing closed. It casts doubt on an earlier review that gave Haringey council a clean bill of health.

The first report by the Joint Review, which was heavily relied upon by the council's witnesses, said that people in the borough were "generally well served" by social services. The late document from the Social Services Inspectorate and the Audit Commission found that the Joint Review had presented an "overly positive picture of Haringey's social services, particularly children's services".

Throughout the original hearing Lord Laming, the inquiry chairman, took a dim view of the late supply of documents. When Haringey council failed to provide files on time, he described the delays as "deeply disturbing" and "totally unacceptable".

The inquiry will reconvene on 9 and 10 July when Denise Platt, head of the Social Services Inspectorate, will be called to explain the late delivery. Yesterday the Department of Health said the document had not been withheld but sent in February, in time for the second phase of the inquiry, which was considering changes necessary for the future.

Marie Therese Kouao, 45, and her partner, Carl Manning, 28, of Tottenham, were jailed for life for murder in January.