London schools report 300 African boys disappeared

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of African boys have disappeared from schools in London, police investigating the murder of the young boy whose torso was found in the river Thames have revealed.

Hundreds of African boys have disappeared from schools in London, police investigating the murder of the young boy whose torso was found in the river Thames have revealed.

Detectives fear that many were used by adults involved in benefits fraud. The disappearance of the children was discovered by detectives during inquiries into the murder of the boy, given the name of Adam by police, who was found in the river near Tower Bridge in September 2001.

To try to identify Adam, believed to be the victim of a ritualistic killing, Metropolitan Police officers asked education authorities in London how many black boys aged from four to seven had gone missing from school records. In one three-month period - July to September 2001 - about 300 were found to have disappeared; all, apart from one Caribbean child, were from Africa. Police were only able to track down two of them. In most cases, they were told that the boys had returned to Africa, but follow-up inquiries in the home countries proved fruitless.

Detective Chief Inspector Will O'Reilly, the officer in charge of the case, said: "When we had information that they had left the country, we asked through Interpol for police to make inquiries in the local countries to which they [were said to have] returned. In the majority of cases, we got no reply on that. It is a large figure, far more than we anticipated."

The investigation into Adam's death has been one of the most wide-ranging and unusual ever conducted by the Met. They discovered that he had only spent two months in the country before his death and may not have attended school. Detectives established from scientific analysis of his bones that he came from Nigeria. Traces of the poisonous calabar bean, indigenous to west Africa, were found in his lower intestine and police believe this may have been used to subdue him. Crushed bone and clay pellets impregnated with gold and quartz were also found.

No one has been charged with the murder, but many people have been questioned, including Kingsley Ojo, 35, from east London, who was convicted of trafficking last year. Ojo was closely associated with a woman who had clothes in her flat believed to have come from the same shop in Germany as the orange shorts found on the dismembered torso. A German man, arrested in Dublin after being convicted in his absence of passport offences in his own country, has also been questioned.

Child welfare experts and police believe many African children come to live with relatives in the UK. Many are here legitimately; others are said to be brought over to allow extra benefits to be claimed, are sometimes passed between adults and have to endure domestic slavery and sexual abuse.

There are no rules governing private fostering of children in this way, although under the Children Act, local authorities are supposed to be notified if someone is caring for a child. Felicity Collier, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said the problem was already underground. "We would not accept this as a society if these were white children,'' she added.