A mother was found guilty today of starving her daughter to death in a flat with a well-stocked kitchen and despite visits from social services who failed to notice that the child was being abused.
Seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq weighed less than three stone when she was admitted to hospital in May 2008 where she died from an acute infection that had been brought on by severe malnutrition. The level of her starvation was so bad that doctors who treated her described her condition as “outside their experience”.
Her mother, Angela Gordon, and step-father, Junaid Abuhamza, were charged with murder after police discovered that the pair had routinely denied food to their children as a form of punishment.
Yesterday, 35-year-old Gordon was officially cleared of murder by Birmingham Crown Court after prosecutors decided to accept an earlier plea of being guilty of manslaughter. Abuhamza, 30, had his manslaughter plea accepted two weeks ago.
Prosecutors felt compelled to accept the pleas following reports from three psychiatric specialists who said that Gordon suffered from deep depression in the run up to Khyra’s death and that Abuhamza was a cannabis-smoking schizophrenic who had himself been severely abused as a child.
Timothy Raggatt QC, prosecuting, said he was surprised that Gordon’s mental health issues had been raised so late in the trial but added that the psychiatric reports would make it difficult to seek a guilty verdict for murder charges.
“For that reason we cannot resist the defence of diminished responsibility, now raised for the first time,” he said. “It is extraordinary that it emerges so late (in the trial) but the sole reason for that is the denial... that Angela Gordon has put up around herself for all these months.”
Speaking after the verdict Detective Inspector Sean Russell, who led the investigation, said Khyra was kept a virtual prisoner in an upstairs bedroom after she was withdrawn from school in December 2007.
“The very people who should have been looking after Khyra – her mother and Junaid Abuhamza – killed her through systematic abuse,” he said. “Khyra’s untimely death was ultimately caused by an overwhelming infection brought on by severe malnutrition – a cause of death you don’t expect to see in the Western world, let alone Birmingham, in the 21st century.”
The pleas bring to an end what has been an emotional trial that many have compared to Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old from Haringey, north London, whose death in 2000 at the hands of her aunt provoked a widespread review into social care services across the country.
Social services in Birmingham, Britain’s largest local authority, paid four visits to Khyra’s home on Leyton Road, Handsworth between December 2007 and May 2008 after her school notified them that she was no longer attending classes. But Gordon repeatedly refused to let them in, meaning they were only able to meet Khyra in person on one occasion in February 2008. At that point, social service workers said the seven-year-old appeared healthy.
Three months later Khyra died. She weighed just two stone and nine pounds.
During the trial jurors had heard how Khyra and five more children living at the house were repeatedly denied food as punishment. When police visited they found a kitchen stocked with edibles but the door to the kitchen was locked and if the children were caught trying to take food they would be beaten with a cane or subjected to prolonged punishment.
One young witness described to the court how Khyra had been forced to stand in front of a fan for 24 hours wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts because she had been “rude”.
Abuhamza, a schizophrenic who told investigators that he once watched his domineering father beat his sister to death, believed Khyra was possessed by a “jinn”, a type of evil spirit that features prominently in Islamic scripture.
Both Gordon and Abuhamza, who have also pleaded guilty to five charges each of child cruelty, will be sentenced today.