Public inquiry urged into toddler death

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The Independent Online

A foundation set up to improve child protection called today for a public inquiry into the death of a 17-month-old toddler.

Mor Dioum, director of the Victoria Climbie Foundation, said: "This case is worse than Climbie. The signs were there but were not followed."

There were "systematic and operational failures that led to the tragic and sad death of such a beautiful child".

Victoria Climbie and the boy both died while under the care of police, doctors and social workers in Haringey.

Mr Dioum said that on what he had heard so far, Haringey did not implement the recommendations of the Laming report which followed a public inquiry into the Climbie case.

There had been lapses in information sharing between the agencies and the child had not been put first.

Mr Dioum said: "There are a lot of things in this case which need to be improved and the only way to do it is to have a public inquiry.

"There were operational and systematic failures. There are lots of questions to be answered in this case.

"I am shocked, I am saddened. It is quite heart-breaking. A lot has been achieved, reforms implemented, but we are failing to carry out these findings at an operational level.

"This child had injuries right under the eyes of the professionals. It must have prolonged his agony.

"I do not think they can scapegoat an individual in this case. We must look at the system as a whole."

Victoria Climbie, aged eight, died on 25 February 2000, having arrived in the UK from Africa a year earlier with her great-aunt Marie-Therese Kouao.

Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning were jailed for life at the Old Bailey in 2001 for her murder.

She had been beaten for months, had 128 injuries, and died from malnutrition and hypothermia after being forced to sleep in a bath.

At the public inquiry in 2003, it emerged that Victoria could have been saved on 12 separate occasions if the relevant services had intervened.

She had been seen by dozens of social workers, nurses, doctors and police officers but they failed to spot and stop the abuse.

Chairman Lord Laming found "inexcusable failure of the system" was to blame and recommended changes.

He said: "Too often it seemed that too much time was spent deferring to the needs of Kouao and Manning, and not enough time was spent on protecting a vulnerable and defenceless child."

It was significant that while a number of junior staff in Haringey social services were suspended and faced disciplinary action after Victoria's death, some of their most senior officers were being appointed to other jobs.

"This is not an example of managerial accountability that impresses me much," he added.

Last week, an Audit Commission report found that children's trusts set up to improve services after the Victoria Climbie case had done little to improve things.

But Scotland Yard's head of the child abuse investigation unit, Commander Alan Gibson, defended police procedures since Climbie.

He said: "We acknowledge that errors were made at the start. They were individual rather than systemic.

"Since Victoria Climbie, we have made huge changes in child investigations.

"We could never say this will never happen again but child protection is at a different level than it was.

"No one can prevent parents or carers harming their children in the confines of their home."