Shocking failures that led to death of Toni-Ann, 7, in a drugs shooting

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The Independent Online

An inquiry into the care of a seven-year-old girl who was shot dead while staying with a convicted crack dealer has uncovered a catalogue of failures by social services, children's guardians and immigration officials.

The investigation into the case of Toni-Ann Byfield, who was shot in the back while staying in a London bedsit, discovered that the child was placed with a girlfriend of the drug dealer without a proper risk assessment being carried out.

The murder of Toni-Ann, who was killed along with Bertram Byfield, 41, in September last year caused a national outcry and prompted an independent inquiry into the care of the girl, who was under the protection of Birmingham City Council. Police believe Toni-Ann was murdered to prevent her from identifying Mr Byfield's killer.

The investigation, which will be published tomorrow, has revealed that Mr Byfield was not even the biological father of Toni-Ann, The Independent has learnt. Until now everyone, including the dead man, believed that Toni-Ann was Mr Byfield's daughter but a post-mortem examination revealed this was not the case.

The inquiry is highly critical of members of Birmingham social services and a government agency set up to represent the interests of children in court cases. It also reveals that the woman under whose care Toni-Ann was placed was not, as previously stated, her aunt, but one of several girlfriends that Mr Byfield had in London.

Police suspect that Mr Byfield, who was released from jail in 2001 after serving nine years in prison for crack cocaine dealing, was shot dead over a drugs dispute. He owed more than £20,000 and may have been killed by a creditor. He had survived a previous attempt to murder him.

The social worker and legal guardian appointed to care for Toni-Ann will be strongly criticised by the independent inquiry for placing the seven-year-old in the care of Mr Byfield's girlfriend.

The review, which was conducted by David Lambert, a former assistant chief inspector at the Social Services Inspectorate, will say that a risk assessment was not properly carried out and the official carers failed to keep other agencies informed. This includes their failure to inform Brent council in north-west London, where Toni-Ann was living, that an "at-risk child" would be staying in the neighbourhood.

The report is being sent to John Reid, the Health Secretary, and marks the most serious failure of child protection since the scandal surrounding the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, who was murdered in London by her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend. An inquiry report in January 2003 revealed repeated failures by police, medical staff and social workers.

The latest inquiry also uncovered details of Toni-Ann's short life. She was born in Jamaica to Christine Richards, now aged 32. After about six months, she was looked after by a girlfriend of Mr Byfield, who believed Toni-Ann was his child.

The girl was sent to live with a friend of her mother in Britain in June 2000. In November 2002 Birmingham City Council's social services department placed her with foster parents. In August 2003 her foster parents went on holiday abroad but Toni-Ann could not travel with them because the Immigration Service had failed to deal with her case and provide her with a passport. The inquiry by Birmingham area child protection committee will criticise the immigration department for delays and failing to link up with other agencies.

Birmingham City Council declined to comment on the report yesterday but said in a statement: "The review establishes there are lessons to be learnt by agencies involved in Toni-Ann's care and that action needs to be taken to better safeguard children."