Social services called to account as girl, 7, starves to death

Eight years after Victoria Climbié died, the lessons of that terrible case seem not to have been learned
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The Independent Online

The story of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq who apparently starved to death in a house in Birmingham shocked the country this week.

Amid calls for a full public inquiry, authorities in the city met on Friday and launched a serious case review. But questions are being asked as to how a child could be let down so badly, eight years after the death of Victoria Climbié.

Emergency services were called to the house in Leyton Road in the Handsworth area of Birmingham last Saturday when Khyra suffered breathing difficulties. She was taken to hospital but died a short while later.

Her five siblings, three brothers and two sisters, were reportedly found by paramedics lying next to her on a mattress in a weakened state. They have now been taken into foster care after a brief spell in Birmingham Children's Hospital.

Angela Gordon, 33, and Junaid Abuhamza, 29, who are believed to be the child's mother and stepfather, have been charged with causing or allowing the death of a child. They appeared in front of Birmingham magistrates last Monday and were remanded in custody until their next appearance on 28 May.

Police are still awaiting results of a post mortem examination and have said the cause of death is not yet known. But sources have said the girl was found in an emaciated condition and had apparently starved to death.

The news stunned the local community and sparked much soul-searching as to how the tragedy was allowed to happen.

Writing in The Independent yesterday, Deborah Orr said: "No one knows exactly what ghastly events led to poor seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq's death from malnutrition, as her five siblings grew weaker alongside her. But it is self-evident that she was let down by every single adult who might have been able to make a positive intervention in her short life."

Daily Mirror columnist Sue Carroll wrote on Friday: "How this could happen in 21st-century Britain beggars belief and throws up terrible memories of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié's death in 2000.

"We were told, after she was found to have 128 injuries to her 3st 10lb body, that lessons would be learned. Now Khyra's life can be added to the list of lonely and vulnerable children whose cries, yet again, fell on deaf ears."

The serious case review will be carried out by Birmingham's Safeguarding Children Board, an independent body. Its findings will not be released until the criminal investigation has been completed, but a Birmingham City Council spokesman said any recommendations would be acted on immediately.

Local Labour MP Khalid Mahmood has been highly critical of the city council's handling of the case since the news broke on Tuesday morning, accusing them of being "totally heartless". He has called for a full public inquiry and asked why the authority was not doing more than its statutory obligation.

Mr Mahmood said: "What I find amazing is that we are not doing anything above what is required. The local community should be given psychological support; counselling services should be offered."

The council spokesman said psychologists were offering their services to teachers and pupils at Khyra Ishaq's former school, Grove Primary.

He added that Birmingham City Council's chief executive, Stephen Hughes, had telephoned Mr Mahmood and would keep him informed on the investigation's progress.