The Missed Chances: Victoria Climbie, Baby P, now Daniel Pelka - how could it happen again?

 

On his last day of school, Daniel Pelka was desperate for food. While other children made shapes with play jelly, he tried to eat it. He plucked a half-eaten pear from a bin and then grubbed around in a sandpit for dried beans that he tried to eat. Two days later, the four-year-old was dead.

His descent from happy, cheeky boy to painfully thin dustbin scavenger is a story of brutality, neglect and missed opportunities by health professionals, social services, teachers and police. As his parents are sentenced today for months of abuse and cruelty, others who were meant to protect the  child will be forced to confront their culpability for his death.

We have been here before. The name of Daniel Pelka joins the roll-call of official failure that includes Baby P (Peter Connolly), who died in 2007 from dozens of injuries despite numerous visits by health and social services to his home. The same council, Haringey, was condemned over the death of  eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, in 2000, who was tied up, burnt with cigarettes and beaten with bike chains by her guardians. The judge at their trial criticised the “blinding incompetence” of the people meant to protect her.

The authorities had at least seven opportunities to uncover the level of abuse used against Daniel in a series of home visits and investigations within little more than a year. Despite teachers’ concerns, the child was never taken away from his vicious guardians.

He was aged nearly three when his mother, Magdelena Luczak, 27, moved in for the first time with her new partner Mariusz Krezolek, 34, in early 2010. A year later in January 2011, he was the focus of a police inquiry after the former soldier broke the boy’s arm. The couple waited for 12 hours to take him to hospital, despite the boy being in great pain. However, police and social services closed the file five months later after they were persuaded by Krezolek that Daniel hurt himself jumping from a sofa.

Daniel started at Little Heath Primary School in September 2011. While teachers recall the boy as having a “smart haircut” and well-fitted uniform, text messages obtained from his mother and her partner reveal that their campaign of starvation was soon to begin.

His eating problems were clear months before he died. His mother was told to give Daniel a snack on the way to school during one visit but the decline seems rapid. Teachers noted that Daniel regularly stole food from other children at the school. By the end of the year, he was scavenging from dustbins at the school and resorting to more desperate means. “I turned to help somebody else and when I turned back, he had soil around his mouth,” Nicola Griffiths, a teaching assistant, told the court. “Daniel had been eating the beans from out of the soil.”

Despite the concerns over the child’s health, the couple cancelled an appointment with consultant paediatrician Dr Supratik Chakraborty – a pattern of cancellations and no-shows that repeated until the appointment is finally made in February.

After the Christmas holidays, Daniel lost weight and stole half a birthday cake brought into the school by a teacher. The physical abuse he endured was by now visible in the bruises on his neck. School staff flagged his injuries yet when he arrived at school with two black eyes, he was allowed to return home with his eventual killers.

A review of what went wrong, being carried out by the city council, will examine a meeting between Daniel and Dr Chakraborty just three weeks before he died. He was underweight but not dangerously so. The doctor issued a prescription to treat worms and said further investigations were required. The assessment contrasted sharply with post-mortem results and the teachers’ own claims that he was a “bag of bones”.

But it was too late. After his last day at school on 1 March, he went home with his mother and was subjected to the assault that cause the head injuries that killed him. As he lay dying in his tiny box room, his parents slept and searched the internet for “patient in  a coma”.

Dr Karen McLachlan, the consultant paediatrician who saw his body at a mortuary, said he weighed 10.7kg, more than 4kgs less than he weighed 14 months earlier.  “His skin was hanging off in folds from his thighs and his arms. I think most of the jury will have seen pictures of children and adults who have been the victims of concentration camps and that’s what Daniel looked like.”

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