Toni-Ann: public inquiry demanded by mother

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The Independent Online

The mother of a seven-year-old girl shot dead while staying with a convicted crack dealer called yesterday for a public inquiry following revelations that the social services and children's guardians failed to care for her daughter.

Roselyn Richards, 32, said her daughter, Toni-Ann Byfield, would still be alive if Birmingham City Council, which had legal responsibility for the child, had acted properly.

Her comments follow the disclosure in The Independent that an inquiry today will criticise Birmingham social services, a government agency set up to represent the interests of children in court cases, and the immigration department for a catalogue of failures in the care of Toni-Ann.

The independent review of the care of Toni-Ann, who was shot in the back while staying in a bedsit in Kensal Rise, north-west London, is expected to conclude that the child was placed with one of the girlfriends of the drug dealer without a proper risk assessment being carried out.

The child was killed along with Bertram Byfield, 42, a drug dealer who was thought to have been the girl's father, in September last year. She had been moved to London from her foster home in Birmingham while her carers went on holiday.

The dead girl's mother, who moved to Britain from her home in Jamaica after the murder, said yesterday: "My daughter should not have been in London on 14 September 2003. Birmingham social services should have known where she was and taken appropriate action to ensure that she was safe.

"I want to know how and why Toni-Ann was with Bertram Byfield, and who was responsible for what happened to her.

"I cannot rest until I have these answers. Toni-Ann was the victim of a ruthless murder which would have been avoided if Birmingham social services had done their job properly."

After the murder a review of the care provided to the dead girl was conducted by David Lambert, a former assistant chief inspector at the Social Services Inspectorate, on behalf of Birmingham area child protection committee. His inquiry report today is expected to say a risk assessment was not properly carried out and the official carers failed to keep other agencies informed.

The inquiry has also made the discovery following DNA tests that Mr Byfield was not even the biological father of Toni-Ann. Police believe Toni-Ann was murdered to prevent her from identifying Mr Byfield's killer.

Shazia Khan, the solicitor representing Ms Richards, described the case as "shocking and horrific". She added: "Toni-Ann's mother is in this country to get answers to how her daughter ended up in a bedsit in London and was murdered when she should have been in the care of Birmingham social services."

She continued: "The inquiry has been conducted behind closed doors.

"Roselyn Richards has been seeking a public inquiry in relation to the circumstances surrounding and leading up to Toni-Ann's death.

"This is the only adequate and transparent way to address the issues highlighted by this case and seriously begin to consider looking at the lessons that need to be learnt following this very tragic death.

"We have written to John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, demanding a public inquiry."

Ms Khan confirmed that Ms Richards, like Mr Byfield, had believed that Toni-Ann was the daughter of the dead man.

Toni-Ann was sent from Jamaica to live in Britain in June 2000. In November 2002 Birmingham City Council's social services department placed her with foster parents. It was the decision of Toni-Ann's social worker, the family courts, and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service to send her to London. The guardians and social workers are expected to be criticised for not looking more thoroughly into Mr Byfield's background and carrying out a proper risk assessment before agreeing to send Toni-Annt to stay with his girlfriend while the foster parents were on holiday.