'We had no right to keep Toni-Ann from father'

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The Independent Online

Social Services chiefs responsible for the care of a seven-year-old girl who was shot dead with her father, a convicted crack dealer, admitted yesterday that the little girl was "exposed to risks".

Toni-Ann Byfield and her father, Bertram, 41, were shot dead at a flat in Kensal Green, north London, on Sunday. Police believe she was murdered because she saw her father's killer. The girl was in the care of Birmingham City Council social services when she went to stay with her father.

A council spokesmansaid a court had granted Toni-Ann contact with her father in line with her wishes. Peter Hay, strategic director of Social Care and Health, said: "Toni-Ann made it very clear that she had a strong relationship with her father and wanted contact with him. In line with legislation that takes the child's wishes into account, and gives precedent to contact and placement with people thought to be relatives, the court rightly granted contact. This exposed Toni-Ann to risks that related to her father's criminality."

A review of the case is to be chaired by an independent expert, and a report will be presented to the Health Secretary. Mr Hay said the review would need to consider "the broader implications of balancing these complex problems". Mr Hay also admitted that "there are problems within social care that need to be addressed". But he said a new management structure had been brought in to tackle the shortcomings.

Mr Byfield, a Briton raised in Jamaica, served nine years in a British prison for dealing crack cocaine. He was released in 2001. A year ago, he survived a similar shooting.

Police arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the deaths. He was later bailed, but is now being held on an alleged immigration violation.

At a press conference on Thursday, Toni-Ann's mother, Rosalyn Richards, said: "Whoever did this left my sons without a sister and a father. I beg anyone who knows anything to come forward to the police."

Ms Richards initially said her daughter left Jamaica "for a better life" but later said she was sent on a church trip and was planning to return. "The last words she said to me over the phone was 'Mommy, I'm coming to Jamaica in December'," Ms Richards said at her home in Kingston, Jamaica. "What could a seven-year-old girl have to done to someone to be murdered that way?"

Ms Richards hit out at the British authorities for the death of her daughter. She said: "I should have gone to England, found some way to get my baby from him [Mr Byfield]. I blame the social services as well. Didn't they suspect that something was not right?"

Mr Hay said all decisions made about the welfare of Toni-Ann were agreed by the courts in line with the Children's Act and involved professionals outside the council, including independent representatives appointed by a court to represent the girl. He added: "We are conducting a close and thorough investigation."