Anger over discovery of Climbie documents

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The Independent Online

The public inquiry into one of Britain's worst child abuse cases was suspended yesterday after important documents on the treatment of Victoria Climbie were discovered in a council filing cabinet.

Lord Laming, the inquiry chairman, said he was "absolutely furious" at the latest blunder in which 71 documents, originally requested in May, were delivered by Haringey Council only yesterday.

Staff at the north London local authority, which was responsible for Victoria's care for seven months before she died in February 2000, found the papers in a filing cabinet despite assurances that all documents had been made available. They include memos about the senior social worker in the case and details of a disciplinary tribunal.

Information that has been drip-fed to the inquiry despite repeated demands for Harin-gey to hand over all papers. The latest instance reopens the prospect that Anne Bristow, the council's director of social services, could be jailed for up to six months and fined £1,000 for breaching a summons to produce all relevant documents.

Lord Laming said he had been promised that Ms Bristow had arranged an "absolutely exhaustive" search for any missing information. He told the council there were no excuses for the "unacceptable delays" it had caused. He said: "It shows a blatant and flagrant disregard to the work of this inquiry. It is a terrible disservice to the other interested parties. It is grossly unreasonable to counsel to the inquiry and its staff."

Victoria, eight, died despite regular contact with social workers, doctors and police. She suffered months of torture at her hands of her great-aunt Marie Therese Kouao and her boyfriend, Carl Manning, who were jailed for life for murder.

Elizabeth Lawson QC, Haringey's counsel to the inquiry, said: "Our embarrassment level about all of this is now off the scale." She added that the legal team had always been led to believe "that this sort of material had been searched for and not found, not that it was there and not discovered".

The inquiry has been suspended so lawyers can review the information. Lord Laming asked them to look "particularly carefully" at whether there was anything that contradicted evidence from Haringey's senior staff and elected members.

Neil Garnham QC, counsel for the inquiry, said it should have "very little confidence" in Haringey's system for finding the relevant documents. He said: "These documents are not coming from some distant office or from some unidentified filing cabinet ... These appear to have come from the top drawer of the filing cabinet in the office that had dealings directly with Victoria."

Among the documents are memos relating to the absence of Carole Baptiste, a senior social worker, including one referring to supervision and correspondence after Victoria's death. Ms Baptiste is due to appear in court this month charged with breaching an inquiry summons.

On 30 November Lord Laming issued a summons compelling Ms Bristow to produce all relevant documents. The inquiry expected to receive a few documents but was deluged with 630 documents in the 11th week of the inquiry, forcing it to employ extra staff and raising the prospect that witnesses would have to be recalled.