Climbie inquiry chief criticises council over failure to produce vital documents

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The head of Haringey social services has been ordered to appear before the Victoria Climbie inquiry after the council was criticised for allegedly withholding vital documents.

Anne Bristow, the director of the department, has been summonsed to attend the hearing into one of the worst child abuse cases in the country on Monday, or face prosecution and even imprisonment.

Lord Laming, the chairman of the inquiry, described the London borough's late production of important documents and failure to pass on others as "deeply disturbing".

Victoria, who was 8 when she died, suffered a "miserable and lonely" death, having been "imprisoned, beaten and starved" for months on end by her father's aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, 45, and her partner, Carl Manning, 28, at a flat in Tottenham, north London.

The pair was able to inflict terrible injuries – 128 at the time of her death – despite repeated involvement by social services, the police and doctors. They were jailed for life for murder in January.

At the start of the inquiry more than a month ago, Lord Laming vowed that it should mark a "turning point" resulting in proper protection for vulnerable and abused children in Britain. Yesterday, upon hearing of the late production of documents, Lord Laming said: "It is totally unacceptable. This is an important inquiry. It is a difficult inquiry to conduct and it is an inquiry which is of immense importance, not just in respect of previous practice but in learning the lessons for the future. I know that the Government attaches considerable importance to this inquiry being conducted thoroughly and correctly, and I and my colleagues are working hard to achieve that."

The decision to summons Ms Bristow was taken after Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, informed the chairman that he had only just received certain vital documents and that they referred to material that had not been disclosed.

The barrister described the authority's actions as "frankly astonishing", particularly only weeks after Brent Council had been reprimanded for "drip feeding material" to the inquiry. "I fear that we are being drip fed information again," he said.

A spokesman for the council said: "Searching out, collating and presenting information required is a major operation which we have dedicated three senior members of social services staff to since May this year. The council has always said it will do everything it can to assist the inquiry to learn the lessons from Victoria's death, and we will continue to do so."

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