Council chief told to explain late Climbie evidence

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of a London council has been ordered to appear before the Victoria Climbie inquiry or risk being prosecuted because of suspicions that the authority may have deliberately hampered the investigation.

In the latest in a string of run-ins between Haringey council and Lord Laming's inquiry into one of Britain's worst child abuse cases, David Warwick has been commanded to appear this morning to explain why his authority has repeatedly handed in documents late.

Eight-year-old Victoria suffered a "miserable and lonely" death, having been "imprisoned, beaten and starved" by her father's aunt Marie Therese Kouao, 45, and her partner, Carl Manning, 28, at a flat in Tottenham, north London. The two were able to inflict terrible injuries – 128 at the time of her death – despite the involvement of social services, the police and doctors. When they were jailed for life for murder in January, the Government ordered a public inquiry.

Ten days ago, Anne Bristow, director of social services at Haringey council, one of the authorities involved in Victoria's care, was threatened with a summons after the inquiry was found to be missing three or four documents. In response, Haringey produced 630 documents in the 11th week of the inquiry, a move that necessitated the employment of extra staff to disseminate the information as well as raising the prospect that all the council's witnesses may have to be recalled in the light of new information.

Yesterday, Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, complained that yet another vital document – relating to the competence of the social worker assigned to Victoria's case – had just been supplied.

"Service of those documents ... appears in itself to establish a breach of the order you made in respect of Ms Bristow requiring her to produce documents and at least at an initial level amount to evidence of a criminal offence," Mr Garnham said. He added: "The failure to disclose it months ago, but certainly in the batch of new material we received last Monday, seems to us, with great respect to Haringey, to be evidence of gross incompetence or the deliberate attempt to frustrate the efforts of this inquiry to arrive at the truth."

Lord Laming responded by ordering Mr Warwick to appear. "I think that the person who is ultimately accountable for the efficiency of Haringey is the chief executive and I will invite the chief executive to come here at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning to explain why I find myself in this situation," he said. "If he chooses not to accept then I will have to use other powers to make sure that he comes here and gives that explanation."Mr Warwick's failure to appear could result in a summons which, if ignored, would result in criminal proceedings.

One former social worker, Carole Baptiste, is due to appear before magistrates tomorrow after ignoring a summons to appear before the inquiry.

Elizabeth Lawson, for Haringey, said the council had been doing its best in the time available. "I am anxious to resist any suggestion that there has been a deliberate withholding of that sort of material," she said. "An organisation like Haringey generates an enormous volume of paper. It employs large numbers of individuals and carries out its work from different sites. So we cannot ever be certain that there is not somewhere another document which the inquiry might want to look at."