'Overworked' PC let beaten girl go home to killers

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The Independent Online

A policewoman charged with protecting Victoria Climbie from suspected abuse failed to take "elementary steps" in her investigation, an inquiry into the girl's death heard yesterday.

PC Rachel Dewar was "plainly in breach of her duty" when she failed to interview the woman who took Victoria to hospital because of the bruises covering her body.

Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, said the "obvious thing to do" was to speak to Avril Cameron, the daughter of Victoria's childminder, who was worried that the eight-year-old girl was being beaten regularly.

This would have led to the "inevitable arrest" of Marie Therese Kouao, Victoria's great aunt, who was later convicted, with her boyfriend, Carl Manning, of the girl's murder.

But, Mr Garnham told the inquiry, the policewoman "had no idea what was happening" and failed to take the "elementary steps" that any competent beat officer would follow when investigating a case of grievous bodily harm.

PC Dewar was assigned the case when Victoria was admitted to hospital in July 1999 with suspicious injuries. But she lifted a police protection order without fulfilling her statutory duty to interview the child, nor did she arrange for any home searches, the inquiry was told.

This meant that Victoria was discharged from hospital the next day, and returned to Kouao and Manning, who continued to abuse her until she died seven months later.

Defending her action, PC Dewar said that it was common practice at the child protection unit in Brent, north London, not to speak directly to the children involved, because officers were "overwhelmed" with work. She had 13 other outstanding cases at the time, and had handled 121 referrals in 1999, she said.

In Victoria's case, two doctors had said that the bruises on her feet, legs, arms, buttocks and face were serious and appeared non-accidental. But Dr Ruby Schwatrz, a consultant paediatrician at Central Middlesex Hospital, diagnosed her as suffering from scabies, a rash caused by insect bites.

When PC Dewar was informed of the diagnosis by a Brent social worker, she immediately lifted the police protection without having spoken to Victoria as required under the Children Act 1989.

"In Brent that did not happen .... It fell to social services to do that," PC Dewar told the inquiry. "I was aware that that was my responsibility when I joined the team but in practice we adopted this approach."

Referring to Dr Schwartz's diagnosis of scabies, she said: "I was told very clearly the injuries were a result of scabies and they were accidental and not non-accidental. I know Dr Schwartz. If she says its scabies, I go along with that. It seemed logical as a lay person but I'm not medically trained."

She added: "There was nothing brought to me in any way shape or form that Victoria had been neglected."

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