The sad life, grim death and terrible betrayal of Aliyah, 13

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The Independent Online

SHE WAS just 13 years old. Pretty and bright, with a flair for languages, Aliyah Ismail wanted to be an international barrister when she grew up. But despite the "care" of more than 230 welfare staff, she never got the chance.

SHE WAS just 13 years old. Pretty and bright, with a flair for languages, Aliyah Ismail wanted to be an international barrister when she grew up. But despite the "care" of more than 230 welfare staff, she never got the chance.

Her cries for help as she descended into a world of drugs and prostitution went unheeded by social workers. She died of a drug overdose last October in a derelict house in Camden, north London, a month before her 14th birthday.

The official report on her death, published yesterday, admitted "significant shortcomings" in the way her case was handled and showed how social workers, health agencies and the police consistently betrayed the vulnerable teenager in their care. They all failed to take co-ordinated action that could have prevented her death, the report concluded.

Aliyah had been moved 68 times during her short life - between her parents, social workers, foster carers and children's homes. Because of her complex family life, she was known by three different surnames. Some of the agencies and institutions that were caring for her failed to link up different pieces of information about her, because her name was spelt in various ways.

The report, carried out for the Harrow Area Child Protection Committee by Maddie Blackburn, an independent child expert, showed how the warning signs were not picked up by the different agencies that came into contact with her.In the last year of her life, Aliyah was often absent from school, had picked up sexually transmitted diseases, frequently absconded from children's homes and foster-care placements and was often missing for several days. The police picked her up on numerous occasions for soliciting in the notorious red-light area of King's Cross, in London.

On 24 September 1998, three weeks before her death, social workers in Harrow, north-west London, took a long overdue decision to put her in secure accommodation to protect her. But they failed to order a "fast- track" process for her, which would have meant that she was taken into care and kept for 72 hours before a judge had to confirm the decision. When the social services finally decided to act, on 16 October, Aliyah was already missing.

"We did not follow our procedures. There was an option to fast-track the process, obtaining a secure accommodation order, but this did not happen," admitted Mary Ney, director of Harrow social services. "It is a very serious decision to lock up a 13-year-old girl who is not a criminal but a victim of abuse," she said. "But we should have acted sooner."

The order was never made, and when Aliyah was found again, on 18 October, she was dead. An overdose of methadone, a substitute drug prescribed to heroin addicts, had killed her. She had swallowed at least twice the fatal amount.Aliyah's heart and lungs had failed. The post-mortem examination found bruises and scratches but nothing to indicate foul play. The coroner's court recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

Two senior members of staff at Harrow social services have been suspended pending a disciplinary investigation into their conduct over her case.

The path to Aliyah's death, first highlighted by The Independent on Sunday in February, started only a year earlier, when she returned to Britain to see her mother for the first time in four years. She had been living with her father, Jamal Ismail, a Jordanian-Palestinian businessman, in Jordan, where, according to a close friend, she attended a private girls' school and was happy.

Her parents had split up when she was four, and her mother, Agnes, remarried a fundamentalist Christian and had three more children.

Aliyah was put on the child-protection register when she was five, after teachers reported that she was aggressive and sexually precocious, tendencies believed to be indicative of abuse.

When she was eight, her father gained custody of her, and when she was 11 she went to live with him in Jordan.

When she returned to Britain for a holiday in 1997, Aliyah decided that she wanted to stay with her mother, who had a long history of mental illness. She lived with her father in London but she would visit her mother, who lived in a council house in Northolt, near Harrow, a couple of times a week.

In December 1997 Aliyah started attending Bentley Wood School, in Harrow, but she was suspended six weeks later for fighting and swearing at the teachers. Her relationship with her father deteriorated, as by this time she was bunking off school and hanging around Leicester Square with friends.

Her father, alarmed at reports of her behaviour and rumours of her promiscuity, forcibly took her back to his house and cut her hair off, in the hope that she would feel too unattractive to go out.

Later she accused him of assault, and although she later withdrew the allegations, he no longer had a residence order for her in March 1998. At the request of both parents, she was placed into care in May.

Her social worker, Carol Sensky, reported in April 1998 that Aliyah's life was out of control. Her file noted an arrest for theft and suspicions of "abusing drugs and sexual promiscuity". Crucially, though, she was not put on the child-protection register.

She attended another school, Rook's Heath High School, for the summer term, but at the beginning of September, Aliyah told social workers that she was a prostitute.

She had contracted a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes, candida, chlamydia, and hepatitis B.

At the end of September, social services finally decided to obtain a secure accommodation order for her, but it came too late.

On 18 October, her 17-year-old "boyfriend", Anthony Hughes, himself a heroin addict, found her unconscious in his bed in his flat in Camden Town, not far from the King's Cross area. She was certified dead at University College Hospital. The final year

Autumn 1997: Aliyah returns to Britain

December 1997: Aliyah attends Bentley Wood School

January 1998: Suspended from school

March 1998: Father no long has residence order for her

April 1998: Social worker notes her life is out of control.

May 1998: Aliyah taken into care at the request of both of her parents

July and August 1998: Aliyah lives at her mother's address.

September 1998: Aliyah tells a social worker she is working as a prostitute. She is accommodated in a specialist residential unit for girls.

24 September: Social workers decide to apply for secure accommodation order for Aliyah.

16 October: The local authority agrees to seek a secure accommodation order. Aliyah goes missing.

18 October: Aliyah is pronounced dead at the University College Hospital in London at 12.55pm. Children failed by the professionals

Rikki Neave

Six-year-old Rikki was found strangled in woods near his home in Peterborough in 1994. His 28-year-old mother was cleared of his murder but jailed for seven years for cruelty. The author of the report on the case, Janet Lindsay- German said: "Social workers, their managers and the department failed to recognise what was actually going on for Rikki at home." The Neave family had been known to social workers for 20 years.

The West children

An independent report said there were dozens of unheeded warning signs, before the eventual uncovering of some of the most shocking murders and cases of abuse ever seen. In 1988, an anonymous caller alerted social services to 25 Cromwell Street and a health visitor was sent to check. Details of this visit went missing. In 1989 the NSPCC checked with Gloucestershire social services to establish whether the family was known to them. Again, this inquiry went no further.

Leanne White

The three-year-old was murdered by her stepfather. Despite warnings from neighbours, the little girl was not put on the "at risk" register of Nottinghamshire social services. After her death 100 injuries were found on her body. It later emerged neither health nor social workers had undressed the child to examine her. A report for the local Area Child Protection Committee found: "a series of errors of judgement ... some minor, some fundamental."

Toni Dales

The three-year-old was thrown against a bathroom wall and murdered by her mother's violent lover in February 1992. A report commissioned by the National Children's Bureau concluded that a failure by social services was partly to blame. The family had been monitored since Toni was born but social services did not respond adequately to signs of physical abuse and were not aware of the violent nature of Glen McPherson, who was jailed for life for the murder.