Girl of three left in filth for two years despite her father's pleas

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A girl aged three was left for two years to live in "unspeakable filth" and sexually abused when social workers failed to act on repeated calls from her father, school and health workers, a watchdog said yesterday.

A girl aged three was left for two years to live in "unspeakable filth" and sexually abused when social workers failed to act on repeated calls from her father, school and health workers, a watchdog said yesterday.

For the two years, the father of the child, known as Louise, had complained to Manchester social services that she was being neglected by his estranged partner, but they repeatedly closed the file on her case, believing his fears were motivated by a custody dispute.

A local government ombudsman report criticised the city council for gross errors yesterday and awarded Mr Carrick and Louise - not their real names - £8,000 compensation.

"Without early proactive intervention by social services, Louise was left to suffer for two years longer than necessary," the ombudsman, Patricia Thomas, said. "The council's failure to act as it should is maladministration of a most serious kind." She said Mr Carrick's complaints were fully justified.

The council accepted there had been grave mistakes, but said new social work procedures in place would ensure such errors were never repeated.

Mr Carrick had first complained of the appalling conditions in December 1996. He had gone to his former partner's flat to collect Louise for a visit but found it empty and let himself in. He said food plates were covered in fungus, used condoms lay on the floor, and his daughter's clothes were filthy.

He told social services, and a worker called his former partner, referred to as Ms Chant. She said Mr Carrick was violent to her - a claim he denied - and they argued frequently. Although Ms Chant failed to attend a meeting at social services, the case was closed without any worker visiting the flat.

The ombudsman heard that over the next two years, Mr Carrick continued to make complaints, echoed by a school nurse and a health worker. Repeated arrangements to visit Ms Chant and Louise at home were thwarted when she failed to keep the meetings. Social workers visited the flat once but said they found it clean and tidy, and the file was closed.

Months later, neighbours complained of hearing loud arguments and a child crying in the flat, although Louise appeared to be well. But she had been at school only 41 days out of 134. By January 1999, Mr Carrick told authorities he had been banned from seeing his daughter for four months.

Social workers, aided by a police child protection team, had the landlord open the flat. They found bin-bags of rotting food and all doors broken off their hinges. Their report added: "The only source of heating was the top of an electric oven which had been removed then wired and plugged into a wall socket. There was no guard over this to protect Louise, who was five at the time.

"Officer A says that when she walked into the flat, conditions were so bad she had expected to find everyone dead. She says the house was in a real mess and smelt awful. It was very stark and it looked as if there could have been a struggle in there."

Louise, they said, could not remember the last time she had eaten. The girl was taken from her mother and handed to her father, who was given a residence order four months later.

Then Louise told him that one night, she had been left with the husband of a friend of her mother's who had sexually abused her. A social worker who interviewed her said Louise was obviously intelligent and had clearly been traumatised by the abuse.

"Louise did not mention any names throughout the interview and at one time covered over her own ears because she did not want to hear the words she was saying," the report said.

A man was prosecuted but not convicted, although the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority decided that on the balance of probabilities Louise had been a victim of a crime and awarded £3,300 compensation.

Yesterday, the ombudsman said Manchester social services had left the child "at risk". It partially upheld the father's claim that, as a consequence, she was sexually abused, although social workers said they had been warned only about sub-standard living conditions and not a risk of abuse.

Yesterday, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children warned that child-abuse killings were going undetected because hospitals lack a national system to identify maltreatment.