'I feel no blame,' girl's father tells Climbie inquiry

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Victoria Climbie's father said yesterday that he felt no blame for allowing a great-aunt to take his daughter to England, where she was savagely beaten, starved and tortured to death.

Francis Climbie told the third day of the inquiry into Victoria's death that it was customary in the family's home country, Ivory Coast, for a well-off relative to take a child to Europe for schooling. "I have been asked whether I lay blame to myself for handing over Victoria in this way and I can say that I do not because it's custom for people to be taken to Europe," Mr Climbie said. "It was going to be in Victoria's best interests."

The hearing was told that Victoria, who was aged eight when she died, left Africa in October 1998 with Marie Therese Kouao, a great-aunt her parents scarcely knew. They hoped Victoria, a very intelligent child who "stood out" from her six brothers and sisters, would be successful and train for a career. But less than 18 months later, she died in a London hospital with 128 different injuries inflicted by Kouao, 44, and her boyfriend, Carl Manning, 28, who are serving life sentences for her murder.

Mr Climbie broke down when he saw a photograph of Victoria with two front teeth missing, an eye half closed and her face disfigured by scars and burns. "It is very horrible," he said. "She was not like this before. She was a very pretty girl. I fear how much my daughter suffered."

Kouao had arrived "without notice" at their home in Abidjan, to suggest that she take one child to a school in France, where she said had a well-paid job at an airport. All the children wanted to go, but Victoria was chosen. After Kouao left they heard from her just three times, the last being in January 2000, a month before Victoria died, when they received some photos and an assurance that the child was well. Mr Climbie said: "Victoria looked sad, thin and gaunt. I became concerned but was not in a position to do anything at the time." He was out of work and short of money.

"I thought that Victoria might be ill, but never thought that she was being neglected or otherwise badly treated," Mr Climbie said. "We had never heard of child abuse before and, for generations, family members had been trusted to care for all the children as if they were their own."

Soon after the last letter, the Metropolitan Police told Mr Climbie and his wife, Berthe, that their daughter had been killed and the couple had to travel to England to identify her body. "When I realised that the woman who had been entrusted to look after my daughter had done this I was absolutely devastated," he said. "I felt anger and hatred towards Marie Therese."

The hearing continues.