Murdered girl's parents say social workers and medical staff let down abused Victoria

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The mother of Victoria Climbie wept yesterday when harrowing photographs of her daughter's burnt and scarred face were shown to the independent inquiry into her death.

Berthe Climbie, who travelled from the Ivory Coast to attend the hearings, had to be helped out of the inquiry by her husband, Francis, when the extent of Victoria's horrific facial injuries were shown on video screens.

Neil Garnham QC, counsel to the inquiry, was describing how seven months before Victoria died aged eight from appalling abuse, she was admitted to North Middlesex Hospital with extensive burns. Her great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, who was jailed for her murder, claimed the burns were acquired when Victoria poured scalding water over her head to relieve itching from the skin disease scabies.

The three photos showed "a remarkably cheerful" child despite the heavy scarring to her face, Mr Garnham said. He had painted a picture of a bright and loving child who one doctor said was like "a little ray of sunshine". Hospital staff said she was a delightful, affectionate child who loved to be cuddled.

On seeing the graphic photos, Mrs Climbie was overcome with distress and had to leave the hearing for a few minutes.

Earlier she had described Victoria as her "star" and called for the inquiry to put an end to the countless child abuse scandals that have shamed Britain over the past three decades. "She was very bubbly and although young, she used to help a lot and she was extremely clever as well. She was like a star in my eyes," Mrs Climbie said.

Adding that she wanted to see a positive and effective outcome from the inquiry, she said: "We would like Victoria's memory to remain in this country so that things like this will never happen again."

Victoria lived with Mr and Mrs Climbie and their six other children in a poor suburb of Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, until she was six, when she accompanied Kouao to Europe for a better education.

When Victoria left Africa in 1998 she was "fit and well" and happy with the prospect of the trip. But her parents received only three messages giving news of Victoria before her death in February last year. Yesterday Mrs and Mrs Climbie, who are due to give evidence to the inquiry tomorrow, said that if police, social services and doctors had done their jobs properly then Victoria would have been removed from Kouao's care and would still be alive. Mr Climbie, 41, said: "Those in charge did not do their job. Those at the very top, the police and social services didn't do what they were supposed to do."

His wife added: "They should have been able to prevent my daughter's murder. It is as though they were complicit somehow because, if they had done their job, my daughter would not be dead. My little girl was taken to the hospital, it was there that she should have been saved, yet it wasn't done. Today this has happened to me but tomorrow it could happen to somebody else."