A preacher insisted that Victoria Climbie, who was murdered in one of Britain's worst child-abuse cases, needed spiritual rather than medical help because she was possessed by evil spirits.
Pascal Orome, of the Mission Ensemble Pour Christ church in Borough, south-east London, told the inquiry into the eight-year-old's death that, despite having seen her scarred face and old clothes, he never suspected she had been mistreated by her great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and her lover, Carl Manning.
But Mr Orome said that the first time she attended his church, he had "sensed she was suffering hardship" and prayed for her to be "delivered from witchcraft or wicked spirits". Afterwards, Kouao praised Mr Orome for noticing Victoria was "oppressed by demons".
Later, Kouao told him that Victoria was having "trouble with her bowels" and went to the toilet all over the home. She acted inappropriately and "put faeces in food and on clothing", Mr Orome told the inquiry.
He added: "What I had heard did not sound like a medical problem. I thought it would more likely be a spiritual problem which led me to think that Victoria might be possessed."
Under critical questioning by Lord Laming, the inquiry chairman, Mr Orome admitted that he had never before come across a child with such extreme problems, and that it was his first experience of a young child being "possessed".
But he did not tell Kouao to consult a doctor because his first concern was to deal with Victoria's spiritual problems.
Kouao, 44, and Manning, 28, were jailed for life for Victoria's murder in January. When she died in February last year, she had 128 separate injuries from being starved, beaten and tortured at Manning's flat in north London.
Three months before Victoria died in February last year, Kouao said the girl was being sexually abused by Manning. But Mr Orome told the inquiry that he did not believe her because Manning was shy and the girl was unlikely to "instil lust".
Mr Orome said he did not have time to recommend that Kouao take Victoria to hospital. The only advice he was able to give Kouao was for her to leave the flat with Victoria "just in case the allegations were true".
Several weeks later, Kouao telephoned him to say that Victoria had died, and complained that she had not benefited financially from looking after the girl, whose parents lived in the Ivory Coast.
Mr Orome said Kouao had told him: "Look what Victoria has done to me – I have suffered with this girl. I did not benefit from her and she just died."
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