Maria Colwell death led to legislation over two decades

Nicholas Timmins
Thursday 24 March 1994 01:02
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CHILD ABUSE hit the headlines 20 years ago when the death of seven-year-old Maria Colwell triggered legislation and child protection procedures that have evolved over the past two decades. About 40 child abuse inquiries have established that in almost every case the family was known to the social and health services and, among the many differing factors involved, in almost every case a breakdown in communication preceded the child's death.

Maria was born in March 1965, the youngest of five children, whose mother then had three more in quick succession by another man. She was known to the NSPCC and the then Children's Department and neighbours repeatedly reported her being beaten and bruised.

She was seen at various times by an NSPCC inspector, a social worker, a doctor, an education welfare officer and a housing officer. On 7 January 1973, she was taken to hospital in a pram by her mother and step-father where she was pronounced dead from severe bruising and internal injuries. Her stomach was empty.

Tyra Henry was born in 1982. Despite a previous decision that she should not do so, she was allowed to live with her father when he was discharged from prison despite his having, before her birth, assaulted her six-month-old brother, Tyrone, so viciously that he was left blind, permanently brain damaged and in care. One weekend in 1984 her father, Andrew, beat both Tyra and her mother Claudette. Her mother went out and her father launched the final assault on 22-month-old-Tyra who was then taken to hospital in a mini-cab and left under a false name. Fifty bite marks were found on her body and she died two days later.

In February 1992, Toni Dales, aged three, died from repeated blows to the head despite reports of unexplained bruising by nursery teachers and a plea for help from her mother. No case conference had been called by social workers, who were under pressure. Her case had been formally closed a month before her death.

(Photographs omitted)

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