Victoria Climbie Mother: I Feel Betrayed As Children Are Still Dying
In May, Berthe Climbie, whose eight-year-old daughter died in a shocking tale of neglect, spoke of her fears that lessons hadn’t been learned…
Earlier this year, the mother of Victoria Climbie said that she felt betrayed as the lessons of her daughter’s horrific death had failed to prevent other children dying in Britain.
Victoria was sent from the Ivory Coast to Europe by her parents to find a better life, but instead her great aunt starved her, beat her with coat hangers and bicycle chains, bound her naked and kept her prisoner in a freezing bathroom in a squalid flat in Haringey, east London.
When she died in February 2000 at the age of eight she weighed just 3st 10lb (24kg).
The tragedy led to a public inquiry and a major overhaul of child protection in Britain, but today Victoria’s mother, Berthe, said that the deaths of other children in similar circumstances showed that nothing had changed.
“I am still learning that other children are still dying,” she said.
“We see the same sort of tragedies here as the things that happened to the little one.”
Marie-Therese Kouao, Victoria’s great aunt, and her lover Carl Manning were convicted of murder and child cruelty in January 2001 and jailed for life for the crime.
An inquiry into Victoria’s death, chaired by Lord Laming, reported five years ago that there were 12 missed chances to save the youngster, who was found with 128 separate injuries when she died. The inquiry report made more than 100 recommendations to the Government for reform.
Victoria’s mother thanked the Government for launching the investigation into her daughter’s death, and also said she had “forgiven” those whose mistakes led to the girl’s plight going unnoticed.
But she criticised local authorities for not fully implementing Lord Laming’s recommendations, and said she felt “betrayed” by local government bosses when she heard about other children dying in care.
Mrs Climbie, who lives in Ivory Coast, is in the UK for the first time since the Laming report was published, to attend a conference organised by the Victoria Climbie foundation.
She said: “They gave their word, but they did not live up to the responsibility. I was betrayed. They gave me their words and I was betrayed.
“An inquiry of six months – they did not respect it. If they had respected it, children would still not be dying left and right and centre. It’s not just one child, it’s several. After Victoria there are many children who have died in tragic circumstances.”
Mrs Climbie said she was no longer angry about the death of her own daughter but found it hard to understand why children were dying in similar circumstances.
She said: “After eight years I’m not angry but what moves me today are that children are dying. It’s that that makes me sad. It’s that I find heart breaking because the words were not respected.
“They gave me their words but I am seeing that it’s not happening. I’m really hurt when it comes to social services and I demand that the bosses take their responsibility.”
And she demanded a full review of the inquiry into Victoria’s death to ensure that the lessons learnt are fully implemented.
She said: “They did not follow the inquiry, but I’m demanding an absolute revision of the inquiry. Maybe with this revision they might understand. If not then it’s sad, really sad.
“Such a large country. We have heard about children being killed here and there. We are in a country where a child is killed, a child is abused a child killed like this, like that. Is this right?”
And asked whether she had come to terms with Victoria’s death, she replied: “When you lose a child it is never easy. At first it makes your heart bleed and gradually you have to try to forget what has happened and pray for the person’s soul.”
Councillor David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Association community and wellbeing board, said while no-one was complacent, child protection had improved since Victoria’s death. “Lord Laming rightly identified that schools, the NHS, police and local government must work together better and keep better records so that everyone can do their utmost to prevent any more unnecessary deaths,” he said. “The system is not perfect but the lessons learnt from Victoria’s death in Lord Laming’s report have been widely put into place.”
Dr Maggie Atkinson, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, agreed that local authorities that were not following best practice were in the “absolute minority”, and that things had “very definitely” changed. But Dr Atkinson did admit that recent cases of child neglect showed that there was still some way to go.
She said: “There are 11 million children in this country and any death is an absolute tragedy. It’s clear that the system still has some development to do and still has a lot of lessons to learn.”
In recent years there have been several court cases involving parents or carers wilfully neglecting or abusing a child in their care.
In 2004 two parents in Sheffield were jailed for seven years each after a court heard how David Askew and Sarah Whittaker lived surrounded by state-of-the-art electrical equipment as their five children existed in squalid conditions in excrement-smeared bedrooms. A one-year-old in the house was “within hours of death” when police found them.
Jessica Randall was just 54 days old when she was viciously murdered by her father, Andrew Randall.
The baby, who was born five weeks premature and with a congenital heart defect, had suffered a catalogue of abuse right up to her death in November 2005.
Earlier this month Christopher Oxtoby, 27, and Katie Scott, 26, were sentenced to seven years and four-and-a-half years in prison respectively for sexually abusing an infant and videoing it on a mobile phone.
Northampton Crown Court heard Scott had abused the baby and allowed Oxtoby to video it, before he downloaded it on to his computer.