Starved girl Khyra Ishaq failed by social services
A seven-year-old girl starved to death by her mother might still be alive if she had not been failed by social services, a High Court judge has ruled.
Khyra Ishaq would “in all probability” not have died, said the judge, had welfare officers intervened and taken her away from her mother and her convict boyfriend.
In frightening echoes of the Baby Peter case, Khyra suffered months of abuse at the hands of her mother Angela Gordon and boyfriend Junaid Abuhamza.
Confined to a squalid room for months, the emaciated girl was deprived of food and regularly beaten, before she died in excruciating pain in May 2008, weighing just 2st 9lbs. On her death, she was found to have suffered more than two dozen injuries.
Khyra and five other children in the family home in Birmingham were forced to share a single mattress and survive on just a small bowl of food a day, in conditions compared to a “Victorian workhouse”.
As Gordon and Abuhamza were convicted for manslaughter and child cruelty charges, the failures of the local social services and welfare officers – which allowed Khyra and the five other children to suffer in silence – were laid bare.
Mrs Justice King said: “It is beyond belief that in 2008 in a bustling, energetic and modern city like Birmingham, a child of seven was withdrawn from school and thereafter kept in squalid conditions for a period of five months before finally dying of starvation,” she said.
“This was sustained and punitive brutality to very young children over many months of a type which thankfully is virtually unheard of in this country.
“No professional person, whether teacher or social worker, saw the children after February 2008 and no-one tried to see them.”
The case comes after the appalling death of Peter Connelly – known as Baby P – caused national outrage.
Peter was 17 months old when he died in August 2007 at the hands of his mother Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Stevn Barker and their lodger Jason Owen.
He suffered more than 50 injuries after months of abused despite over 60 visits from social workers and being placed on the “at risk” register.
Details of Khyra’s suffering emerged at the end of a criminal trial at Birmingham Crown Court into Gordon and Abuhamza, who saw murder charges dropped after both claimed diminished responsibility.
Psychiatrists claimed that Gordon, 35, had suffered major depression at the time of Khyra’s death, while Abuhamza, 30, was a schizophrenic.
Mrs Justice King issued her damning verdict at the High Court after she was asked to rule on the care for the other five children who had lived in the house alongside Khyra.
In a ruling released on the 10th anniversary of the death of Victoria Climbie – the eight-year-old also failed by social services and starved to death at the hands of sadistic relatives – she said Khyra’s death could have been prevented.
“On the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, [Khyra] would not have died.”
Abu Zaire Ishaq, Khyra’s natural father, criticised the system for letting his daughter slip through the net.
“These are classical social work failures,” he said. “Every time I went there the child was dying, every time I’ve been to the house slowly and slowly that child was suffering. Nothing I could do.”
Tony Howell, strategic director children young people and families at Birmingham City Council, apologised but has refused to resign, saying “no purpose served” by him going.
“I would like to say how sorry I am that we were unable to save Khyra Ishaq.
“It is difficult to comprehend that in this day and age a child can starve to death in Britain without anyone appearing to notice.
“But the fact of the matter is that it did happen and it has caused a great deal of hard reflection among all the agencies in the city who have a responsibility to protect vulnerable children.”
A serious case review (SCR) into Khyra’s death has been carried out and is expected to be published within weeks.
A spokesman from Birmingham City Council said no disciplinary action would be taken until the SCR was released.
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Bar, called on Ed Balls, Children’s Secretary, to launch a wide-ranging inquiry into Birmingham City Council’s social services.
“We have had 18 deaths of vulnerable young people in Birmingham over the past five years, all of whom had come into contact somehow with social services – this is an epidemic.”
Mr Balls said the public would be “appalled” to hear about Khyra’s death
“There are clearly serious questions to be answered about what local services and professionals were doing in the months before this tragedy took place.
“It is now clear that concerns about these children were not acted upon effectively and it is right that a serious case review has been carried out.”
Last year, a council scrutiny committee described Birmingham City Council social services department as “not fit for purpose”.
Khyra’s mother had told the council that her daughter was being schooled at home. Mr Balls said a review would be carried out into the issue of home education.