Khyra Ishaq: Council and social workers failed to act on signs of abuse

Khyra Ishaq would still be alive today if social workers and education officials with Birmingham City Council had reacted properly to tell-tale signs of malnutrition and abuse, an official inquiry has concluded.

The findings of a Safeguarding Board investigation led by a senior NSPCC Inspector represent a damning condemnation of the council, health trusts, GPs and police who all failed to act over a two-year period despite several obvious signs of Khyra’s deteriorating state of health.

Teachers and concerned members of the public attempted to alert social services and the city education department to what was happening but their cries went unheard, the inquiry found.

Khyra, aged seven, died at her home in Handsworth in May 2008, having been removed from school five months earlier and starved to death by her mother, Angela Gordon, and stepfather Junaid Abuhamza.

Gordon and Abuhamza were jailed in March for Khyra’s manslaughter, but both are appealing against the length of the prison sentences they were handed.

The inquiry’s central conclusion – that education officials were out of their depth when agreeing the emaciated Khyra could be taken out of school and educated at home – flies in the face of the council’s official explanation earlier this year that nothing could have been done to save her.

Three council staff were subject to disciplinary procedures after Khyra died and accused of failing in their duties. But local authority bosses refused to say whether any or all of the three had been sacked.

In a 180-page report containing 18 recommendations to improve child care, a Serious Case Review probe found that:

* The council lacked a “robust and rigorous” process to check requests from parents to educate children at home. This was a significant failure.

* Teachers warned social services about Khyra’s plight but their concerns were “inaccurately recorded and not acted upon”.

* Although Khyra and her brothers and sisters missed 129 appointments with doctors, schools and social services in ten years, alarm bells never rang among those in authority.

* Poor communications between social services, the education department, health bodies and the police and “poorly focussed” assessments of Khyra by professionals contributed to her death.
Les Lawrence (cabinet member for Children, young people and families) faces the media after the Serious Case Review report on the death of Khyra Ishaq

In a blistering condemnation of officialdom, the report stated: “Some professionals appeared unaware of their responsibilities to communicate safeguarding concerns that arose as part of their interaction with children and families in line with existing safeguarding procedures.”

The report continued: “It can only be concluded that the death of the child was preventable…..had there been better assessments and effective inter-agency communication over a period of time.”

Incidents that ought to have prompted the council to make emergency inquiries into Khyra’s state of health included:

* March 2006 – three incidents of alleged domestic abuse at the house reported to social services. No action was taken.

* Also in March 2006 – Khyra’s mother reported assault on a sibling by the father to a GPO. The GP failed to follow correct procedures and did not report the matter to the authorities.

Council leaders said they accepted the Serious Case Review findings in full. Les Lawrence, cabinet member for children, said he was “profoundly sorry” about the mistakes that led to Khyra’s death.

Coun Lawrence (Con, Northfield) added: “The majority of the lessons from the review have already been acted upon.

“Today, as we remember Khyra’s life, we reaffirm our commitment to create a children’s social care service that better protects our young people from those that would harm them. Let this by Khyra’s legacy.”