MSP queries why alert to social workers over children was too late

Social workers were not alerted to the “real emergency” facing Theresa Riggi’s children until 3.05pm on Wednesday – five minutes after emergency services found the youngsters dead.

The bodies of Gianluca, Augustino and Cecilia Riggi were discovered at a flat in Edinburgh just 24 hours after a judge ruled the authorities may have to be brought in to look after the youngsters.

Lady Clark, who was overseeing bitter divorce proceedings between Mrs Riggi and her husband, Pasquale, made the order after hearing she had disappeared with the children for a second time.

David Jack, counsel for Mr Riggi, warned the Court of Session on Tuesday it was facing a “real emergency” after Mrs Riggi refused to disclose their whereabouts.

However, it emerged yesterday that Edinburgh City Council officials were not alerted to the case until the following afternoon – by which time it was too late.

Last night, Edinburgh Pentlands MSP David McLetchie demanded to know why child-protection officers had not been not called in sooner.

He said: “Given the view of the judge, Lady Clark, that the welfare of the children required intervention by social workers, people will want to know why there was a 24-hour delay in communicating the terms of the court order to the social work department of Edinburgh Council, and who was responsible for advising the council of the terms of this court order.”

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said: “ The court’s ruling was faxed through to us at 3.05pm (on Wednesday). In this fax we were asked to assist with the family’s situation if and when they were found by the messengers at arms, who were representing the court.

“It is also important to make clear that there was no social work case involving the family while they were in Aberdeenshire. Therefore there was no case to hand over. The only point from which we as an authority would have become involved was from Wednesday after we received notification from the court.”

Lothian and Borders Police said they had not been informed of the court ruling until after the children’s bodies had been found.

The court hearings gave an insight into how strained relations between Mr and Mrs Riggi had become. The court heard that Mrs Riggi objected to her husband seeing their children and, on previous occasions, had sent them on visits equipped with mobile phones and personal alarms.

Background reports prepared during the course of the divorce action said there should be contact – and no problems were foreseen if the youngsters lived with their father.

Mr Jack said one of the issues was that Mr Riggi wanted the children to go to school but Mrs Riggi was a believer in home schooling.

Mr Riggi called the police on July 11 after his estranged wife left her home at Skene, near Westhill, a week earlier and he had been unable to contact her.

Two days later, a judge at the court made an order to prevent the children being taken out of the country and demanding the handover of their passports. Staff at ports and airports were alerted.

Grampian Police appealed to the public for help and other police forces became involved after reports of sightings in Ayrshire, Lothian and Cambridge.

Messengers at arms finally traced Mrs Riggi – who also calls herself Mrs Butimore and has family in the US – and her children to the flat in Edinburgh on July 21.

On Tuesday, Lady Clark had ordered Mrs Riggi to appear before the court and explain herself after hearing she had vanished again.

The case had been due to call again this morning.