Bill's Archived Comments

Monday, 1st October 2001

Torture and Social Services Incompetence - a sad and deadly verdict on Britain today

Victoria Climbie (earlier referred to as Anna Climbie - one assumes that one name was a middle name and the other her given name, but I have been unable to pinpoint the exact reason for the discrepancy) died last year in traumatic circumstances as a result of the bestial treatment she had been subjected to by her carers, an aunt and the aunt's boyfriend - aided and abetted by the incompetence and 'pass the buck' mentality of Haringey (a suburb of London) social services and the the failure of all public bodies involved to take action when clues, nay evidence, were presented to them.

In the past week a public inquiry has begun. The evidence presented has been both nauseating and copious, provoking horror and fury. In the months leading to her death, Victoria was brought to the attention of three local authorities, the police and the NHS, but time and again she was handed back to her abusers. She could have been saved on at least 12 occasions, the inquiry into her death heard last week.

Neil Garnham, QC, counsel for the inquiry, said: "Her death was not simply an isolated act of madness by two sick individuals." He added: "Her ill-treatment was prolonged. It was not hidden away out of sight of the authorities. The signs were there. It seems as if those signs were on display time and time again. But they went unheeded."

To recap, Victoria left her West African home with an aunt for what her parents hoped would be a better life in Britain. However, within months of her arrival she was being abused by the aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and Kouao's boyfriend, Carl Manning, who were both convicted of murder at the Old Bailey earlier this year. Manning, who called Victoria "Satan", began hitting her after she developed incontinence. Her blood was later found on his football boots. After she began soiling the sofa where she slept, the pair made her sleep naked, trussed up in a bin liner, in a bath in the dark.

Mr Garnham said: "What must have gone through the mind of this little girl is unimaginable. Here she was in a foreign country in mid-winter. She was abandoned for hours on end, naked and tied up in a rubbish bag, lying in a bath in an unlit, unheated room." Victoria was also assaulted - with shoes, coathangers, wooden spoons, hammers and bicycle chains. When she was fed she had to eat her food like a dog, pushing her face into the plate because she was bound with masking tape. Mr Garnham said: "To say that Kouao and Manning treated Victoria like a dog would be wholly unfair. She was treated far worse than any dog. Imprisoned, bound and starved, deprived of any form of human comfort, as she neared the end she had little hope of any form of relief."

Now, to the horrifying extent of the abuse this little girl suffered, and the negligence that contributed to her death:
  • Mr Garnham detailed the individual failings and misunderstandings that led to Victoria's abuse being missed.
  • He said that it remained unclear if Ealing council had ever made a proper assessment of Victoria's needs.
  • Although Brent council received an anonymous call saying Victoria was possibly being abused, the authority did nothing for three weeks.
  • When it finally visited her home no one was in and the authority concluded that the family must have moved. Mr Garnham said this was "astonishing".
  • Towards the end of her life, Victoria was admitted to North Middlesex Hospital. She was covered in injuries, bruises and burns. Again she was returned to Kouao and Manning.

Mr Garnham said: "This little girl, already abused and ill-treated, was sent back into the hands of her abusers without any form of protection. Frankly, that was unforgivable."

Victoria Climbie's blood was found throughout the flat where she was starved and tortured, the inquiry heard. Although her killers had tried to clean away the evidence of their cruelty, Raymond Fysh, a forensic science adviser for the Metropolitan Police, said bloodstains were found in the bedroom, bathroom and lounge. He added that "the whole scenario" may not have been seen.

  • Her killers, Marie Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning, appeared unconcerned, according to an ambulance technician, who said the little girl felt like a "lump of cold clay".
  • She was so cold, Henry Teodorski thought she was dead. Her clothes were dirty and insufficient for the time of year, and she was extremely thin. He said Kouao was unco-operative when he questioned her about Victoria.
  • But she did say that the girl had poured hot water over herself, that she had tried to rub herself with bleach and had tied rubber bands around her wrists.
  • "But Kouao seemed to be more concerned with her own distress," added Mr Teodorski. Of Manning, he said: "It was almost as if he was not there."

There is much additional material that could be included here, but it suffices to say that the catalogue of negligence and incompetence revealed and the "buck passing" displayed throughout the investigation into this tragedy throws little credit on the professionals involved. Some people did try hard to help the little girl, but they were not those employed to do so. Esther Acka, a distant relative, grew alarmed and contacted Brent Council's social services department. Avril Cameron, a friend of Miss Kouao's, took the frail child into Central Middlesex Hospital herself and also contacted the social services. The nurses in the North Middlesex Hospital - where Victoria ended up after her carers poured boiling water over her head and pretended that she did it herself - told social services that the child was ravenously hungry, had been beaten, and was frightened when Kouao and Manning visited. A minicab driver, on the day Victoria died, took one look at her and drove her to an ambulance station: by then, however, it was too late.

If you would like to read my earlier comments on this case, written some months ago, click here. Or you can read a later report on 29 January 2003, written to coincide with the publication of the Lamy Inquiry report on the affair.

The Conservative Party - money-grubbing and cynical

Although I resigned very recently from the Conservative Party, it will probably take some weeks for my name to be removed from Central Office membership records. This perfectly understandable delay has fortunately allowed me to become aware of the money-grubbing nature and cynicism of the new Leader, Mr Iain Duncan Smith (not that I doubted this, but it is interesting to have my instincts confirmed so soon). During the recent House of Commons debate on the terrorist attacks in the United States, Mr Duncan Smith (in replying to the Prime Minister's statement) stated that he would support the Government in whatever it chooses to do (bravo!), and that for the time being he suggested that suspension of Party politics was necessary in the national interest: so far, so good.

A few days ago, however, I received a circular letter from Mr Duncan Smith in which he asked for donations of money to fund research with a view to defeating the government at a future election. Now, I do not think I am specially naive, nor indeed bitter and twisted against the Party of which until recently I was a member, and I do understand that funds are needed (no doubt urgently) simply to maintain the Party 'machine' in working order for when political 'hostilities' resume - and a request for money couched in such terms would not have struck me as out of place (even though I would in any case no longer wish to respond with a donation), but the terms in which it was couched lead me to the conclusion that Mr Duncan Smith's apparently sincere statement in the House of Commons must be viewed as somewhat cynical and self-serving, designed mainly to show him as 'statesmanlike' in the eyes of the general public, when the truth is that he must EVEN THEN have been planning to seek funding from Party members to continue the 'Party politics' he stated he would eschew for the time being.

(If you would like to read the letter I wrote to him in response to his circular letter, please click here).

For an update, and to see the letter I had back from Iain Duncan Smith, please click here.


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