History of Victoria Climbie Inquiry - Child Abuse Problems

Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report

THE VICTORIA CLIMBIÉ INQUIRY

REPORT OF AN INQUIRY

BY LORD LAMING

Presented to Parliament by the
Secretary of State for Health and
the Secretary of State for the Home Department
by Command of Her Majesty
January 2003

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THE
INQUIRY
VICTORIA CLIMBIÉ
Chairman: Lord Laming
REPORT
THE VICTORIA CLIMBIÉ INQUIRY
REPORT OF AN INQUIRY
BY LORD LAMING
Presented to Parliament by the
Secretary of State for Health and
the Secretary of State for the Home Department
by Command of Her Majesty
January 2003
CM 5730
© Crown Copyright 2003


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Rt Hon Alan Milburn MP
Secretary of State for Health
Rt Hon David Blunkett MP
Home Secretary
Dear Secretaries of State,
In April 2001, you asked me to chair an Independent Statutory Inquiry following
the death of Victoria Climbié, and to make recommendations as to how such an
event may, as far as possible, be avoided in the future. I am pleased to submit my
report to you.
I appointed four expert assessors to assist me in my task. They were Dr Nellie
Adjaye, Mr John Fox, Mrs Donna Kinnair and Mr Nigel Richardson.
I take responsibility for this report and I am pleased that my four colleagues who
sat with me fully endorse its findings and its recommendations.
Yours sincerely,
LORD LAMING
DR NELLIE ADJAYE MR JOHN FOX
MRS DONNA KINNAIR MR NIGEL RICHARDSON
“I have suffered too much grief in setting down
these heartrending memories. If I try to describe him,
it is to make sure that I shall not forget him.”
Jiro Hirabayashi from Yasunori Kawahara’s
translation of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
This sentiment applies also to Victoria Climbié.
This Report is dedicated to her memory.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
Contents
v
Contents
Part one Background
1 Introduction 1
2 The Inquiry 15
3 Victoria’s story 25
Phase One
Part two Social services
4 Ealing Social Services 39
The managerial context 39
Victoria in Ealing 46
Analysis of practice 67
5 Brent Social Services 71
The managerial context 71
Victoria in Brent 85
Analysis of practice 102
6 Haringey Social Services 109
The managerial context 109
Victoria in Haringey 140
Analysis of practice 196
7 Tottenham Child and Family Centre 215
The referral 215
Case recording 219
What should have been done? 220
8 Enfield Social Services 221
The managerial context 221
Victoria in Enfield 226
Analysis of practice 235
Part three Health
9 Central Middlesex Hospital 239
10 North Middlesex Hospital 255
11 Health analysis 279
The information gathered about Victoria 279
Status of child protection 284
12 General practice and liaison health visiting 287
General practice 287
Liaison health visiting 291
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
vi
Part four The police
13 Brent Child Protection Team 295
14 Haringey Child Protection Team 309
15 Child protection policing in north west London 331
Training 331
Staff levels 333
Equipment 335
Accommodation 337
Accountability 338
16 Working with diversity 345
Phase Two
Part five Learning from experience
17 The seminars 349
The purpose of the seminars 349
Seminar one: Discovery and inclusion 349
Seminar two: Identification 351
Seminar three: Determining requirements 353
Seminar four: Service provision and delivery 355
Seminar five: Monitoring performance 357
Seminar conclusions 359
The need for change 360
Part six Recommendations
18 Recommendations 371
General recommendations 371
Social care recommendations 374
Healthcare recommendations 379
Police recommendations 382
Annexes
Annex 1 Glossary 385
Annex 2 Witnesses 387
Annex 3 Inquiry staff 397
Annex 4 Legal representatives 399
Annex 5 Seminar participants 401
Part one: Background

1 Introduction
1
1 Introduction
“Victoria had the most beautiful smile that lit up the room.” Patrick Cameron
1.1 This Report begins and ends with Victoria Climbié. It is right that it should do so.
The purpose of this Inquiry has been to find out why this once happy, smiling,
enthusiastic little girl – brought to this country by a relative for ‘a better life’
– ended her days the victim of almost unimaginable cruelty. The horror of what
happened to her during her last months was captured by Counsel to the Inquiry,
Neil Garnham QC, who told the Inquiry:
“The food would be cold and would be given to her on a piece of plastic
while she was tied up in the bath. She would eat it like a dog, pushing
her face to the plate. Except, of course that a dog is not usually tied up
in a plastic bag full of its excrement. To say that Kouao and Manning
treated Victoria like a dog would be wholly unfair; she was treated worse
than a dog.”
1.2 On 12 January 2001, Victoria’s great-aunt, Marie-Therese Kouao, and Carl John
Manning were convicted of her murder.
Abuse and neglect
1.3 At his trial, Manning said that Kouao would strike Victoria on a daily basis with a
shoe, a coat hanger and a wooden cooking spoon and would strike her on her toes
with a hammer. Victoria’s blood was found on Manning’s football boots. Manning
admitted that at times he would hit Victoria with a bicycle chain. Chillingly, he
said, “You could beat her and she wouldn’t cry ... she could take the beatings and
the pain like anything.”
1.4 Victoria spent much of her last days, in the winter of 1999–2000, living and
sleeping in a bath in an unheated bathroom, bound hand and foot inside a bin
bag, lying in her own urine and faeces. It is not surprising then that towards the
end of her short life, Victoria was stooped like an old lady and could walk only with
great difficulty.
1.5 When Victoria was admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital on the evening
of 24 February 2000, she was desperately ill. She was bruised, deformed and
malnourished. Her temperature was so low it could not be recorded on the
hospital’s standard thermometer. Dr Lesley Alsford, the consultant responsible for
Victoria’s care on that occasion, said, “I had never seen a case like it before. It is
the worst case of child abuse and neglect that I have ever seen.”
1.6 Despite the valiant efforts of Dr Alsford and her team, Victoria’s condition
continued to deteriorate. In a desperate attempt to save her life, Victoria was
transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington.
It was there that, tragically, she died a few hours later, on the afternoon of
25 February 2000.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
2
1.7 Seven months earlier, Victoria had been a patient in the North Middlesex Hospital.
Nurse Sue Jennings recalled:
“Victoria did not have any possessions – she only had the clothes that she
arrived in. Some of the staff had brought in dresses and presents for Victoria.
One of the nurses had given her a white dress and Victoria found some pink
wellingtons which she used to wear with it. I remember Victoria dressed like
this, twirling up and down the ward. She was a very friendly and happy child.”
Victoria’s injuries
1.8 At the end, Victoria’s lungs, heart and kidneys all failed. Dr Nathaniel Carey, a
Home Office pathologist with many years’ experience, carried out the post-mortem
examination. What stood out from Dr Carey’s evidence was the extent of
Victoria’s injuries and the deliberate way they were inflicted on her. He said:
“All non-accidental injuries to children are awful and difficult for
everybody to deal with, but in terms of the nature and extent of the
injury, and the almost systematic nature of the inflicted injury, I certainly
regard this as the worst I have ever dealt with, and it is just about the
worst I have ever heard of.”
1.9 At the post-mortem examination, Dr Carey recorded evidence of no fewer than
128 separate injuries to Victoria’s body, saying, “There really is not anywhere that
is spared – there is scarring all over the body.”
1.10 Therefore, in the space of just a few months, Victoria had been transformed from
a healthy, lively, and happy little girl, into a wretched and broken wreck of a
human being.
Abandoned, unheard and unnoticed
1.11 Perhaps the most painful of all the distressing events of Victoria’s short life in this
country is that even towards the end, she might have been saved. In the last few
weeks before she died, a social worker called at her home several times. She got
no reply when she knocked at the door and assumed that Victoria and Kouao had
moved away. It is possible that at the time, Victoria was in fact lying just a few
yards away, in the prison of the bath, desperately hoping someone might find her
and come to her rescue before her life ebbed away.
1.12 At no time during the weeks and months of this gruelling Inquiry did familiarity
with the suffering experienced by Victoria diminish the anguish of hearing it, or
make it easier to endure. It was clear from the evidence heard by the Inquiry that
Victoria’s intelligence, and the warmth of her engaging smile, shone through,
despite the ghastly facts of what she experienced during the 11 months she lived
in England. The more my colleagues and I heard about Victoria, the more we came
to know her as a lovable child, and our hearts went out to her. However, neither
Victoria’s intelligence nor her lovable nature could save her. In the end she died a
slow, lonely death – abandoned, unheard and unnoticed.
Victoria’s parents
1.13 Before moving on to the introductory part of this Report, I wish to pay a warm
tribute to Victoria’s parents, Francis and Berthe Climbié. They were present for the
whole of Phase One of this Inquiry. Their love for Victoria was clear, as were their
hopes that she would receive a better education in Europe. In the face of the most
disturbing evidence about the treatment of their daughter, they displayed both
courage and dignity.
1 Introduction
3
What went wrong?
1.14 I recognise that those who take on the work of protecting children at risk of
deliberate harm face a tough and challenging task. Staff doing this work need a
combination of professional skills and personal qualities, not least of which are
persistence and courage. Adults who deliberately exploit the vulnerability of children
can behave in devious and menacing ways. They will often go to great lengths to
hide their activities from those concerned for the well-being of a child. Staff often
have to cope with the unpredictable behaviour of people in the parental role.
A child can appear safe one minute and be injured the next. A peaceful scene can
be transformed in seconds because of a sudden outburst of uncontrollable anger.
1.15 Whenever a child is deliberately injured or killed, there is inevitably great concern
in case some important tell-tale sign has been missed. Those who sit in judgement
often do so with the great benefit of hindsight. So I readily acknowledge that staff
who undertake the work of protecting children and supporting families on behalf
of us all deserve both our understanding and our support. It is a job which carries
risks, because in every judgement they make, those staff have to balance the rights
of a parent with that of the protection of the child.
A lack of good practice
1.16 But Victoria’s case was altogether different. Victoria was not hidden away. It is
deeply disturbing that during the days and months following her initial contact
with Ealing Housing Department’s Homeless Persons’ Unit, Victoria was known
to no less than two further housing authorities, four social services departments,
two child protection teams of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), a specialist
centre managed by the NSPCC, and she was admitted to two different hospitals
because of suspected deliberate harm. The dreadful reality was that these services
knew little or nothing more about Victoria at the end of the process than they
did when she was first referred to Ealing Social Services by the Homeless Persons’
Unit in April 1999. The final irony was that Haringey Social Services formally
closed Victoria’s case on the very day she died. The extent of the failure to
protect Victoria was lamentable. Tragically, it required nothing more than basic
good practice being put into operation. This never happened.
1.17 In his opening statement to the Inquiry, Neil Garnham QC listed no fewer than
12 key occasions when the relevant services had the opportunity to successfully
intervene in the life of Victoria. As evidence to the Inquiry unfolded, several other
opportunities emerged. Not one of these required great skill or would have made
heavy demands on time to take some form of action. Sometimes it needed nothing
more than a manager doing their job by asking pertinent questions or taking
the trouble to look in a case file. There can be no excuse for such sloppy and
unprofessional performance.
A gross failure of the system
1.18 Not one of the agencies empowered by Parliament to protect children in positions
similar to Victoria’s – funded from the public purse – emerge from this Inquiry
with much credit. The suffering and death of Victoria was a gross failure of the
system and was inexcusable. It is clear to me that the agencies with responsibility
for Victoria gave a low priority to the task of protecting children. They were underfunded,
inadequately staffed and poorly led. Even so, there was plenty of evidence
to show that scarce resources were not being put to good use. Bad practice can be
expensive. For example, had there been a proper response to the needs of Victoria
when she was first referred to Ealing Social Services, it may well be that the danger
to her would have been recognised and action taken which may have avoided the
need for the later involvement of the other agencies.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
4
1.19 Even after listening to all the evidence, I remain amazed that nobody in any of the
key agencies had the presence of mind to follow what are relatively straightforward
procedures on how to respond to a child about whom there is concern of
deliberate harm. The most senior police officer to give evidence from the MPS
was Deputy Assistant Commissioner William Griffiths. He said of the investigation
carried out by Haringey Child Protection Team, “In the A to Z of an investigation,
that investigation did not get to B.” Therefore, I conclude that, despite the
Children Act 1989 having been in force for just under a decade, the standard of
investigation into criminal offences against children may not be as rigorous as the
investigation of similar crimes against adults.
Widespread organisational malaise
1.20 It seems that the basic discipline of medical evaluation, covering history-taking,
examination, arriving at a differential diagnosis, and monitoring the outcome, was
not put into practice in Victoria’s case. I accept the evidence of Dr Peter Lachman,
clinical director for Women and Children Services Directorate of North West London
Hospitals NHS Trust, that paediatric doctors and nurses are highly trained in helping
sick children get well. However, as he said, “child abuse is one of the most complex
areas of paediatrics and child health”. That being so, I found it hard to understand
why established good medical practice, that would have undoubtedly helped clarify
the complexities in Victoria’s case, was not followed on the paediatric wards at the
Central Middlesex Hospital and North Middlesex Hospital.
1.21 Having considered the response to Victoria from each of the agencies, I am forced
to conclude that the principal failure to protect her was the result of widespread
organisational malaise.
1.22 It is, however, instructive to contrast the inadequate response to safeguarding
Victoria with the work of the health service in attempting to save her life at the
end, and the professionalism of the police investigation after her death that led
to the prosecution of Kouao and Manning. Alas, it was then too late for Victoria.
Management issues
1.23 It is not to the handful of hapless, if sometimes inexperienced, front-line staff that
I direct most criticism for the events leading up to Victoria’s death. While the
standard of work done by those with direct contact with her was generally of very
poor quality, the greatest failure rests with the managers and senior members of
the authorities whose task it was to ensure that services for children, like Victoria,
were properly financed, staffed, and able to deliver good quality support to children
and families. It is significant that while a number of junior staff in Haringey Social
Services were suspended and faced disciplinary action after Victoria’s death, some
of their most senior officers were being appointed to other, presumably better paid,
jobs. This is not an example of managerial accountability that impresses me much.
1.24 Following Victoria’s death, the response of the various agencies involved was
variable. One example of the approach taken by senior management to the
tragedy was provided by Dr John Riordan, medical director at the Central
Middlesex Hospital, who told me:
“If I am totally frank I was being advised by other partners in the health
economy ‘get an external inquiry done because it will protect your
position’ and I thought that was a good idea initially, but I later came
to the view that, given the difficulty we had in getting it, as time had
moved on it was not going to be worth pursuing.”
Credit should be given to both UNISON and the Police Federation for the support
they gave to some front-line staff who gave evidence to this Inquiry.
1 Introduction
5
1.25 The front-line staff of the key public services were all employees. They acted on
behalf of the organisations which employed them. Those in senior positions in such
organisations carry, on behalf of society, responsibility for the quality, efficiency
and effectiveness of local services. I believe that several of those in such positions
who gave evidence to this Inquiry, either did not understand this, or did not accept
it. Front-line staff may well have a different perception of the organisation they
work in from that of their senior managers. Based on the evidence to this Inquiry,
the differences could only be described as a yawning gap. The failure to grasp this
was undoubtedly the fault of the managers because it was their job to understand
what was happening at their ‘front door’.
1.26 Some used the defence “no one ever told me”. The chief executive of Brent
council, Gareth Daniel, chose to describe his role as “strategic” and to distance
himself from the day-to-day realities. Gina Adamou, a Haringey councillor, said,
“If I ask questions she [Mary Richardson, the director of social services] would
say ‘everything is okay, do not worry, if there is a problem I will let you know’.”
I find this an unacceptable state of affairs. Elected councillors and senior officers
must ensure that they are kept fully informed about the delivery of services to the
populations they serve, and they must not accept at face value what they are told.
There was also a reluctance among senior officers to accept there was anything
they could have done for Victoria. The former chief executive of Haringey council,
Gurbux Singh, said, “There is the issue of resources ... but beyond that I cannot
honestly think of what else I could have actually done to ensure that the tragedy
which happened did not happen.” This is not a view I share.
The future
1.27 I strongly believe that in future, those who occupy senior positions in the public
sector must be required to account for any failure to protect vulnerable children
from deliberate harm or exploitation. The single most important change in the
future must be the drawing of a clear line of accountability, from top to bottom,
without doubt or ambiguity about who is responsible at every level for the
well-being of vulnerable children. Time and again it was dispiriting to listen to the
‘buck passing’ from those who attempted to justify their positions. For the proper
safeguarding of children this must end. If ever such a tragedy happens again,
I hope those in leadership posts will examine their responsibilities before looking
more widely.
1.28 The most lasting tribute to the memory of Victoria would be if her suffering
and death resulted in an improvement in the quality of the management and
leadership in these key services. What is needed are managers with a clear set
of values about the role of public services, particularly in addressing the needs
of vulnerable people, combined with the ability to ‘lead from the front’. Good
administrative procedures are essential to facilitate efficient work, but they are not
sufficient on their own and cannot replace effective management. This Inquiry saw
too many examples of those in senior positions attempting to justify their work in
terms of bureaucratic activity, rather than in outcomes for people.
Moving forward
1.29 It is important to understand what went wrong in the way individual social
workers, police officers, doctors and nurses responded to Victoria’s needs, and how
deficiencies in their organisations contributed to this. This is dealt with in detail in
sections 4 to 16. However, this Inquiry has been more than just a forensic exercise.
It has been charged with looking forward and to make recommendations for “how
such an event may, as far as possible, be avoided in the future”.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
6
1.30 The gross failings that I heard about during the Inquiry caused me to consider a
number of ways in which current arrangements for the safeguarding of children
might be strengthened. For example, I have given careful thought as to whether
or not this might be achieved by the development of a National Child Protection
Agency. While at first this seemed to be a worthwhile proposition, on reflection,
I believe the following points are factors which rule against this:
• It is not possible to separate the protection of children from wider support to
families. Indeed, often the best protection for a child is achieved by the timely
intervention of family support services. The wholly unsatisfactory practice,
demonstrated so often in this Inquiry, of determining the needs of a child before
an assessment has been completed, reinforces in me the belief that ‘referrals’
should not be labelled ‘child protection’ without good reason. The needs of the
child and his or her family are often inseparable.
• I am in no doubt that effective support for children and families cannot be
achieved by a single agency acting alone. It depends on a number of agencies
working well together. It is a multi-disciplinary task.
• Evidence to this Inquiry demonstrated very clearly the dangers to children if staff
from different agencies do not fulfil their separate and distinctive responsibilities.
No set of responsibilities is subordinate to another, and each must be carried out
efficiently and effectively. Gathering together staff in a dedicated team might
well run the risk of blurring their responsibilities.
• I am not persuaded there is an untapped source of talent standing ready to
operate a national child protection service. It is likely that staff would simply
transfer from their current employment into the new organisation.
• I recognise the fact that over the years, successive governments have refined
both legislation and policy, no doubt informed in part by earlier Inquiries of
this kind, so that in general, the legislative framework for protecting children
is basically sound. I conclude that the gap is not a matter of law but in its
implementation.
• I am convinced that it is not just ‘structures’ that are the problem, but the skills
of the staff that work in them. For example, at the time of the joint review of
Haringey, they were convinced of the merit of integrating the management of
housing and social services. They have since separated these two departments
at the very time that Ealing was combining them into a single organisation.
Therefore, I am satisfied that organisational structure is unlikely to be an
impediment to effective working. What is critical is the effectiveness of the
management and leadership.
1.31 From the evidence I heard I conclude that it is neither practical nor desirable to try
to separate the support services for children and families from that of the service
designed to investigate and protect children from deliberate harm. Therefore,
an alternative solution must be found. To address this, I set out elsewhere in
this Report a number of changes which I recommend should be introduced to
the organisation and management of services designed to protect children and
support families. These changes are intended to build on the best in the current
arrangements, and to respond to the changes since the Children Act 1989. The
recommendations that flow from these changes are intended to secure a clear line
of accountability for the safety of children and the support of families – a factor
sadly lacking in the current arrangements.
1 Introduction
7
Changes in services to support children
What is wrong with current arrangements?
1.32 Current inter-agency arrangements for protecting children depend very heavily
on the key agencies in health, the police and social services working within closely
related geographical boundaries. This is no longer the case. Local authorities with
responsibility for social services have been reorganised so they are now smaller and
more numerous. Indeed, there are now 150 of them in England. In contrast, health
authorities are now larger and fewer, numbering only 30. Front-line health services
are provided by a growing number of Primary Care Trusts, currently over 300,
while 43 police authorities cover England and Wales.
1.33 As a result, Area Child Protection Committees (ACPCs), the organisations with
responsibility for co-ordinating child protection services at a local level, have
generally become unwieldy, bureaucratic and with limited impact on front-line
services. I was told that in the London Metropolitan Police area, there are 33
local authorities with social services responsibilities and 27 Area Child Protection
Committees. In Liverpool, there are five ACPCs, while in Essex (with a population
of over one million) there is one. Such wide variations in geographical areas and
populations served by the ACPCs must inevitably lead to equally wide variations
in the co-ordination and quality of services offered to vulnerable children. A new
arrangement is needed.
Improvements at a national level
A Children and Families Board
1.34 Therefore, I recommend a fundamental change in the way that services to support
children and families are organised and managed. With the support of the Prime
Minister, a Children and Families Board should be established at the heart of
government. The Board should be chaired by a minister of Cabinet rank and
have representatives at ministerial level from each of the relevant government
departments. This Inquiry was told that well-intentioned ministerial initiatives are
introduced piecemeal, and either do not fulfil their potential or divert staff from
other essential front-line work. This Board should be charged with ensuring that
the impact of all such initiatives that have a bearing on the well-being of children
and families is considered within this forum.
A National Agency for Children and Families
1.35 In addition, a National Agency for Children and Families should be created. The
chief executive of this agency – who may have the functions of a Children’s
Commissioner for England – would be responsible for servicing the Government’s
Children and Families Board. The National Agency for Children and Families
should:
• assess, and advise the Children and Families Board about, the impact on children
and families of proposed changes in policy;
• scrutinise new legislation and guidance issued for this purpose;
• advise on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
• advise on setting nationally agreed outcomes for children and how they might
best be achieved and monitored;
• ensure that policy and legislation are implemented at a local level and are
monitored through its regional office network;
• report annually to Parliament on the quality and effectiveness of services to
children and families, in particular on the safety of children;
• at its discretion, conduct serious case reviews or oversee the process if this task is
carried out by other agencies.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
8
At a local level
1.36 Clearly, it is for central government to make key decisions on overall policy,
legislation and the funding of services. However, it is unrealistic for service delivery
to be managed centrally. The managers of local services must be given the
responsibility to assess local need and to respond accordingly. However, where
the care and protection of children and the support of children and families is
concerned, this independence must not be pursued to the detriment of effective
joint working. I recognise that committee structures and job descriptions vary
between local authorities.
1.37 The future lies with those managers who can demonstrate the capacity to work
effectively across organisational boundaries. Such boundaries will always exist.
Those able to operate flexibly need encouragement, in contrast to those who
persist in working in isolation and making decisions alone. Such people must
either change or be replaced. The safeguarding of children must not be placed
in jeopardy by individual preference. The joint training of staff and the sharing of
budgets are likely to ensure an equality of desire and effort to make them work
effectively.
Committees for Children and Families
1.38 In order to secure strong local working relationships so that collaboration on the
scale of that which I envisage takes place, I propose that each local authority
with social services responsibilities should establish a Committee for Children and
Families, with members drawn from the relevant committees of the local authority,
the police authority and relevant boards and trusts of health services. This
committee will oversee the work of a Management Board for Services to Children
and Families.
Management Board for Services to Children and Families
1.39 In each local authority, the chief executive should chair a Management Board for
Services to Children and Families, made up of chief officers (or very senior officers)
from the police, social services, relevant health services, education, housing and the
probation service. The Management Board for Services to Children and Families will
be required to appoint a director of children and family services at local level. This
person will be responsible for ensuring service delivery, including the effectiveness
of local inter-agency working, which must also include working with voluntary
and private agencies. Each board must also establish a local forum to secure the
involvement of voluntary and private agencies, service users, including children,
and other contributors as appropriate. Special arrangements will have to be made
in London, to take account of the fact there are 33 London authorities.
Accountability
1.40 The relevant government inspectorates should be jointly required to inspect the
effectiveness of these arrangements.
1.41 In order to ensure coherence within this proposed structure, it should be a
requirement that each Management Board for Services to Children and Families
reports to its parent Committee for Children and Families. In turn, the Committee
for Children and Families will report through the regional structure to the National
Agency for Children and Families. The Children and Families Board should report
annually to Parliament on the state of services to children and families.
1.42 The purpose of these proposals is to secure a clear line of accountability for the
protection of children and for the well-being of families. Never again should people
in senior positions be free to claim – as they did in this Inquiry – ignorance of what
was happening to children. These proposals are designed to ensure that those who
manage services for children and families are held personally accountable for the
1 Introduction
9
effectiveness of these services, and for the arrangements their organisations put in
place to ensure that all children are offered the best protection possible.
Improvements to the exchange of information
1.43 Improvements to the way information is exchanged within and between agencies
are imperative if children are to be adequately safeguarded. Staff must be held
accountable for the quality of the information they provide. Information systems
that depend on the random passing of slips of paper have no place in modern
services. Each agency must accept responsibility for making sure that information
passed to another agency is clear, and the recipients should query any points of
uncertainty. In the words of the two hospital consultants who had care of Victoria:
“I cannot account for the way other people interpreted what I said.
It was not the way I would have liked it to have been interpreted.”
(Dr Ruby Schwartz)
“I do not think it was until I have read and re-read this letter that I
appreciated quite the depth of misunderstanding.”
(Dr Mary Rossiter)
The fact that an elementary point like this has to be made reflects the dreadful
state of communications which exposed Victoria to danger.
1.44 There can be no justification for hospitals in close proximity to each other failing
to access information about earlier patient contact. In this day and age, it must be
reasonable to expect the free exchange of information within the National Health
Service. The need for this is all the more critical because experience shows that
‘shopping around’ the health service is one of the favourite ploys of carers wishing
to evade suspicion about their treatment of their children.
1.45 Effective action designed to safeguard the well-being of children and families
depends upon sharing relevant information on an inter-agency basis. The following
contribution to one of the Phase Two seminars was compelling in this respect:
“Whenever we do a Part 8 case review ... we have this huge chronology
of information made available to the Panel and it is very frustrating
to read that ... a long way before that happened, a pattern of things
emerging, but knowing that at the time ... separate agencies held
those bits of information. So GPs will be seeing things, accident and
emergency will be seeing things, the police may be dealing with other
aspects of what is going on in that child’s life, and nobody is bringing
it together.”
1.46 However, I was told that the free exchange of information about children and
families about whom there are concerns is inhibited by the legislation on data
protection and human rights. It appears that, unless a child is deemed to be in
need of protection, information cannot be shared between agencies without staff
running the risk of contravening this legislation. This has two consequences: either
it deters information sharing, or it artificially increases concerns in order that they
can be expressed as the need for protection. This is a matter that the Government
must address. It is not a matter that can be tackled satisfactorily at local level.
A national children’s database
1.47 Those who deliberately harm children have a tendency to cover their tracks. Poor
record-keeping, doubts about the exchange of information between services, and
inadequate client information systems make that easy. We live in a highly mobile
society. Ninety million people pass through our ports of entry each year. Many
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
10
children experience several moves. I have considered the benefits of establishing
a national database on children. In the circumstances set out above, there is
much to be said in favour of a database covering all children. I was told that such
a database is technically feasible and that there are many much larger systems.
The benefit of such a database would be that every new contact with a child by
a member of staff from any of the key services would initiate an entry that would
build up a picture of the child’s health, developmental and educational needs.
I have recommended that the Government commission work to look into the
feasibility of such a national database, and this may result in pilot studies being
carried out.
Action now
1.48 While the introduction of the proposals set out above will require changing the
law, the vast majority of recommendations in this Report can be implemented
immediately. Some 82 of the 108 recommendations should be implemented within
six months. The Inquiry website received around three million hits in the period
30 September 2001 to 30 September 2002, and already a number of the key
agencies have reviewed their practices. In this respect, the Inquiry has already had
a considerable impact on service delivery. This momentum must be maintained
and, where necessary, speeded up, if the unacceptable practice I heard about is to
be eliminated. This Report is intended to have an impact on practice now – not
just some time in the future. Its recommendations cannot be deferred to some
bright tomorrow. Robust leadership must replace bureaucratic administration. The
adherence to inward-looking processes must give way to more flexible deployment
of staff and resources in the search for better results for children and families.
Service funding
1.49 Some elected councillors from Haringey and Brent insisted that the amount of
money allocated by central government to their authorities for children’s services
under the Standard Spending Assessment (SSA) was a result of the distribution
formula and did not reflect the needs of the local area. They claimed that because
80 per cent of the funding comes from central government, and because they
were being pressed to address central government priorities, they had little scope
to influence spending at a local level.
1.50 In this respect, local authorities portrayed themselves as being little more than the
agents of central government, rather than being independently elected corporate
bodies. If this is correct, it has potentially serious implications for the future of
local government in this country. Significantly, at the time that Ealing, Brent and
Haringey were spending well below their SSA on services for children, the national
picture was quite different, with most local authorities overspending the SSA on
services for children and families.
1.51 Nobody from these authorities could give a convincing explanation as to why
services for children and families were so significantly underfunded. For example,
in 1998/1999 the Brent SSA for children and families was £28 million, whereas the
amount spent was just £14.5 million. Since the death of Victoria, Ealing, Brent and
Haringey have increased their budgetary provision for children and families. It is my
opinion that elected councillors and senior managers in these authorities allowed
the services for children and families to become seriously under-funded, and they
did not properly consider the impact this would have upon their front-line services.
Eligibility criteria
1.52 The management of the social care of children and families represents one of the
most difficult challenges for local government. The variety and range of referrals,
together with the degree of risk and urgency, needs strong leadership, effective
decision-making, reliable record-keeping, and a regular review of performance.
1 Introduction
11
Sadly, many of those from social services who gave evidence seemed to spend a
lot of time and energy devising ways of limiting access to services, and adopting
mechanisms designed to reduce service demand.
1.53 The use of eligibility criteria to restrict access to services is not found either
in legislation or in guidance, and its ill-founded application is not something
I support. Only after a child and his or her home circumstances have been assessed
can such criteria be justified in determining the suitability of a referral, the degree
of risk, and the urgency of the response.
1.54 Local government in this country should be at the forefront of organisations serving
the public. Sadly, little I heard persuades me that this is so. Many of the procedures
that I heard about seemed to me to be self-serving – supporting the needs of the
organisation, rather than the public they are set up to serve. Local authorities should
take the lead in promoting social regeneration and combating social exclusion.
In this regard, I have recommended that local authorities become more closely
engaged with their local communities in defining local needs and the ways to meet
them. Little I heard in this Inquiry convinced me that local authorities accept that in
public service, the needs of the public must come first. This must change.
Availability of services
1.55 The availability of services provided by social services departments emerged as
a very important matter. The ‘out-of-office-hours’ teams in Ealing, Brent and
Haringey were involved with Victoria to varying degrees. Office hours cover, at
best, 40 hours of the working week. During the remaining 128 hours, a single
member of staff, possibly with little or no experience of services for children, is
frequently expected to cover all social care needs within an authority. Inevitably,
the intervention can only be limited until the full service is again available. As
families often experience problems during the times when they are most likely to
be together – during the evening and at weekends – it is clearly unsatisfactory to
provide services in this restricted way. In future, local authorities should be funded
to provide specialist services for children and families on a 24-hour basis, as do the
other ‘emergency’ services, such as the police and the health service.
The use of agency and locum staff
1.56 The practice of using a front-line ‘duty team’ with agency staff is totally
unacceptable. This was particularly apparent in the way Brent Social Services
managed its duty commitments. Furthermore, even the most able members of staff
working on duty should at all times have access to someone dedicated to the task
of managing the duty arrangements and supervising the work of the staff.
1.57 I was also concerned to learn that a locum junior hospital doctor, with little
knowledge of local child protection procedures, was left unsupported at the
Central Middlesex Hospital and allowed to handle alone Victoria’s discharge from
hospital. This is also totally unacceptable. No member of staff, from any of the
agencies, should be put in a position that places both them and their client, or
patient, in such a vulnerable position.
Training and supervision
1.58 In addition to promoting better practice immediately, I hope that this Report will
be used for the training of future generations of social workers, police officers and
doctors and nurses. There is a huge task to be undertaken to ensure that in each
of the services, staff are trained adequately to carry out their duties in the care
and protection of children and support to families. A balance between theoretical
teaching and practical training should be guaranteed on all training courses.
All staff appointed to any of the services where they will be working with children
and families must have adequate training for the positions they will fill. However,
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
12
along with this general requirement of competence to do the job, it is vital that all
staff have the benefit of a period of induction that covers, specifically, their roles in
protecting children and supporting families.
1.59 Supervision is the cornerstone of good social work practice and should be seen
to operate effectively at all levels of the organisation. In Haringey, the provision
of supervision may have looked good on paper, but in practice it was woefully
inadequate for many of the front-line staff. This must change. The same is true for
the police and the health services.
Practice guidance and documentation
1.60 I also heard much about front-line staff working with numerous volumes of
guidance, some of which was seriously out of date. In Ealing, the field work
manual was so out of date it did not include reference to the Children Act
1989. In Haringey, there were no fewer than 13 documents containing policies,
procedures and guidance to staff in relation to children’s services. It was the belief
of two senior staff managers from Haringey that some staff had difficulty in reading
practice guidance because of problems with literacy.
1.61 Judging by the material put before the Inquiry, the problem is less about the ability
of staff to read and understand guidelines, and more about the huge and dense
nature of the material provided for them. Therefore, the challenge is to provide
busy staff in each of the agencies with something of real practical help and of
manageable length. The test is simply one of ensuring the material actually helps
staff do their job.
The issue of race in relation to Victoria
1.62 Understandably, the agencies with whom Victoria came into contact have asked
the question: “If Victoria had been a white child, would she have been treated any
differently?” Having listened to the evidence before me, it is, even at this stage,
impossible to answer this question with any confidence. Much has been made
outside this Inquiry of the fact that two black people murdered Victoria, and a high
proportion of the staff who had contact with her were also black. But to dismiss
the possibility of racism on the basis of this superficial analysis of the circumstances
is to misunderstand the destructive effect that racism has on our society and its
institutions.
1.63 As Neil Garnham QC put it so perceptively in his opening statement:
“Assumption based on race can be just as corrosive in its effect as blatant
racism ... racism can affect the way people conduct themselves in other
ways. Fear of being accused of racism can stop people acting when
otherwise they would. Assumptions that people of the same colour,
but from different backgrounds, behave in similar ways can distort
judgments.”
He urged the Inquiry to “keep its antennae finely tuned” to the possible effects of
racial assumptions. This I have sought to do, and return to the subject in section 16.
Conclusion
1.64 Throughout this Inquiry, it has been my firm intention to produce a report that
is unambiguous, and has a set of recommendations that will strengthen the
safeguards for children. It is my hope that this Report will be read in its entirety.
It is only by doing this that readers will understand the full impact of the events
1 Introduction
13
surrounding Victoria’s life and death, the inter-relationships between them, and the
similarities of the issues emerging from the analysis of practice and organisational
factors in the three agencies charged with Victoria’s care.
1.65 Sadly, the Report is a vivid demonstration of poor practice within and between
social services, the police and the health agencies. It is also a stark reminder of
the consequences of ineffective and inept management. Too often it seemed that
too much time was spent deferring to the needs of Kouao and Manning, and not
enough time was spent on protecting a vulnerable and defenceless child. This must
change. However, this Report is no more than a summary of what was heard and
can neither rehearse nor condense the vast amount of the evidence that was put
before me. That material will remain available on the Inquiry’s website for at least
a year. (www.victoria-climbie-inquiry.org.uk)
1.66 It has felt as if Victoria has attended every step of this Inquiry, and it has been my
good fortune to have had the assistance of colleagues whose abilities have been
matched by their commitment to the task of doing justice to Victoria’s memory
and her enduring spirit, and to creating something positive from her suffering
and ultimate death. These colleagues have shared with me a determination that
the Inquiry should be open, fair and rigorous. Throughout, we have all kept a
clear focus on the facts and on finding out what happened to Victoria, why things
happened the way they did, and how such terrible events may be prevented in
the future. I am convinced that the answer lies in doing relatively straightforward
things well. Adhering to this principle will have a significant impact on the lives
of vulnerable children. It is the duty of those in authority to see that this happens.
Unfortunately, none of us can bring Victoria back, but we can all try to ensure that
some lasting benefit comes from her death, and that other children do not suffer a
similar fate.
1.67 This Inquiry was established under three Acts of Parliament. In this respect it is
probably unique. I am solely responsible for the content of this Report and any
weaknesses it may have. However, I am delighted that the four expert assessors,
Dr Nellie Adjaye, Donna Kinnair, John Fox and Nigel Richardson, endorse this
Report. The names of the whole Inquiry team are recorded in Annex 3. Each has
played their part to the full, and richly deserves the warm tribute which I gladly
pay them. They have been unfailing in the help and support which they have
given me. I am indebted to them. It is invidious to make mention of individuals,
because this has been a real team effort. But some of my colleagues have carried
an exceptionally heavy workload and done so cheerfully. They are Mandy Jacklin,
Secretary to the Inquiry; Neil Garnham QC, Counsel to the Inquiry; and Michael
Fitzgerald, Solicitor to the Inquiry. I am grateful to Neil Sheldon, Barrister, for
assisting me in marshalling evidential material, to Dr Valerie Brasse and Dr Susan
Shepherd for their assistance in drafting this Report, and to Paul Rees, the Director
of Communications.
1.68 It is the hope of the full Inquiry team that the horror of what happened to Victoria
will endure as a reproach to bad practice and be a beacon pointing the way to
securing the safety and well-being of all children in our society.
14
2 The Inquiry
15
2 The Inquiry
Why establish the Inquiry?
2.1 On 25 February 2000, Victoria Adjo Climbié died in the Intensive Care Unit
at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington. She died as a result of months of appalling
ill-treatment at the hands of two individuals who were supposed to be caring
for her.
2.2 On 12 January 2001 at the Central Criminal Court, Marie-Therese Kouao and
Carl John Manning were convicted of her murder. Both were sentenced to life
imprisonment. Victoria had been called ‘Anna’ by Kouao while she was in this
country. I decided early on that this Inquiry would call her by her proper name.
2.3 On 20 April 2001, I was appointed by the Secretary of State for Health and the
Secretary of State for the Home Department to conduct three statutory Inquiries.
Together they would be known as The Victoria Climbié Inquiry.
2.4 The first Inquiry was established under section 81 of the Children Act 1989. It was
concerned with the functions of local authority social services committees and the
way they relate to children. The second Inquiry was established under section 84
of the National Health Service Act 1977 and was concerned with matters arising
under that Act. The third Inquiry was established under section 49 of the Police Act
1996 and was concerned with policing.
2.5 The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference were as follows:
1. To establish the circumstances leading to and surrounding the death of Victoria
Climbié.
2. To identify the services sought or required by, or in respect of Victoria Climbié,
Marie-Therese Kouao and Carl Manning from local authorities in respect of their
social services functions, the Health bodies and the Police between the arrival of
Victoria Climbié and Marie-Therese Kouao in England in March 1999 and Victoria
Climbié’s death in February 2000.
3. To examine the way in which local authorities in respect of their social services
functions, the health bodies and the police:
(i) responded to those requests, or need for services
(ii) discharged their functions
(iii) co-operated with each other
(iv) co-operated with other services including the local education authorities and
the local housing authorities;
in respect of the three persons named above during the period referred to above
and thereafter.
4. To reach conclusions as to the circumstances leading to Victoria Climbié’s death
and to make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Health and to the
Secretary of State for the Home Department as to how such an event may, as far
as possible, be avoided in the future.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
16
5. To deliver a report of the Inquiry to the Secretary of State for Health and to
the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who will then arrange for its
publication.
The Inquiry panel
2.6 I appointed four assessors to help me to consider and analyse the evidence:
• Dr Nellie Adjaye, a Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and
a consultant paediatrician with the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust;
• John Fox, a detective superintendent and the head of the Specialist Investigations
Department in the Hampshire Constabulary;
• Donna Kinnair, a nurse and health visitor and formerly the strategic commissioner
for children’s services for the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Health Authority;
• Nigel Richardson, the assistant director of Children and Families for North
Lincolnshire Council.
2.7 The assessors gave advice on matters within their areas of expertise throughout
the Inquiry. Their knowledge and support were of enormous value and I am very
grateful to them, and to their employers for releasing them so that they could take
part in this important work.
2.8 We also had very beneficial advice and assistance on housing issues from Mike Smith,
head of Community Housing Services, Greenwich Council.
2.9 I appointed Mandy Jacklin as Secretary to the Inquiry. She was responsible for the
management of the overall work of the Inquiry. With the consent of the Attorney
General, I appointed Neil Garnham QC to be Counsel to the Inquiry, and Caroline
Gibson and Neil Sheldon to be junior Counsel to the Inquiry. Their role was to help
me in the investigation, advise me on matters of law and evidence, and present the
evidence to the Inquiry at its hearings. Michael Fitzgerald acted as Solicitor to the
Inquiry. A full list of those who worked on the Inquiry is in Annex 3.
Inquiry accommodation
2.10 The Inquiry was accommodated at Hannibal House, a government building
at Elephant and Castle, London. The floors used for Inquiry purposes were
substantially refurbished to provide secure accommodation for the Inquiry’s offices
and a well-equipped Inquiry room for the hearings. These floors were kept entirely
separate from the other occupiers of the building.
What form did the Inquiry take?
Public or private?
2.11 The two secretaries of state allowed me to decide whether the Inquiry should be
conducted in public or in private. After careful consideration, I decided it would
be a public inquiry. However, I reserved the right to hear evidence in private in
exceptional circumstances. I exercised that power on just one occasion, when
it was necessary for the Inquiry to hear evidence that involved the child of one
witness. I took the view that in order to protect the interests of the child, their
evidence should be heard in private.
Format?
2.12 I decided that the Inquiry would be divided into two phases. Phase One (Parts one
to four of this Report) would be mostly backward-looking. It would try to discover
what happened to Victoria while she was in this country and why it happened.
2 The Inquiry
17
Phase One would address paragraphs 1 to 3 of the Terms of Reference (see
paragraph 2.5), and look at the conclusions that could properly be drawn from
the evidence on those topics.
2.13 Phase Two (see Part five of this Report) would be forward-looking and examine what
recommendations might be made to avoid, as far as possible, a tragedy like this
happening again.
Adversarial or inquisitorial?
2.14 There is no statutory entitlement for any person to call witnesses, cross-examine or
make submissions in an Inquiry of this sort. However, it was for me to decide what
form the Inquiry should take, and I decided the Inquiry would be inquisitorial not
adversarial in nature. In Phase One, Counsel to the Inquiry would decide which
witnesses it was necessary to call to give evidence, and they would examine them.
Identifying Interested Parties and Represented Witnesses
2.15 A number of bodies and individuals expressed an interest in the work of the
Inquiry. Therefore, it was decided to recognise people who had a legitimate
interest in the work of the Inquiry as ‘Interested Parties’. Also, a number of
witnesses not represented as an Interested Party asked to be represented by
lawyers at the Phase One hearings. In every case, permission was granted and
these witnesses were known as ‘Represented Witnesses’. A list of Interested Parties
and their representatives and Represented Witnesses and their representatives can
be found in Annex 4.
2.16 Most Interested Parties were public bodies or individuals involved with Victoria’s
case in this country who wished to be involved in Phase One, and who I thought
could help the Inquiry with its work. At an early stage, we received an application
for Victoria’s parents, Francis and Berthe Climbié, to also be granted that status.
I decided that it would be right to grant that application, given the obvious human
interest any parent would have in an investigation into their child’s death. Mr and
Mrs Climbié also asked me to recommend to the Government that the cost of
their travelling to the UK and their accommodation here throughout Phase One
be met from the public purse. After careful reflection, I decided to make those
recommendations, and the Government accepted them.
2.17 I decided that, as a general rule, Interested Parties and those acting for Represented
Witnesses would not be allowed to call or cross-examine witnesses. I had indicated
at the preliminary meeting (described in more detail in paragraph 2.20) that
there might be exceptions to this general rule. However, I was only asked to make
such an exception once, and I granted the request. Counsel to the Inquiry agreed
to consider any requests for them to call additional witnesses and any requests
for particular lines of questioning to be put to witnesses. I indicated during
the preliminary meeting that if Counsel did not call such witnesses or ask such
questions, I would adjudicate on the need to do so. In fact, this was not necessary
and I am grateful to Counsel to the Inquiry and all the representatives for their
sensible co-operation in this regard.
2.18 Those representing Interested Parties and Represented Witnesses were allowed
to re-examine witnesses whom they represented. That re-examination was
time limited.
2.19 At the end of oral hearings, representatives of Interested Parties and Represented
Witnesses who wished to do so were allowed to make time-limited closing
submissions, which could be supplemented with written submissions.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
18
Preparing for the Inquiry
Preliminary meeting
2.20 On 30 May 2001, we held a preliminary meeting at Hannibal House and invited
everyone who had expressed an interest in the work of the Inquiry. The meeting
was open to the public. We began the meeting by holding a minute’s silence in
memory of Victoria.
2.21 At the meeting, I set out the arrangements I proposed to make for the running of
the Inquiry, and I invited comments on those arrangements. No one suggested
then, or in the weeks that followed, that the arrangements should be changed.
Therefore, the arrangements proposed at the meeting were put into effect.
Gathering witness statements
2.22 In order to structure the work in Phase One, a list of issues was produced which
reflected the Terms of Reference.
2.23 The Solicitor to the Inquiry wrote to everyone who might be able to give relevant
evidence, asking them to produce a witness statement. A questionnaire was
included that set out matters arising from the list of issues, which it was thought
they would be able to speak about. In most cases these requests were made
through the Interested Parties, and I am grateful for their assistance with this.
2.24 A bundle of witness statements was prepared by the secretariat and copies
were made available to Interested Parties. The Interested Parties made a written
statement that they understood they had to keep that material confidential and
only use it for the purposes of this Inquiry.
Gathering documents
2.25 The three statutes to which I have referred gave me power to require the
production of documents. The secretariat wrote to the relevant public bodies
asking them to produce all relevant documents. One of the more difficult tasks
that fell to the secretariat was managing the vast amount of documentation that
was produced in response.
2.26 This work was made particularly difficult because of the late supply of some
relevant material by some of the Interested Parties, and by others. For example,
Brent council was late providing some documents and at times I felt material was
drip-fed to us. Similarly, at one stage I was unhappy with the NSPCC’s provision
of documents. Documents which were supposedly lost were suddenly discovered,
and on one occasion it was only during witness examinations that it became clear
that documents had been given to the Inquiry in an edited form. However, in most
cases, including those of Brent and the NSPCC, the problems were temporary and
solved quickly due to the good sense and co-operation of those concerned.
2.27 I regret to say this was not always the case with Haringey council. I was so
concerned about the way Haringey was responding to requests for documents
that I issued a summons, in line with my powers under section 250 of the Local
Government Act 1972. The summons was directed to Haringey’s director of
social services requiring her to produce four identified documents and any other
documents relevant to the lessons learned by Haringey as a result of Victoria’s
death. From then on, there could be no confusion as to what the Inquiry required.
2.28 More than 650 new documents were produced in response to this summons.
Several times after this, Haringey produced even more documentation. This was
material that should have been produced, at the latest, by the date stated in the
2 The Inquiry
19
summons. I invited Haringey’s chief executive to attend the Inquiry and explain
Haringey council’s conduct. He did so, and expressed his embarrassment at what
had happened.
2.29 More material continued to be produced. I found it particularly disturbing that
documents directly relevant to Victoria’s case were found in a filing cabinet in the
office where her case had been handled, and in a locked storage area next to that
office. Haringey’s Counsel told me that her client’s embarrassment about these
discoveries was “off the scale”. I requested a further explanation from Haringey’s
chief executive. In the course of that explanation, I was told that to describe him as
“absolutely furious” about what had happened would be an understatement.
2.30 I have seriously considered whether Haringey’s method of dealing with its
documentation was the result of a deliberate attempt to frustrate the Inquiry’s
work, or simple incompetence. Having considered the observations of Haringey’s
chief executive, I have concluded it was incompetence.
2.31 The smooth functioning of Inquiries such as this will always depend on the
co-operation and assistance of the public bodies involved. The enormous
inconvenience that can be caused by the late submission of relevant material was
graphically illustrated by a document provided by the Social Services Inspectorate
(SSI) after the Phase One hearings had been completed.
2.32 I describe in paragraphs 2.37 to 2.41 the significance of the document in question
and the impact that its late submission had on the running of this Inquiry. For
present purposes, I simply wish to express my surprise and disappointment that the
work of the Inquiry was delayed in this manner.
2.33 The documents were read and assessed by the Inquiry team and bundles of
relevant material were produced. Copies of the bundles were made available to
Interested Parties in the same way referred to in paragraph 2.24. The material was
made available in hard copy form and a searchable, electronic index on disk was
produced to accompany the Inquiry bundle.
Phase One proceedings
Opening the Inquiry and hearing evidence
2.34 The hearings began on 26 September 2001, when Counsel to the Inquiry made his
opening statement. That statement identified the matters which the Inquiry would
need to focus on over the following months. In line with what had been said at the
preliminary meeting, a television crew was given access to the Inquiry on that day.
The next day, opening statements from the other Interested Parties were received.
2.35 The first witness, Francis Climbié, Victoria’s father, was called on 28 September
2001. After this, Counsel to the Inquiry called a further 158 witnesses, all of whom
gave their evidence on oath. In the case of four witnesses who had subsequently
moved abroad, it was decided that the most convenient and economic method of
obtaining their evidence was to use a video link between studios in their present
country of residence and a Department of Health building close to the Inquiry’s
premises. This evidence was recorded and the video recordings were played in the
public sessions of the Inquiry. The arrangements worked extremely well.
2.36 The written statements of a further 119 witnesses were put into evidence without
the need for them to attend the Inquiry. Most of the oral evidence was completed
by 4 February 2002. A list of the witnesses who were called to give evidence and
those whose statements were read into the evidence can be found in Annex 2.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
20
Final submissions from the Interested Parties and Counsel to the Inquiry were heard
on 18, 19 and 27 February 2002. Proceedings on the first two of those days were
also televised.
Reconvening Phase One hearings
2.37 I had expected the final submission on 27 February 2002 to mark the end of the
public hearings in Phase One. However, on the advice of Counsel to the Inquiry,
I chose not to close Phase One at that point because it was possible that further
matters might emerge which would require the taking of additional evidence.
2.38 This advice turned out to be crucial. On 27 February 2002, the SSI gave the
Inquiry a report of the Joint Review of Haringey Social Services. The Joint Review
had been conducted by the SSI and the Audit Commission and published in
November 1999.
2.39 It quickly became obvious that this document was not just relevant but potentially
greatly important to Phase One of the Inquiry. It was immediately distributed to the
Interested Parties and documents relevant to its preparation were sought from the
SSI and the Audit Commission. These documents filled a further six lever-arch files.
2.40 This additional material was read and analysed. Then Counsel to the Inquiry
advised that further witness statements should be obtained. The Inquiry was given
14 such statements, which were then circulated to the Interested Parties.
2.41 Having considered these additional statements, I reluctantly came to the view
that I had no option but to reconvene the Phase One public hearings in order
to take additional oral evidence. As a result, the Inquiry sat for two days on
9 and 10 July 2002. Four witnesses gave oral evidence subject to the same
procedures used before. Interested Parties and the SSI were given the opportunity
to make closing submissions on the new material, although not all Interested
Parties took up that opportunity.
2.42 The three statutes under which the Inquiry was established gave me the power to
call witnesses to attend and answer questions. It was necessary for me to exercise
that power on only three occasions. The first was in respect of Carole Baptiste,
the Haringey social work manager, who refused to agree to attend the Inquiry
voluntarily. She also disobeyed the summons I issued and, as a result, criminal
proceedings were begun against her. After this, she did attend and answered
questions put to her. However, I decided that the criminal proceedings should
go ahead.
2.43 I also issued summonses against Kouao and Manning. Kouao, who had refused to
co-operate with the Inquiry in any way, was brought from prison to the Inquiry
to give evidence in person. At first she refused to answer Counsel’s questions.
Eventually she was persuaded by him to give answers to some of the matters he
raised with her. Manning, by contrast, had co-operated throughout and had given
the Inquiry a witness statement when requested. It was arranged that he would
give his evidence by video link from the Combined Court Centre in Leeds. That
evidence was recorded and then played at the public hearings.
The involvement of broadcasters
2.44 A number of broadcasting organisations applied for access to the video evidence
of Manning. At the time of the recording of his evidence, I sought Manning’s
views on whether I should allow his evidence to be broadcast. He opposed it.
Having considered his views and the detailed oral and written submissions from
Counsel acting on the broadcasters’ behalf and from others, I decided to refuse
the application.
2 The Inquiry
21
Publishing evidence and data protection
2.45 All oral evidence was simultaneously transcripted using a system called Livenote.
The system proved very useful.
2.46 I believed it was important that the Inquiry should conduct its work as openly and
transparently as possible. I wanted to give those with an interest in the evidence
as much access to it as possible, at the same time ensuring the fair conduct of
the proceedings. In particular, I wanted those who might be able to contribute to
Phase Two to have a convenient way of learning about the issues being raised in
Phase One.
2.47 As a result, an Inquiry website was established (www.victoria-climbieinquiry.
org.uk). All statements provided to the Inquiry and transcripts of each
day’s evidence were placed on this website. The website received around three
million hits in the period 30 September 2001 to 30 September 2002. The average
length of the website’s ‘visitor sessions’ was 20 minutes (compared with an internet
average of three minutes). This suggests that members of the public were using
the site for detailed reading, rather than out of a passing interest.
2.48 Before statements and transcripts were published in this manner, the Inquiry
contacted the assistant data protection commissioner. It was agreed with him that
the Inquiry constituted legal proceedings for the purposes of section 35 of the
Data Protection Act 1998, and that the Inquiry might lawfully process non-sensitive
personal data without the consent of the data subject. It was made clear that
telephone numbers, addresses and names of family members would be removed
from witness statements before they were placed on the website, and that the
security of such information would be strictly maintained by the Inquiry team.
It was confirmed that the Inquiry could also lawfully process sensitive personal
data without the explicit consent of the person concerned.
2.49 The assistant data protection commissioner agreed that statements and transcripts
of the public hearings would be placed on the website but would not contravene
the Eighth Data Protection Principle. The Principle restricts the communication of
personal information to countries which have adequate protection for personal
information in place. It was in the public interest to make this information
available, especially to those who would be able to make a contribution to Phase
Two of the Inquiry.
Legal expenses
2.50 The Inquiry does not have any power to order payment of legal costs from public
funds or by any other party. However, the Government indicated to me that if
I made a recommendation that the costs of an Interested Party or Represented
Witness should be met out of public funds, then it would be sympathetically
considered. I made such a recommendation for one Interested Party and two
Represented Witnesses and on each occasion the Government accepted my
recommendation.
Dealing with potential criticism
2.51 I made clear at the preliminary meeting that some individuals or organisations
could be criticised in this Report, and that out of fairness I would adopt a procedure
that allowed those concerned to address any criticism. The procedures for the
representation of Interested Parties and Represented Witnesses and the preparation
of their statements seemed to me to already meet those requirements. However,
I proposed taking an extra step to ensure proceedings were conducted fairly.
2.52 I made it clear that I would make no findings significantly adverse to an individual
or organisation without ensuring that they first had a proper opportunity to answer
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
22
the criticism. Wherever it was possible to do so, the witness would be informed by
the Inquiry team of the nature of the potential criticism before they were called to
give evidence. Where that was not possible, either because of the time at which
grounds for the potential criticism emerged or otherwise, arrangements would be
made either for the witness to respond in writing, or for the witness to be recalled
so that they could answer the criticism. At the preliminary meeting, I made it clear
that I would particularly welcome representations on those procedures. I received
no suggestions indicating a need to amend the proposed arrangements and so
they were put into practice during the course of the Inquiry.
2.53 Notices of potential criticism were sent to individuals or public bodies where it
appeared they may be criticised for their conduct in relation to matters covered
by the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference. Each witness was given the chance to address
these points during the course of their evidence. The Solicitor to the Inquiry wrote
to the relevant party afterwards to make sure they felt they had been given a fair
chance to respond. No one said that they had not.
Phase Two
Preparing for Phase Two
2.54 The fourth paragraph of our Terms of Reference requires us to make
recommendations as to how a tragedy like this could be avoided in the future.
2.55 It was apparent early on that, in responding to this, we were likely to have to
consider making two different types of recommendations. The first type would be
addressed to the particular circumstances of Victoria’s case and to the events that
occurred in Ealing, Brent and Haringey while Victoria lived there. The second type
would be recommendations with wider potential impact and that might affect
relevant agencies across the country.
2.56 In the course of Phase One, we were likely to become familiar with practice and
procedure in certain parts of London, but it would be an obvious mistake to assume
that these same practices and procedures were necessarily followed elsewhere.
We are not charged with conducting a review of the whole child protection system
in this country. However, we had to devise a way for a wider audience to test the
ideas prompted by Victoria’s case so that they could be used elsewhere.
Providing a framework for Phase Two
2.57 Phase Two was designed to be a way for such wider consideration to happen.
In order to give some shape to our thinking on these subjects, the Inquiry produced
a provisional framework document for Phase Two in late October 2001. That
framework was based on our reading of the documents and witness statements
gathered for Phase One. It identified broad issues, aspects of which we believed
might be worthy of consideration in Phase Two. We asked for comments on the
structure and contents of that framework and suggestions for topics that should be
considered. We received a large number of responses to that framework document
and, in the light of those responses, we drew up a discussion paper, which we
published on the website and circulated widely.
2.58 The issues were addressed in two ways. First, we invited written submissions from
the public at large. We anticipated that not all of the submissions we received were
likely to help us, so we made it clear in the beginning that only those that were
relevant and valuable would be treated as evidence to the Inquiry. In fact, out of
over 200 submissions we received, we accepted 77 as evidence and published
them on the website. I am very grateful to all those who took the trouble to send
in written submissions.
2 The Inquiry
23
2.59 Second, the Inquiry organised a series of five seminars, which were held in March
and April 2002. They were conducted in public at the Inquiry’s premises at Hannibal
House. The seminars covered the following aspects of working with children:
• Ensuring that children and their families receive the full range of services they are
entitled to;
• Making sure that children and families in need of extra care and support are
identified at an early stage;
• Carrying out a proper assessment of the needs of children and families and
developing plans to achieve the best outcomes for them;
• Making sure that key agencies are able to deliver an effective service;
• Monitoring the performance of the key agencies.
2.60 A wide range of people with an interest in our work were invited to the seminars.
These included practitioners and managers from social services, the police, health
services, academics, lawyers and commentators. They were chosen from those
who had responded to our framework document and discussion paper, and from
those not previously involved in the Inquiry. A full list of those who took part in the
seminars can be found in Annex 5. The seminars were chaired by Neil Garnham
QC and attended by the assessors and myself. They were a most valuable source of
ideas, and are discussed further in section 17 of this Report. I am most grateful to
all those who took part.
Closing the Inquiry
2.61 On 31 July 2002, I formally closed the evidence-gathering process of the Inquiry.
No material received by the Inquiry after this date has been considered for the
purposes of preparing this Report.
24
3 Victoria’s story
25
3 Victoria’s story
3.1 This section looks in detail at the interaction between Victoria, Kouao and
Manning, and the various professionals they came into contact with during the
course of Victoria’s life in this country. It gives a brief account of the evidence
received by the Inquiry about Victoria’s background. It also looks at the way she
was treated by people who were supposed to have assumed responsibility for her
welfare while she was in this country.
Victoria meets Kouao
3.2 Victoria Adjo Climbié was born near Abidjan in the Ivory Coast on 2 November
1991. She was the fifth of seven children and, according to her parents, she had
a healthy and happy early childhood. She started school at the age of six and
showed herself to be intelligent and articulate. She seems to have been a child
who stood out.
3.3 Perhaps this was why Victoria came to the attention of her father’s aunt,
Marie-Therese Kouao, when she turned up at the Climbié house in October 1998.
Kouao had lived in France for some years but was visiting the Ivory Coast to attend
the funeral of her brother. She told Mr and Mrs Climbié that she wished to take
a child back to France with her and arrange for his or her education. Apparently,
Victoria was happy to be chosen.
3.4 In fact, Victoria was a late substitute for another young girl called Anna whom
Kouao had originally intended to take. However, Anna’s parents appear to have
had second thoughts. This would explain why the ‘daughter’ named on the
French passport used by Kouao and Victoria to gain entry into the UK was called
‘Anna’. This was also the name by which Victoria was known throughout her life
in this country.
3.5 Victoria’s parents’ reasons for allowing her to travel to Europe with Kouao fall
outside the Terms of Reference of this Inquiry. It is not a matter I will be dealing
with, except to observe that I have seen evidence which shows that entrusting
children to relatives living in Europe who can offer financial and educational
opportunities unavailable in the Ivory Coast is not uncommon in Victoria’s
parents’ society.
3.6 After leaving her parents’ house, Victoria travelled first to another part of the Ivory
Coast, where she stayed with Kouao’s brother. Shortly afterwards, probably some
time in November 1998, she and Kouao flew to Paris.
Victoria in France
3.7 Victoria spent approximately five months in France. It is possible that she lived in
Rue George Meliés, Villepinte, which was the address given by Kouao to Ealing
Social Services shortly after they arrived in the UK. However, on other occasions
she gave a different address, in Tremblay-en-France. There is little credible evidence
available concerning Kouao’s background, but it appears from documents the
Inquiry has seen that her husband, whom she divorced, died in 1995. Before
Victoria arrived, according to French social services, Kouao lived with her three
sons, claiming welfare benefits.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
26
3.8 In the beginning, Kouao seemed prepared to honour her promise to make sure
Victoria received a proper education. Shortly after her arrival in France, Victoria was
enrolled at the Jean Moulin primary school in Villepinte. However, by December
1998, Kouao began to receive formal warnings from the school about Victoria’s
absenteeism. The situation became serious enough by February 1999 for the
school to issue a Child at Risk Emergency Notification. A social worker became
involved and she reported a difficult ‘mother and child relationship’ between
Victoria and Kouao.
3.9 Some of Victoria’s absences from school were justified by medical certificates, all
of which said she needed to rest. When she was at school, staff worried about
Victoria’s tendency to fall asleep in class. As a result, the school formed the view
that Victoria was clinically unwell and being monitored and treated by doctors.
The head teacher, Monsieur Donnet, also recalled Kouao mentioning that Victoria
was suffering from some form of dermatological condition.
3.10 Some time in the spring of 1999, Kouao gave the school notice that she was
removing Victoria so she could receive “treatment” in London. The home address
of Esther Ackah was given as a forwarding address. Ms Ackah was a distant relative
of Kouao’s and the two had been in intermittent contact for the previous two
years. When Victoria went to say goodbye to her classmates on 25 March 1999,
Monsieur Donnet noticed that Victoria had a shaven head and was wearing a wig.
3.11 Why Kouao decided to leave France for the UK is unclear. For a long while before
leaving, she had been claiming benefits that she was not entitled to. The French
benefits agency was trying to recover money for these benefits, and this could
have influenced her decision.
Victoria arrives in the UK
3.12 Kouao and Victoria boarded a flight from Paris to London on 24 April 1999.
They travelled on Kouao’s French passport, in which Victoria was described as her
daughter. The picture in the passport was not of Victoria but ‘Anna’, the child
she had replaced. The two children did not look particularly similar so it is likely
that Victoria was made to wear a wig so she looked more like the child in the
photograph.
3.13 Kouao and Victoria travelled as EU citizens, so no immigration record of their arrival
exists. However, the date they travelled can be established by the airline ticket that
was later shown to Ealing Social Services by Kouao as proof of her identity. Kouao also
presented documentation from the French travel company that arranged the trip.
3.14 When they arrived in the UK, Kouao and Victoria went to Acton and moved into a
double room in a bed and breakfast in Twyford Crescent. The reservation had been
made in France and lasted until 1 May 1999.
3.15 At about 4.30pm on 25 April 1999, Victoria and Kouao paid an unannounced
visit to Ms Ackah. Ms Ackah had just come home from work when she heard the
doorbell ring at her house in Hanwell, west London. Victoria was introduced to
her as ‘Anna’. Despite being somewhat taken aback by their presence, Ms Ackah
invited Kouao and Victoria inside.
3.16 The first thing Ms Ackah noticed about Victoria was that she was wearing a wig.
This was also remarked upon by Ms Ackah’s daughter, Grace Quansah, who
joined her in a visit to see Victoria and Kouao later that day. Ms Quansah removed
the wig from Victoria’s head to discover that she had no hair and her scalp was
3 Victoria’s story
27
covered with patchy marks. She also thought Victoria looked rather small and frail,
but neither she nor her mother noticed anything inappropriate or disturbing about
Victoria’s behaviour or her interaction with Kouao at this stage.
3.17 The following day, Kouao and Victoria visited Ealing’s Homeless Persons’ Unit
because they needed somewhere to live when their week in Twyford Crescent ran
out. The unit agreed to provide them with accommodation in a hostel situated at
Nicoll Road, Harlesden, and they moved in around 1 May 1999.
The first warning signs
3.18 Over the next few weeks, Victoria and Kouao attended Ealing Social Services several
times to collect subsistence payments and, on one occasion, to complain about
the standard of their accommodation. During this period, concerns first started to
emerge. A number of Ealing staff who saw Kouao and Victoria together during May
1999 noticed a marked difference between Kouao’s appearance (she was always
well dressed) and that of Victoria (who was far scruffier). Deborah Gaunt, who saw
the two of them together on 24 May 1999, went as far as to say that she thought
Victoria looked like an “advertisement for Action Aid”.
3.19 It is unclear how Victoria passed her days during the first month she spent in
the Nicoll Road hostel. No effort was made, either by Kouao or by Ealing Social
Services, to enrol her in any form of educational or daycare activity, and there is
no evidence to indicate she had any friends or playmates.
3.20 On 8 June 1999, Kouao took Victoria to a GP surgery on Acton Lane, Harlesden.
Here she was seen by the practice nurse, Grace Moore. Nurse Moore did not carry
out a physical examination of Victoria because she was reported not to have any
current health problems or complaints. She felt there were “no child protection
concerns that required follow up or reporting to other agencies”.
3.21 Shortly afterwards, Victoria began to show what may have been early signs of
deliberate physical harm. Ms Ackah, who had not seen Victoria since her visit six
weeks earlier, bumped into her and Kouao on the street on or around 14 June
1999. Victoria was wearing a dress with long sleeves, leaving only her face and
hands exposed. Ms Ackah noticed a fresh scar on Victoria’s right cheek, which
Kouao told her had been caused when Victoria fell on an escalator.
Victoria meets Manning
3.22 Later that same day, Victoria met Manning for the first time. He had been driving
a bus boarded by Kouao four days before and the two had fallen into conversation.
According to Manning, he gave Kouao his telephone number and she called him
a few days later inviting him to visit her at Nicoll Road. This appears to have been
the start of their relationship. It lasted until their arrest just over eight months later.
Anonymous telephone call
3.23 Ms Ackah was sufficiently concerned by what she had seen of Victoria in the
street to visit Nicoll Road on 17 June 1999. She thought the accommodation was
unsuitable for a child because it was dirty, cramped and ill-equipped. She also
thought Victoria had lost weight since she had last seen her. A Ghanaian man was
present and he told Ms Ackah he was concerned about the way Kouao treated
Victoria. The following day, Ms Ackah made the first of her two anonymous
telephone calls to Brent Social Services.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
28
Victoria and the childminder
3.24 By the middle of June, Victoria was spending the majority of her days being looked
after by Priscilla Cameron, an experienced, but unregistered, childminder. Kouao
approached Mrs Cameron when she (Kouao) got a job at the Northwick Park
Hospital on 8 June 1999. Victoria’s history was taken by Dr Rhys Beynon at the
Central Middlesex Hospital on 14 July 1999 from Mrs Cameron’s daughter, Avril.
His notes record that Mrs Cameron had been caring for Victoria for the previous
five weeks. Typically, Victoria would arrive around 7am and not be picked up until
the evening, sometimes as late as 10pm.
3.25 There is nothing to indicate that Victoria was treated with anything other than
kindness and generosity by Mrs Cameron during the days she spent at her house.
She would watch television, draw, play and often took a nap after lunch. Her
English improved and she appears to have struck up a good relationship with
Mrs Cameron’s adult son, Patrick, whom she showed how to dance. Mrs Cameron
provided all her meals on the days Victoria came to stay.
3.26 Mrs Cameron was not greatly impressed by the way Victoria was treated by
Kouao. She noticed that Kouao would often speak very harshly to Victoria. On one
occasion, when Mrs Cameron mentioned to Kouao that Victoria would sometimes
move household objects around when she should not, she was shocked to hear
Kouao shout at Victoria that she was a “wicked girl”, something she repeated on
numerous occasions. Her unease was increased by a conversation she had with a
woman she referred to as “Nigerian Mary”, who asked Mrs Cameron what it was
she said to Kouao that made her beat Victoria every night. Both Mrs Cameron and
her son, Mr Cameron, recalled that Victoria would become very quiet and reserved
when Kouao arrived at the house to take her home. Victoria tended to look down
at the floor, rubbing her hands together, whenever Kouao was present.
3.27 On several occasions, Victoria turned up at Mrs Cameron’s house with a number
of small cuts to her fingers. When questioned about them, Kouao said they had
been caused by Victoria playing with razor blades. Mr Cameron also noticed marks
to Victoria’s face, although these were not serious and he thought they could have
been caused by ordinary childish rough and tumble.
Kouao and Victoria move in with Manning
3.28 Kouao’s relationship with Manning developed quickly. On 6 July 1999, Victoria and
Kouao moved into his flat at 267 Somerset Gardens. The flat was really no more
than a small bedsit. There was a separate bathroom and kitchen area, but only one
room for all three people to sleep in. The bedsit contained two sofa beds. Manning
said Victoria slept on one of them, and he and Kouao slept on the other. This
arrangement continued until October, when Victoria’s sofa bed was thrown out
and she began to spend her nights in the bathroom.
3.29 There is some evidence to suggest that Victoria’s physical abuse increased
considerably soon after she moved into Manning’s flat. Both Ms Ackah and
Mrs Cameron had seen marks on Victoria’s face and fingers before July, but the
injuries she was suffering from when she turned up at Mrs Cameron’s house on
the evening of 13 July 1999 seem to have been of a different order.
3.30 According to Mrs Cameron, Kouao was in an agitated state when she turned up
on her doorstep that evening. She asked Mrs Cameron to take Victoria “for good”
because apparently Manning was not prepared to tolerate Victoria living with him.
Mrs Cameron refused but agreed to take Victoria in for one night because “the
3 Victoria’s story
29
poor child was looking so ill”. Kouao then presented Mrs Cameron with two large
bags full of Victoria’s clothes.
3.31 When she arrived, Victoria was wearing a baseball cap pulled down over her brow.
When Mrs Cameron removed it, she saw what she took to be a burn the size of a
50 pence piece on Victoria’s face. Mr Cameron also noticed three circular marks
on Victoria’s lower right jaw which looked to him “like injuries that had been
healing for a little while”. Both he and Mrs Cameron noticed Victoria’s eyes were
bloodshot, and Mrs Cameron also observed a loose piece of skin hanging from her
right eyelid. Mrs Cameron’s opinion as to the likely cause of these injuries is shown
by the fact she asked Kouao who had burned and beaten Victoria. Kouao replied
that all the injuries were self-inflicted.
3.32 Manning’s account offers a different explanation. He said Victoria began to suffer
from urinary incontinence very soon after she came to live in his flat. He told
the police that this prompted him to hit Victoria. He recalled that he began by
slapping her, but by the end of July he had started using his fist. It is highly likely
that at least some of the injuries observed by the Camerons on the night of 13 July
1999 were the result of deliberate physical harm.
3.33 Mrs Cameron gave Victoria a clean pair of pyjamas and put her to bed. Later that
evening, she heard groaning coming from the room and went in to see what was
the matter. Victoria was asleep but Mrs Cameron saw that her face was swollen
and her fingers were oozing pus. Mrs Cameron called her daughter Avril to come
and look. They agreed that Victoria had to be taken to hospital.
3.34 The next morning, Avril Cameron took Victoria to see Marie Cader, a French
teacher at her sons’ school. She wanted to discover the cause of the injuries as well
as get them treated. Ms Cader noticed injuries to Victoria’s face and fingers, but
Victoria was reluctant to talk about how she got them. She advised Ms Cameron to
take Victoria to hospital.
Victoria’s first visit to hospital
3.35 Ms Cameron took Victoria to the accident and emergency department of
the Central Middlesex Hospital around 11am on 14 July. Victoria was seen
by Dr Beynon within an hour of her arrival. Dr Beynon took a history from
Ms Cameron which, together with the results of a basic examination of Victoria,
concerned him enough to refer the matter to a paediatric registrar. In his view
there was a “strong possibility” that this was a case of non-accidental injury.
3.36 The paediatric registrar who saw her next was Dr Ekundayo Ajayi-Obe. She performed
a more extensive physical examination than Dr Beynon and discovered a large
number of injuries to Victoria’s body, which she recorded on a set of body maps.
She formed the view that at least some of Victoria’s injuries might be non-accidental.
Dr Ajayi-Obe arranged for Victoria to be admitted overnight and called Brent Social
Services to inform them. The police were told and Victoria was placed under police
protection at 5.20pm. The medical notes record the instruction that there were to be
no unsupervised visits by Victoria’s mother.
3.37 That evening, a very agitated and displeased Kouao discovered from the Camerons
that Victoria had been admitted to the Central Middlesex Hospital. She went to the
hospital and was there when Dr Ruby Schwartz saw Victoria as part of her evening
ward round. As a result of her examination that evening, Dr Schwartz concluded
Victoria was suffering from scabies.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
30
3.38 Due to the infectious nature of scabies, Victoria was nursed in isolation for the rest
of her stay on the ward. Victoria was extremely distressed to see Ms Cameron leave
earlier that evening, but then seemed to settle down and, apart from wetting the
bed, she passed a fairly uneventful night. The next morning, after the police had
withdrawn their protection, Kouao returned to the hospital and left with Victoria.
3.39 The first agency they visited on leaving hospital was Ealing Social Services’ Acton
Area Office. Kouao left Victoria in the waiting room on her own for over an hour,
much to the annoyance of a social worker named Pamela Fortune. They spent that
night in a hotel in Wembley before returning to Somerset Gardens the next day.
3.40 On the way, they stopped off at the Camerons’ house to collect Victoria’s clothes.
Mrs Cameron tried to speak to Victoria but she would not answer her. Mr Cameron
was also there and recalled that Victoria seemed “totally different” from other
times he had seen her. She would not smile at him and she did not respond when
he said hello to her in French. The clothes were retrieved and Kouao and Victoria
left. Apart from one occasion when Mrs Cameron saw Kouao and Victoria walking
together down the street, the Camerons never saw either of them again.
Victoria’s second visit to hospital
3.41 Just over a week later on 24 July 1999, Victoria was back in hospital. This time
it was the North Middlesex Hospital and Kouao who brought her in. Her most
urgent injury was a serious scald to the face, which Kouao said was caused by
Victoria placing her head under the hot tap in the bathroom to try and relieve the
itching caused by scabies. According to one of the versions of events put forward
by Kouao, she had been asleep in bed at around midday when a scream from
the bathroom woke her up. Victoria’s burns were so serious she was admitted to
the paediatric ward – known as Rainbow ward – where she stayed for the next
13 nights.
3.42 At about 11pm on 24 July 1999, Dr Simone Forlee, the senior house officer who
first examined her, explained the position to Haringey Social Services. A more
detailed referral was made three days later by Karen Johns, an Enfield social worker
based at the hospital. As a result, a strategy meeting was held at Haringey’s
offices on 28 July 1999 and Victoria’s case was allocated to a social worker
– Lisa Arthurworrey.
3.43 A number of medical staff who cared for Victoria during her stay on Rainbow ward
noticed marks on her body which they considered were signs of serious deliberate
physical harm. Nurse Beatrice Norman saw what she thought was a belt buckle
mark on Victoria’s shoulder, and Nurse Millicent Graham noticed a mark which
made her suspect Victoria had been deliberately burned. Nurse Grace Pereira, who
bathed Victoria the following day, saw marks which led her to believe Victoria had
been hit with a belt and bitten.
3.44 It seems Victoria had started to suffer serious deliberate harm by late July 1999.
This is also indicated by her behaviour when Kouao and Manning came to visit
her on the ward. She gave the impression of being frightened of them. When
Kouao came onto the ward, Victoria changed from being lively and vivacious to
withdrawn and timid, and the relationship between her and Kouao was recorded
in the ward’s critical incident log as being like that of “master and servant”.
On one occasion she was seen to wet herself while standing to attention in front
of a seated Kouao, who was apparently telling her off.
3 Victoria’s story
31
3.45 Her reaction to Manning when he came to visit seems to have been similar. He said
Victoria seemed “wary of his presence” and was anxious to keep her distance from
him. Neither he nor Kouao ever brought Victoria anything in the way of clothes,
food, toys or treats throughout the fortnight she spent in hospital.
3.46 When Kouao was not around, Victoria seems to have enjoyed her time on Rainbow
ward. She certainly became something of a favourite of several of the nurses,
including Nurse Lucienne Taub, a French speaker whom Dr Mary Rossiter, the
hospital’s named doctor for child protection, had asked to befriend Victoria. She
liked to dress up and was given clothes to dress up in by the nursing staff. Nurse
Taub would take her to see the babies in the neo-natal ward and bought her
sweets and treats. According to Dr Rossiter, she was a “little ray of sunshine”.
3.47 Apart from Kouao and Manning, the only other visitors Victoria received while in
the North Middlesex Hospital were Ms Arthurworrey and PC Karen Jones. They
visited on 6 August 1999 and, after speaking briefly to Victoria, decided it would
be appropriate for her to be discharged back into Kouao’s care.
3.48 The brief interlude in her life in this country during which Victoria was safe, happy
and well cared for ended. She left the North Middlesex Hospital with Kouao at
approximately 8pm on 6 August 1999. They went straight back to Manning’s flat
in Somerset Gardens where Victoria was to spend the remaining seven months of
her life.
The first social worker visit
3.49 During the course of those seven months, Victoria’s contact with the outside world
was limited and sporadic. Professionals saw her on only four separate occasions
during this period. The first two times were home visits made by Ms Arthurworrey
to Somerset Gardens. The other two occasions were at the beginning of November
when Kouao took Victoria to Haringey Social Services’ North Tottenham District
Office. Here Kouao made, then later retracted, allegations that Victoria had been
sexually harmed by Manning.
3.50 No representative from the Tottenham Child and Family Centre, to which she had
been referred by Haringey Social Services on 5 August 1999, ever visited Victoria
at Manning’s flat. She was registered in November at the health centre that stands
approximately 100 yards from Manning’s flat, but she never attended it and none
of the medical staff who worked there ever saw her.
3.51 The first of Ms Arthurworrey’s two visits to Somerset Gardens took place on
16 August 1999, shortly after Victoria was discharged from the North Middlesex
Hospital. She found her to be smartly dressed and well cared for. Victoria spent most
of the visit playing with a doll – one of a number of toys seen by Ms Arthurworrey.
Although Ms Arthurworrey did not talk to Victoria during the course of this visit,
she formed the impression that Victoria was happy and seemed like the “little ray of
sunshine” described by the nurses. As far as Ms Arthurworrey was concerned, the
priority was to move Kouao and Victoria to alternative accommodation, because she
did not think their current living arrangements were satisfactory.
3.52 Ms Arthurworrey did not ask Kouao how Victoria was spending her days at this
stage. She was not enrolled in a school and there is no indication she participated
in any form of daycare activity. Kouao no longer worked at the Northwick Park
Hospital (her employment had been terminated due to prolonged absences) and
so Manning’s assumption that Kouao and Victoria spent most of their time in his
bedsit seems correct.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
32
Mr and Mrs Kimbidima
3.53 Some time in July, probably just before Victoria was admitted to the Central
Middlesex Hospital, Kouao approached a man on the street and engaged him in
conversation. They discovered that they both spoke French and the man, Julien
Kimbidima, invited Kouao back to his house so that she could meet his wife,
Chantal. Kouao visited the Kimbidimas again on 2 August 1999 (to celebrate their
daughter’s birthday) and appears to have struck up a friendship with Mr Kimbidima
in particular.
3.54 Shortly after Victoria’s discharge from the North Middlesex Hospital, Kouao took
her to meet Mr and Mrs Kimbidima for the first time. Victoria appeared quiet and
withdrawn, although she started to cry when Kouao told Mrs Kimbidima that
Victoria was not her real daughter. Judging by the strength with which Kouao
complained to the Kimbidimas, Victoria’s incontinence had become serious by
this stage.
3.55 The Kimbidimas saw Victoria several times over the following months, and
Mrs Kimbidima sometimes looked after Victoria when Kouao was otherwise
engaged. When at the Kimbidimas’ house, Victoria would, on Kouao’s instruction,
sit quietly in the corner unless instructed to do otherwise. Once or twice she wet
herself while at their house but she was never incontinent of faeces. According
to Mrs Kimbidima, Kouao would shout at Victoria all the time and never showed
her much affection. At one stage, Kouao told her that Victoria was possessed by
an evil spirit.
Victoria and the church
3.56 Kouao visited church towards the end of August and this helps explain why she
began to believe Victoria was possessed. Since her arrival in the UK, Kouao had
shown an interest in attending church. According to Pat Mensah, a Baptist pastor
based at a church in north west London, Kouao started visiting her church on a
fairly regular basis from the middle of May 1999. The move to Manning’s flat in
early July may have prompted her to look elsewhere. On 29 August 1999, Kouao
and Victoria attended the Mission Ensemble pour Christ, a church which meets in
a hall close to Borough High Street.
3.57 The pastor here was Pascal Orome. He had a detailed recollection of Victoria’s
appearance at this stage. Despite the season, Victoria was dressed in heavy clothing
that covered all of her body apart from her head and hands. He noticed wounds
on both and advised Kouao to cut Victoria’s hair shorter so that the injuries to
her scalp could “breathe”. Kouao told him about Victoria’s incontinence and he
formed the view that she was possessed by an evil spirit. He advised that the
problem could be solved by prayer.
3.58 Two weeks after her first visit to his church, Kouao phoned Pastor Orome and told
him that, following a brief improvement, Victoria’s incontinence had returned.
He claims he reproached her for being insufficiently vigilant and allowing the evil
spirit to return. Whatever its cause, the incontinence appears to have continued
throughout the rest of September because it was in October, according to
Manning, that the sofa bed Victoria had been sleeping on was thrown out and
she began to spend her nights in the bathroom.
3 Victoria’s story
33
The second social worker visit
3.59 The bathroom in Manning’s flat was small and the door opened out onto the living
room. There was no window and, although there was a heater, it was either broken
or unused. When Victoria was inside, the door was kept closed and the light was
switched off. She began to spend her nights alone, cold and in pitch darkness.
3.60 However, Ms Arthurworrey noticed nothing untoward when she made the second
of her two pre-announced home visits to Somerset Gardens on 28 October 1999.
The purpose of her visit was to explain to Kouao that the housing application,
made after the previous visit in August, had been turned down and to discuss the
remaining options. Victoria seems to have been all but ignored during this visit as
she sat on the floor playing with a doll. The fact that she was still not attending
school was raised during the conversation, but no questions seem to have been
asked about how Victoria was spending her days.
3.61 At his trial, Manning described this second visit of Ms Arthurworrey’s as “a put up
job”. It seems that the flat had been made especially clean and tidy in preparation
for the visit. This seems to be consistent with Ms Arthurworrey’s evidence: she said
she neither saw nor smelt any evidence of Victoria’s incontinence. According to
Manning, Victoria was told how to behave in front of Ms Arthurworrey. Victoria
was said to be sleeping on the remaining sofa bed, with Manning and Kouao
sharing a newly-purchased bed on the other side of the room. At the end of the
visit, Victoria suddenly jumped up and shouted at Ms Arthurworrey. She said words
to the effect that she did not respect her or her mother, and that they should be
given a house. This behaviour surprised Ms Arthurworrey at the time.
3.62 During the course of their conversation, Ms Arthurworrey told Kouao that the
council only accommodated children who were “at risk of serious harm” and that,
in the council’s view, Victoria was not at such risk. It may be no coincidence that
within three days of this conversation, Kouao contacted Ms Arthurworrey to make
allegations which, if true, would have placed Victoria squarely within that category.
3.63 On 1 November 1999, Kouao telephoned Ms Arthurworrey and told her that
Manning had been sexually harming Victoria. Ms Arthurworrey told Kouao to
come to her office. Kouao arrived with Victoria and Manning later that morning.
Understandably, Ms Arthurworrey thought it would be better if Manning left.
Kouao then cited three separate instances of sexual abuse. Victoria was then
spoken to alone and repeated what Kouao had said, almost word for word. She
appeared very anxious to be believed and both Ms Arthurworrey and the other
social worker present, Valerie Robertson, thought she had been coached. However,
in Ms Arthurworrey’s view, Victoria did not seem to be “a particularly nervous,
frightened or fearful child” on this occasion.
3.64 The short-term solution devised by Ms Arthurworrey to deal with the sexual
harm allegations was to arrange for somewhere else for Victoria to stay while the
allegations were investigated. A call was made to Mrs Kimbidima whom Kouao
had identified as a friend who might be willing to help. It is unclear what precisely
was agreed to by the Kimbidimas as a result of this telephone call. Mrs Kimbidima,
whose English is far from perfect, may have initially agreed but later changed her
mind having spoken about the matter to her husband. In any event, the result was
that Victoria and Kouao left the office in a taxi bound for the Kimbidimas’ house,
but by the end of the day they were both back at Somerset Gardens.
3.65 The next day, Victoria and Kouao returned to north Tottenham to withdraw the
allegations of sexual harm. They spoke to Rosemarie Kozinos who told Kouao that,
despite the retraction, she and Victoria would have to live elsewhere while the matter
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
34
was investigated. Kouao told Ms Kozinos that she and Victoria could continue to stay
with the Kimbidimas. In fact, they simply returned to Somerset Gardens.
3.66 This was the last time any of the professionals involved in Victoria’s case saw her
before her admission to hospital on the night before her death. This fact, together
with the incoherence of much of Kouao’s evidence – both at her trial and before
the Inquiry – means that any account of the last four months of Victoria’s life must
partly be guesswork.
Victoria’s last four months alive
3.67 It is likely that Victoria spent most of this four-month period in the Somerset
Gardens flat. However, there is some evidence to suggest she made two trips to
France towards the end of 1999. Manning recalled that he, Kouao and Victoria
all went to Paris on or about 11 November. They stayed for a long weekend
at Kouao’s son’s house where Victoria was allowed to sleep in a bed. Manning
recalled no particular problems concerning Victoria’s incontinence during the visit.
3.68 A second visit to France seems to have been made at the end of November.
Following her arrest, a Eurostar ticket in Kouao’s name was found at Manning’s
flat showing that she had travelled to Paris on 29 November 1999 and returned
on 12 December 1999. No ticket was found for Victoria, but Manning was clear
that she had accompanied Kouao on the trip. As he understood it, they had again
stayed with Kouao’s son.
3.69 Whatever the nature or purpose of these two visits to France, they appear to
have made little difference to the pattern of Victoria’s life when she returned to
Somerset Gardens. She continued to be forced to sleep in the bath and, from
November onwards, she was tied up inside a black plastic sack in an effort to stop
her from soiling the bath. We know that these were her circumstances on New
Year’s Eve due to the disturbing entry in Manning’s diary. In it he describes an
argument with Kouao which ended by her returning to his flat in order to “release
satan from her bag”.
3.70 This refinement of the torture meant that Victoria spent extended periods lying in
her own urine and faeces. The obviously corrosive effect this was having on her
skin may have prompted Kouao and Manning to abandon this policy in January
2000. In his interview with the police, Manning suggested he and Kouao became
worried that the condition of Victoria’s skin might cause social workers to ask
“undue questions”. However, in his evidence to the Inquiry he was unable to
remember the thinking behind the change.
3.71 Despite no longer being kept in a bag, Victoria began to spend more and more
of her time in the bathroom in January 2000. Not only did she continue to sleep
in the bath, but she also began to spend some of her days in it as well. This could
explain why she was not with Kouao and Manning when they met Mr Kimbidima
at a tube station around 16 January 2000. They told him they had left Victoria at
home because her incontinence made it difficult to get things done.
3.72 At the start of the new year, Kouao and Manning began to serve Victoria her meals
in the bath. This was done by placing the food on a piece of plastic, or a plastic bag,
and placing it in the bath next to Victoria. She would generally be given whatever
Manning and Kouao had cooked for themselves, but by the time it reached her it
was usually cold. Given that her hands were kept bound with masking tape, she was
forced to eat by pushing her face towards the food, like a dog.
3 Victoria’s story
35
3.73 As well as being forced to spend much of her time in inhuman conditions, Victoria
was also beaten on a regular basis by both Kouao and Manning. According to
Manning, Kouao used to strike Victoria on a daily basis, sometimes using a variety
of weapons. These included a shoe, a hammer, a coat hanger and a wooden
cooking spoon. The forensic examination of the flat after Manning’s arrest revealed
traces of Victoria’s blood on the walls, on his football boots and on the undersole
of one of his trainers. He also admitted to sometimes using a bicycle chain.
3.74 It is unclear what Kouao’s intentions were at this stage. During the course of
Ms Arthurworrey’s home visit on 28 October 1999, they discussed the option of
returning to France. However, despite the two visits to Paris, Kouao seems to have
had little inclination to return permanently. Manning was under the impression
that Kouao’s intention was to send Victoria back to her parents in the Ivory Coast,
but despite his obvious distaste for Victoria, he said he did not push the issue.
3.75 If this was Kouao’s plan, she did little to advance it and Victoria’s parents were not
approached to see if they would be willing to have their daughter back. Instead,
Kouao kept them in complete ignorance of Victoria’s condition. In early 2000, they
received a Christmas card from Kouao containing several photographs of a smiling
Victoria. On the back of one photograph was written in French, “She’s growing up
well and she finds herself … well”.
3.76 Given the very limited contact Victoria had with the outside world in the weeks
leading up to her death, it is difficult to identify with any accuracy the speed
with which her condition deteriorated to the state she was in when admitted to
the North Middlesex Hospital on 24 February 2000. The pastor from north west
London, Pat Mensah, recalled that Victoria seemed “a bit poorly” when she visited
Somerset Gardens on 12 February. Although she neglected to mention it in her
statement, during the course of her oral evidence Ms Mensah indicated that she
was sufficiently concerned about Victoria’s health at this point to advise Kouao to
take her to a hospital. She also advised her to take her to a church.
Victoria returns to church
3.77 There is evidence to suggest that by 19 February 2000, Victoria was very ill.
On this day, which was a Saturday, Kouao took her to the Universal Church of
the Kingdom of God housed in the old Rainbow Theatre on Seven Sisters Road.
This was the church recommended to her by Ms Mensah during the course of her
visit earlier that month. Audrey Hartley-Martin, who was assisting Pastor Alvaro
Lima in the administration of the 3pm service, noticed the two of them coming
up the stairs. They were shouting at each other and Victoria seemed to be having
difficulty walking.
3.78 Kouao and Victoria were disturbing the service, so Ms Hartley-Martin took Victoria
downstairs to the crèche. She noticed Victoria was shivering and she asked her if
she was cold. Victoria replied that she was not cold but she was hungry. Ms Hartley-
Martin obtained some biscuits for her and Victoria hid them in her pocket when
Kouao came down to collect her. Ms Hartley-Martin said in evidence that she did
not seek to ensure Victoria received any medical attention because she “was not
aware that the child was ill”.
3.79 At the end of the service, Pastor Lima spoke to Kouao about the difficulties she
said she was having with Victoria, particularly her incontinence. He expressed the
view that Victoria’s problems were due to her possession by an evil spirit and said
he would spend the week fasting on Victoria’s behalf. He believes he made it clear
that Victoria was not expected to fast herself. Kouao was advised to bring Victoria
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
36
back to church on the following Friday morning. According to Pastor Lima, Friday
was the day on which prayers are said for deliverance from “witchcraft, bad luck
and everything bad or evil”.
3.80 The events of the next week unfolded as follows. On the Sunday, Kouao and
Victoria returned to the church where they were seen by Pastor Celso Junior.
Apparently, Victoria was quiet and well-behaved during the visit. On Wednesday,
Kouao phoned Pastor Lima in the evening and told him Victoria’s behaviour had
improved in that she had ceased to cover the flat in excrement. On Thursday,
Kouao phoned Ms Hartley-Martin and told her that Victoria had been asleep for
two days and had not eaten or drunk anything. By the evening of the same day,
Kouao was sufficiently concerned to bring Victoria to the church and ask for help.
Pastor Lima advised them to go to the hospital and a mini-cab was called.
Victoria’s final visit to hospital
3.81 Mr Salman Pinarbasi, the mini-cab driver, was sufficiently concerned about the
condition Victoria was in to take her instead to the nearby Tottenham Ambulance
Station. She was then taken by ambulance to the North Middlesex Hospital and
admitted to the casualty unit. On arrival, Victoria was unconscious and very cold.
Her temperature was 27 degrees Celsius. Initial attempts to warm her up were
unsuccessful and a paediatric consultant, Dr Lesley Alsford, was called in to take
responsibility for Victoria’s treatment.
3.82 Dr Alsford arrived around midnight. Her examination of Victoria was limited
because her first wish was to increase Victoria’s temperature, which at this point
was 28.7 degrees Celsius. In any event, she could not have recorded all the injuries
she saw because they were “too numerous”. She formed the view that Victoria
needed the type of intensive care facilities unavailable at the North Middlesex
Hospital. She tried to find space in another hospital and was eventually successful.
A team from the paediatric intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington
arrived at 2.30am.
3.83 Victoria was transferred to St Mary’s Hospital Paddington where she remained in
a critical condition with severe hypothermia and multi-system failure. The medical
staff were unable to straighten her legs. Over the hours that followed, Victoria
suffered a number of episodes of respiratory and cardiac arrest. Her respiratory,
cardiac and renal systems began to fail. At about 3pm, Victoria went into cardiac
arrest for the last time. Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation was attempted but Victoria
did not respond. She was declared dead at 3.15pm on 25 February 2000. She was
eight years and three months old.
The post-mortem examination
3.84 A post-mortem examination was carried out the following day by Dr Nathaniel
Carey, a Home Office-accredited pathologist. He found the cause of death to
be hypothermia, which had arisen in the context of malnourishment, a damp
environment and restricted movement. He also found 128 separate injuries on
Victoria’s body, showing she had been beaten with a range of sharp and blunt
instruments. No part of her body had been spared. Marks on her wrists and ankles
indicated that her arms and legs had been tied together. It was the worst case of
deliberate harm to a child he had ever seen.
3 Victoria’s story
37
The arrest
3.85 Kouao was arrested on suspicion of neglect at the hospital around 11.35pm on
25 February 2000. She told the police, “It is terrible, I have just lost my child.”
Manning was arrested the following afternoon as he returned to his flat. Both were
subsequently charged with Victoria’s murder and were convicted at the Central
Criminal Court on 12 January 2001. Kouao and Manning are currently serving
sentences of life imprisonment.
38
Part two: Social services

4 Ealing Social Services
39
4 Ealing Social Services
The managerial context
4.1 Between the end of April and early July 1999, Kouao attended Ealing Social
Services on no less than 18 different occasions. She was accompanied by Victoria
on at least 10 of these visits. Together they had dealings with six social workers,
one group support assistant and one housing officer. Yet by the time Ealing closed
Victoria’s file on 7 July 1999, they knew virtually no more about Victoria than when
Kouao first visited the Ealing Homeless Persons’ Unit on 26 April 1999 to seek help
with her housing needs.
4.2 Ealing Social Services have acknowledged from the outset that the quality of their
social work in Victoria’s case was unacceptable. In particular, they “failed to address
Victoria’s needs as an individual and instead treated her as a part of ... Kouao’s
homelessness case”. To Ealing’s credit they did not lay the blame on a lack of
resources. Indeed, Judith Finlay, senior commissioning manager at the time, was
quite clear when she said, “I cannot say that resources were an issue because we
paid more than probably we would have if we had done a proper assessment and
we certainly took longer about it.”
4.3 Even more disturbing, Ealing could not be sure that the total inadequacy of
Victoria’s assessment was a one-off because they had no proper systems in place
for tracking cases through the referral and assessment stage. This was a serious
failing. I strongly believe that Victoria’s case could and should have started and
finished in Ealing – a conclusion to which I shall return later.
Referral and assessment weaknesses
4.4 To a large extent, the weakness in Ealing’s referral and assessment process in early
1999 had been highlighted in a highly critical Social Services Inspectorate (SSI)
report that Ealing received in December 1997 relating to the safety of the children
they looked after. Ealing Social Services were subsequently placed on special
measures in June 1998. Significantly, that report concluded that children in care
and on the child protection register “were not considered by any measure to be
adequately safeguarded”. The SSI commented on the “culture of hopelessness”
within the social services department, the serious deficiencies in assessment and care
planning, and the fact that 45 per cent of the staff were temporary agency staff.
The need for radical change
4.5 The report led to a radical shake-up of senior management and organisational
structures. The director of social services at the time resigned and was replaced,
initially on an interim basis, by Norman Tutt in June 1998. Together with a new
assistant director for children’s services, John Skinner, Mr Tutt oversaw the creation
of a new specialist children’s team structure by the end of 1998. The team brought
together fieldwork and residential and daycare services. However, the housing and
social services departments were at that time two separate directorates and were
not finally to merge until January 2001.
4.6 Two specialist referral and assessment teams – one in each district office – were
established to build up an expertise among staff in short-term assessment work.
In addition, there were a number of long-term teams split between the two
districts, the most relevant to the Inquiry being the ‘child in need’ teams, which
focused on work with children in need of protection and support services. During
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
40
the relevant period, Ms Finlay was the operations manager responsible for all
children’s services provided from the Acton area office.
4.7 In preparation for the restructuring, initiatives were taken to audit ‘child protection’
and ‘looked-after-children’ files to assess the quality of work done. Managers who
were performing poorly were not reappointed. Any action taken was quick and
decisive. “In all, the restructuring took some three months. It was a very difficult
and demanding time,” said Mr Skinner, “for both the organisation and for staff.
A massive amount of change took place within a very condensed timetable”. There
was “enormous drive to improve standards within children’s services”. Although
the disruption caused by such wholesale restructuring did have an impact on staff
morale, Mr Tutt told the Inquiry that he believed the overall effect was positive.
He said he targeted those managers whose performance was below standard:
“They were recognised by their colleagues as not performing, so having
somebody deal with it raised morale ... The unions were not at all happy
about it ... I made it quite clear that in the light of the SSI report, my
job was to make sure children were safe in the borough of Ealing, and
if members of staff were not able to be compatible with that aim or
objective I was quite happy to defend my position in whatever forum
might be appropriate.”
4.8 That it was achievable in such a short timescale Mr Tutt put down to political
backing: “[The leader of the council] ... met me, I think, on the first day and said
that he would back whatever needed to be done.”
Evidence of progress
4.9 It paid dividends. A further SSI inspection in March 1999 noted a significant
improvement in services, recognised that there was a strategy for development
and that basic systems were in place at least for children being looked after. The
SSI commented, “We found that the culture of hopelessness we referred to in the
previous report had been replaced by one of expectation.”
4.10 There had also been an impressive turn around on staff recruitment and retention.
According to Mr Tutt, Ealing social workers were paid less than comparable
boroughs and they progressed up the salary ladder more slowly. That was
addressed in June 1998 and continued to be addressed. By spring 1999, 85 per
cent of staff in the department were permanent, and some teams had virtually no
agency staff. The referral and assessment team that Victoria was referred to was
“a reasonably solid team of social workers”. Although there were some locum
workers, there was no great turnover and staff sickness was not an issue.
4.11 Mr Tutt attributed the improvement to greater managerial responsibility for
employment, improving culture and speeding up the recruitment process.
He put great emphasis on the work ethos of the children’s services department:
“The way we have tried to tackle it is by stressing that we believe in a
very high standard of work and we do not accept less than that, and
most social workers actually want to work in a department which will
support them to achieve the best for children.”
Improving competence
4.12 However, gaps remained. In particular there were gaps in the competence of staff,
problems in the identification of potentially serious child protection matters with
further training required, and an “inadequate management information system”.
Significantly, problems remained with regards to assessment. There were also a
number of steps in the authority’s action plan, dated March 1999, that were still
4 Ealing Social Services
41
waiting to be carried out by the time Victoria arrived in Ealing in late April 1999.
A review of the deployment of staff in the referral and assessment teams was still
incomplete and not all cases held on duty had “a named worker to progress the
work within identified timescales”. Ms Finlay went on to state:
“We were working intensively with managers to ensure that cases were
allocated quickly. That involved a change in culture and a change in
understanding of the work, and we did not get there straightaway ...
We should have had work allocated immediately, but we did not.”
4.13 In practical terms, Mr Skinner told the Inquiry, he thought it was virtually
impossible in the spring of 1999 to have allocated all work coming into the
referral and assessment team. He said, “We had a backlog of work and also we
were overwhelmed with new referrals, so the possibility of allocating all that work
immediately was unrealistic.”
4.14 Failure to allocate Victoria’s case early was almost certainly to prove critical
in contributing to a lack of any clear focus and continuity in handling. Most
importantly, and surprisingly, only allocated cases were the subject of supervision.
Yet Ms Finlay said that at the time, “We relied on the team managers and senior
practitioners to undertake the assessments, to undertake the supervision of social
workers and to make sure that the assessments were completed.” She admitted
that by April 1999 senior managers had not got to the stage of auditing the
referral and assessment team. As a result, there were no arrangements in place
to ensure that assessments were properly carried out by those teams. Therefore,
I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Managers of duty teams must devise and operate a system which enables them
immediately to establish how many children have been referred to their team,
what action is required to be taken for each child, who is responsible for taking
that action, and when that action must be completed.
4.15 Mr Tutt confirmed that assessment processes were poor before the introduction
of the National Assessment Framework: “One of the problems until the framework
was produced was that there was no clear definition of how assessment should
be undertaken at the point of entry.” Discussing assessments in April 1999,
Ms Fortune said, “To be quite honest with you, we did not have any kind of
grounding for assessments.”
Practice guidance
4.16 In fact, social workers had little by way of up-to-date manuals to guide them in
their day-to-day practice. The fieldwork manual ‘current’ in early 1999 which dealt
with matters other than child protection (and was therefore relevant to Victoria
at the time she made contact with Ealing Social Services), amazingly predated
the Children Act 1989. Understandably, it was described by Mr Tutt as “grossly
inadequate” and “indefensible”. This was particularly so in relation to agency
staff, who might have expected to place heavy reliance on up-to-date manuals,
and to new staff who could not be sure of receiving proper induction training.
New child protection procedures were implemented in February 1999 and the
eligibility criteria for children’s services were being developed, but a manual of
child protection practice guidelines, which should have been finalised in April
1999, was marked “interim”. Significantly, it was to retain that status through
to at least the end of the Phase One hearings of this Inquiry, in February 2002.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
42
Mr Skinner acknowledged that a new member of staff to the Department, such as
Sharmain Lawrence in spring 1999, who received no induction training when she
arrived, would have had “an incomplete set of procedures” and “would struggle as
a consequence”. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that staff in their children and families’
intake teams are experienced in working with children and families, and that
they have received appropriate training.
4.17 The Area Child Protection Committee (ACPC), chaired by Mr Skinner from January
1999, ought to have been the driving force for regeneration and renewal among
the child protection agencies. However, according to Mr Skinner its agenda had
been dominated by Part 8 reviews and other responsibilities, and so this received
little or no attention. It appears that the ACPC had all but become detached from
front-line staff, and its policies, procedures and guidelines were out of date. In fact,
it was the social services child protection procedures that were adopted by the
ACPC in 1999 as a temporary measure – and there was little or no real investment
in developing an effective inter-agency child protection partnership. This was the
first of several concerns I was to hear about the ACPC arrangements.
Gaps remained
4.18 When the SSI returned for a follow up children’s services inspection in December
1999, some five months after Ealing had closed Victoria’s case file, they found that
progress had continued but they highlighted, yet again, the need to continue to
improve standards in the referral and assessment teams. Initial assessments were
seen as being “of variable quality, particularly for lower priority cases”.
4.19 It was accepted to be fair criticism. In evidence, Mr Tutt was quite clear that his
first and second priority had to be children in need of protection and children
looked after because “the most serious criticism of the SSI had been that no child
could be guaranteed to be safe in the borough”. That meant that other areas, such
as referral and assessment team initial services, received a lower priority. As Mr Tutt
said, this area of work “was not the highest priority, certainly”.
4.20 Along with other social services departments, Ealing struggled with the quality
of some of its front-line staff. According to Mr Tutt, “Many of the staff coming
into post were relatively inexperienced in that they had not many years post
qualification experience and/or were from [overseas].” In the referral and
assessment teams, managers knew that “a lot of work had to be done with
individual members of staff around core basic skills”.
Homeless families
4.21 The intake team was dealing with a wide range of referrals, not least homeless
families like Kouao and Victoria, coming from abroad. Mr Tutt told the Inquiry,
“They come with a whole range of health and other problems and present in our
offices although they have no status legally within our country.” Many were asylum
seekers. Some, like Kouao, were travellers under the Treaty of Rome – people
without a documented history. Pamela Fortune, the social worker eventually
allocated to Victoria, thought that perhaps 60 to 70 per cent of referrals came
from abroad. The difficulty, according to senior practitioner Ms Lawrence, was that
“there were not very clear protocols and guidance for dealing with people that
were presenting from abroad and presenting as homeless, and quite often I felt
that people were left to rely on ... professional judgement”.
4 Ealing Social Services
43
4.22 The policy at the time was to give a weekly subsistence sum to those who came
from abroad without the means to support themselves. Ms Fortune explained, “If
there were issues about accommodation, if they could not get any help via housing
services, we would have to offer a service.” Financial assistance would continue if
they appealed their habitual residency status and those appeals could take years.
Management arrangements
4.23 By 26 April 1999, the Acton referral and assessment team, which consisted of one
team manager, Sarah Stollard, one senior practitioner, Ms Lawrence, nine social
workers, one social work assistant and three group support assistants, had already
received 388 referrals that month. Ms Stollard said:
“It was a very busy team ... There was varied experience in the team. Some
of the social workers had hardly any experience, and some had quite a
number of years experience. It was also a new team and a new structure,
so people did not have experience of working in a referral and assessment
team, necessarily ... when I took over that team, we had a backlog of 200
cases ... we continued to take in cases, so I would say it was a team that was
under quite a lot of pressure, and we did have a number of agency staff.”
4.24 There were no workload management systems in place in 1999. The general
expectation was that social workers would carry between 12 and 15 allocated
cases on top of their duty commitments. An audit in July 1999 indicated that
staff in the Acton referral and assessment team had on average 11.25 allocated
cases. Ms Fortune described workloads as “high but not unmanageable”. Deborah
Gaunt, another social worker in the Acton referral and assessment team, thought,
“The workload was challenging but I felt that it was appropriate for my level of
experience and that I could handle it.”
Duty rota
4.25 Social workers took turns being on duty for one week in three. In theory, they were
supposed to work on duty for the whole week. However, Ms Stollard explained
that “reality and practicality dictates that they are not always the same three
workers on for the whole week”. It was explained that social workers on duty
worked on duty cases, assigned daily, downstairs in the Acton office. Social workers
not on duty worked upstairs on ‘allocated’ cases.
4.26 A referral could be by letter, telephone or in person. According to the level of risk
or concern, the referral would either be taken straight to the duty manager or
would be dealt with on the spot by the duty social worker. If the duty manager
was not available, social workers would go to a more senior manager, such as the
operations manager (Ms Finlay). If not dealt with immediately (and not urgent),
the social worker would write an action plan and leave that, together with the
referral form, in a basket on the duty manager’s desk.
4.27 Ms Stollard alternated with her senior practitioner, Ms Lawrence, as duty manager
on a “one week on, one week off” basis, although she also line managed
Ms Lawrence. As a result, accountability for case management decisions was
not clear. It was demonstrated in Victoria’s case that it was possible for the two
managers to take opposed views when it came to their ‘turn’ to manage the case.
4.28 Ms Stollard summarised the differences in their roles as follows:
“I was the overall manager ... I suppose the last decision would be mine
if it was felt necessary to come to me, to seek my view on something.
In terms of ... the practicalities of how it worked, Sharmain was, I suppose,
like a deputy team manager ... and I would not get involved in her
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
44
decision making unless something was brought to my attention where
I thought I needed to, or where she wanted to ask me what I thought
about something.”
The duty manager
4.29 It was the job of the duty manager to review all the work in the duty basket on a
daily basis, but according to Mr Skinner, assistant director of children’s services,
“That was an aim not always achieved.” Regular payments, similar to those made
to Kouao, had to be signed off and managers would take the opportunity to
consider those cases as the payments fell due – although there was no formal
review. However, Ms Stollard acknowledged that some files were not reviewed
as regularly as they should have been. The safety net, such as it was, was almost
totally reliant on her memory of the case details as well as the paper tracking
system that she devised and only she felt fully confident in using. It was certainly
no way to run a busy duty system that began the year with a backlog of 200 cases
and where case allocation, if it happened at all, was such a hit-and-miss affair.
4.30 If no further action was required for the time being on a particular file it would be
stored in the A–Z cabinet. Cases requiring action were placed in the ‘pend’ cabinet
to be allocated to the duty social workers on the relevant dates. Progress was
certainly made in moving cases on. Of the backlog of cases Ms Stollard inherited at
the beginning of the year, only 30 or so were left on the duty system by the end
of 1999. However, there was nothing in place to gauge whether the scope and
timeliness of the intervention offered was in any way appropriate to the needs of
the children concerned.
4.31 Mr Tutt told the Inquiry that the A–Z system was almost totally reliant on the
memory of one manager. Ms Stollard said that the entire system depended on her
initiative, intellect, memory and physical review of the files in the cabinet. Although
Ms Finlay’s understanding was slightly different, the difference was more a matter
of semantics. Ultimately in the absence of a proper, electronic tracking system,
knowledge of those priorities relied once again on the diligence, hard work and
memory of the duty managers.
Use of IT systems
4.32 By December 1999, according to Mr Tutt, an electronic database that could track
cases was in place. But in March 1999 Ms Stollard relied on a manual paper system
which she had devised and which amounted to no more than “simply a sheet of
paper where details of up to 10 cases could be summarised – that is updated on a
weekly basis and you hope that cases fall off by the end of the week because they
have either been disposed of finally or allocated”.
4.33 It was a system described variously as “adequate”, “basic and had flaws”, “on a
basic level ... barely adequate” and “fairly crude”. However, Ms Lawrence was
quite clear that she did not find it easy to use.
4.34 At the end of the duty week, cases were supposed to be reviewed and possibly
closed or allocated. According to Ms Stollard, cases were allocated “if the case
was looking more complex or it appeared that a longer piece of work needed to
be carried out, or if a case conference was needed or the child became a looked
after child”.
Staff supervision
4.35 Allocation was the key to whether or not a case was discussed in supervision.
Each member of staff in the referral and assessment team was to be supervised
once a month as a minimum. Ms Stollard aimed for fortnightly supervision but
at least once every three weeks for allocated cases. Supervision records relating
4 Ealing Social Services
45
to individual cases were placed on each case file. In relation to duty cases, I was
told by Ms Finlay that “supervision was informal in that social workers would
approach the duty manager to discuss aspects of a duty case upon which they
[my emphasis] felt they needed support or guidance”. That meant there might be
no supervision at all if a case was open and shut while a social worker was on duty.
Significantly, in Victoria’s case it took over two months to allocate her case, and it
was subsequently closed one week later. Therefore, there was no formal supervision
discussion and no supervision record appears on the file.
4.36 Handover between the two managers at the end of the duty week was only
thought necessary for cases that were of particular concern. Where a conversation
was not possible, notes would be left or conversations would be had on another
day or simply not at all. Nonetheless, Ms Finlay regarded the system as adequate
and Ms Lawrence felt the whole process was assisted by her and Ms Stollard’s
“professionalism”.
4.37 But this, too, was to come under some strain during 1999. Ms Stollard had
concerns about Ms Lawrence “as a result of [her] poor performance and a lack
of commitment”. In particular she was concerned about Ms Lawrence’s frequent
absences, and she felt Ms Lawrence was undermining her as team manager.
4.38 Matters came to a head in September 1999. Ms Stollard returned from annual
leave to find the referral and assessment services in what she considered to be a
“dangerous state”. She pursued the matter with Ms Finlay in writing.
4.39 During the management investigation which lasted from October 1999 to March
2000, Ms Lawrence was removed from her role as senior practitioner and invited
to remain at home “in her own interests”.
4.40 The outcome of the management investigation led ultimately to Ms Stollard
leaving Ealing Social Services in July 2000. Ms Lawrence in the meantime returned
to work and was subsequently promoted to the position of team manager.
4.41 It is far from clear what impact the process of investigating these complaints had
on service delivery. Ms Stollard said the interviews with the team were lengthy and
“very disruptive”. She did not think there was any impact on the way service users
were dealt with, although she later said:
“Inevitably team members found the investigation distressing and of
interest. It was a matter of significant office gossip and although I never
spoke to staff about the investigation, it was a matter of considerable
discussion which was a diversion to the task at hand. Time was obviously
spent encouraging people to make complaints and all of this would have
had an impact on the provision of service to clients.”
4.42 Mr Skinner was not aware of any “visible impact” on service delivery, although
there was a “degree of tension” among staff as they became more aware of
the difficulty.
4.43 All, however, were at pains to point out that the problems between Ms Stollard
and Ms Lawrence arose after Victoria’s time at Ealing, and so had no adverse
impact on the way her case was handled. I am unwilling to accept such
firm assurances.
Victoria
4.44 Although Ms Lawrence, as senior practitioner, would not have been the allocated
social worker for Victoria, Victoria’s case remained on the duty system for some
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
46
two months. If Ms Lawrence had any concerns about her management of the case,
which she undoubtedly did, supervision would have provided the opportunity for
her to air those concerns with her team and line manager. But as Ms Lawrence
admitted, supervision arrangements with Ms Stollard were a bit “ad hoc” and at
least initially were not “adequate”. Therefore, it seems possible that the worsening
relationship between the two, and which senior managers were certainly aware of
from the spring of 1999, might have hindered the effective duty system handover
at the end of each week and could have contributed to the prolonged and
differing approach that each took in relation to Victoria’s case.
4.45 It certainly provided added reason, if reason was needed, to get a management
grip of a duty system that was seriously deficient. The senior management team
at the time failed to do this. When asked to identify defects in the duty system
team, Ms Stollard referred to “changes in plan, different people getting involved ...
situations getting slightly lost”, while Ms Lawrence said she was “perturbed” by the
number of unallocated cases. She thought it was “Very difficult to work with the
volume of cases there was on the duty system ... it was difficult to monitor all the
cases on duty.” Victoria’s was just one of those cases.
4.46 There is no excuse for failing to have in place a system for efficiently managing the
workload in a social services team dealing with children and families.
Victoria in Ealing
4.47 On 26 April 1999, just two days after Kouao and Victoria arrived in the UK,
they attended Ealing Homeless Persons’ Unit. Kouao was seen by Julie Winter,
a homeless persons’ officer, to whom she spoke in English. She indicated that
Victoria spoke only French. According to Ms Winter, Kouao preferred to conduct
the interview in English because she did not want Victoria to listen in.
4.48 Ms Winter’s impression of Kouao was that she appeared “tidy, clean, presentable,
not a rough sleeper, not someone who was street homeless”.
4.49 However, Ms Winter recalled nothing of Victoria’s appearance other than the rather
unusual fact that she was wearing a wig. But she made no note of this at the time.
The housing application form
4.50 Together, Kouao and Ms Winter completed a housing application form. Kouao
gave her date of birth as 17 July 1956, her age as 43 years old and said that she
had lived in France since birth. Initially she said she had three older children with
her, but subsequently informed Ms Winter that they were in France, staying with a
friend and were being educated there.
4.51 She told Ms Winter both she and Victoria were in good health, that neither of
them were registered with a GP and that she was currently unemployed. Kouao
said she did not intend to stay in the UK permanently. Her purpose in coming here
was to spend a year improving her English. Kouao told Ms Winter that she had
made some inquiries with an airline company in France and was advised that if she
could communicate well in English, her chances of being offered a job were high.
Ms Winter also recorded that while in France, Kouao had been a housewife, and
that her husband had died in October 1998 following a road traffic accident. In
fact, Kouao divorced her husband, the father of two of her children, in December
1978 and he died in June 1995. She had been evicted from her home because of
rent arrears.
4 Ealing Social Services
47
4.52 Rather than applying for assistance with rent in some less desirable accommodation
in France, Kouao told Ms Winter that she had sought, and been given, assistance
with the fare for her and Victoria to come to England. She had obtained seven
nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation as part of the flight package deal, but
had no other accommodation once that period expired at the end of the week, on
30 April 1999.
4.53 Ms Winter did not question that the French authorities apparently had contributed
to Kouao and Victoria’s fare, although she thought it unusual. She told the
Inquiry: “We have no knowledge of how the French authorities work. It seemed a
reasonable situation, that she could either have money towards rent or a one-off
payment to travel elsewhere ... I had not come across it before, but I had no
reason to disbelieve that this was in fact the case.”
4.54 Kouao’s explanation for why Victoria was wearing a wig, which they discussed
while completing the health section of the form, but which was never recorded,
was that it was Victoria’s choice. It was because she had “short or very short hair”.
Ms Winter had no concerns about this: “I accepted her reasons – she was a very
plausible person.” In fact, Ms Winter’s overall impression was that Kouao was
forthcoming with her answers, she did not appear to be withholding information
and the material she provided seemed accurate.
4.55 Ms Winter, not surprisingly, concluded that Kouao was not habitually resident
in the UK. Her ties at that stage were with France. She had no settled plans
for staying in this country. Kouao had provided documentation to confirm her
identification and proof of the date of her arrival into the UK. Although Ms Winter
was shown both Kouao’s travel documents and her passport, which included
Victoria’s ‘details’ and her ‘photograph’, she paid no further attention to them,
believing Kouao’s application to be ineligible on the grounds of habitual residence.
4.56 As it happens, it would have been helpful for social services to have sight of the
passport, as they may have noted that the photograph was not that of Victoria,
as did the police when conducting their murder inquiry following Victoria’s death.
Detective Inspector Keith Niven said in his statement to the Inquiry that the child
on the passport was “clearly not Victoria” and he later confirmed in oral evidence
that there “were distinct differences”.
Housing application refused
4.57 Ms Winter confirmed her decision with her duty senior and then told Kouao
she was not eligible for housing. It was a reasonable decision for the housing
department to have come to in all the circumstances. Nevertheless, Kouao was
clearly distressed and was emphatic to Ms Winter that she and Victoria would
very soon have nowhere to live. It appears that Victoria understood the gist of
that response because this was the first time she spoke and implored Ms Winter,
in French and referring to her as “Madame” to find “une maison” for her. She
was tearful, but Ms Winter did not think Victoria’s behaviour was unusual. She
said, “Often the children get distressed when they see their parent upset in
the interviews.”
4.58 Ms Winter advised Kouao that she might obtain assistance from social services
under the National Assistance Act 1948, as someone who was destitute and
responsible for a dependant child, and she noted in her interview record that an
appointment had been arranged for Kouao to attend the social services office on
30 April 1999.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
48
The referral to social services
4.59 In the meantime, she quite properly telephoned the referral across to Ms Fortune,
a social worker in Ealing’s Acton office referral and assessment team. Although
there were forms in use at the time for making such referrals, and Ms Winter
‘imagined’ there was guidance on how to complete them, she usually preferred
not to put her trust on the internal post but to speak directly to an officer. Her
lack of confidence in the internal mail is noteworthy. But the net effect was that
no written or electronic referral to social services was ever made and no copy of
the relevant documentation passed across when it should have. As a result, social
services were not in a position to double check inconsistencies in the details Kouao
gave about her and Victoria’s life either here in England or in France. As a result,
I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
When a professional makes a referral to social services concerning the well-being
of a child, the fact of that referral must be confirmed in writing by the referrer
within 48 hours.
4.60 Ms Winter was clear in her evidence that her sole reason for making the referral to
social services was that the family were going to become destitute in a matter of
days. They had no income and were unlikely to have any in the immediate future.
But she told the Inquiry, “She did not place any emphasis on the child’s needs.”
After all, Victoria’s circumstances were not unusual: “Cases that are found to be not
eligible ... persons from abroad, they have no jobs lined up here, they have only
the money they travel with, quite often they are refused benefits because again
they are not habitually resident.”
4.61 She acknowledged she was not familiar with the Children Act 1989. All she knew
was that if the housing department could not assist a family with rehousing and
the family was shortly to become ‘roofless’, then the authority had obligations
towards the welfare of the child under the Act. Ms Winter said, “I took that to
mean shelter and subsistence.” This illustrates well the importance of social services
being clear about the responsibilities they carry in law and ensuring other agencies
understand this also.
4.62 In evidence, Ms Fortune conceded that from the very start she believed she was
being asked to focus on Victoria’s needs. On the first level assessment core form
she noted, “Ms Winters would like S/S [social services] to undertake an assessment
of Ms Kouao and her daughter’s needs.”
4.63 At the time she understood these centred on the family’s housing needs. She also
noted down the name of the solicitor that Kouao had already found to act on
her behalf. She believed she had been told by Ms Winter that Kouao had enough
money until 1 May 1999. But she did not record this on the referral form.
4.64 She recorded the nature of the concern to be assessed by the duty social worker
as a “mother and child who were (pending) homeless” and a “child in need”. An
appointment was made for Kouao to attend social services on 29 April 1999 – not
30 April as noted by Ms Winter – and this information was given to Ms Winter over
the phone to pass to Kouao. Nothing else on the first level assessment core form
– including the recommendations and management decisions arising from the
assessment – was recorded by Ms Fortune that day. She placed the referral form in
the duty basket for the duty senior to allocate to a duty social worker on 29 April.
Her expectation was that the duty social worker on the day would complete the
4 Ealing Social Services
49
assessment and record the management decisions on the form. In fact, no such
assessment was undertaken on 29 April, or any day thereafter. Ms Fortune, who
ultimately became Victoria’s allocated case worker, was to have no further contact
with Kouao or Victoria until 1 June 1999.
Kouao returns to Ealing Homeless Persons’ Unit
4.65 Early in the evening of the following day, 27 April 1999, Kouao and Victoria
returned to Ealing Homeless Persons’ Unit. Kouao requested money for food and
essential items. She was referred to William Martin, an approved social worker
under the Mental Health Act 1989, who was working in the out-of-office-hours
team. At that time, this team covered both the London boroughs of Ealing and
Hounslow. Kouao gave Mr Martin her French social security number and he
telephoned the out-of-hours Department of Social Security (DSS) number to
request a payment for her, as his team held no funds. The usual procedure, which
Mr Martin followed that evening, was to leave Kouao’s details, including her
telephone contact number and his own, on a recorded message to the DSS. If the
DSS had any further queries they would contact Mr Martin in the first instance.
No such call was received that evening and Mr Martin assumed that the DSS
responded to Kouao’s request by contacting her directly.
4.66 Mr Martin also advised Kouao to attend Ealing Social Services the following day,
describing Victoria on the out-of-office-hours team referral report as a “child in need”.
4.67 When asked why he did this Mr Martin replied, “I used the term as a precautionary
measure, more of an alerting mechanism, to ensure that there was some follow up
on the following day. I thought that was good practice really. I had no particular
concerns at that time.”
4.68 Indeed Mr Martin knew very little about Kouao and Victoria. He had been told
by Kouao that she needed money to buy food and essential items and she and
Victoria were living in temporary accommodation. He said it was not his role to
ask Kouao why she was in this position – Mr Martin believed his task as an out-ofoffice-
hours team worker was to deal with the emergency, to “hold things together
until the day services can take over”. The typical response to an urgent request for
cash was via the DSS, and this he pursued. This may well be established practice
for out-of-office-hours teams. However, it raises a number of questions about
access to services which I return to in Phase Two of this Inquiry.
Kouao returns to Acton area office
4.69 Kouao did as she was advised and returned with Victoria to the social services office
the next day on 28 April 1999. She spoke to Godfrey Victor, a social worker on
duty in the Acton area office. He recalled that Victoria seemed rather small for her
age and described her as “stunted in growth”, though he made no record of this
in his notes. He could not be sure, but he did not think Victoria was wearing a wig
at the time though he remembered that her hair was very short.
4.70 This is the first of numerous observations disclosed as evidence to this Inquiry
but not at any time recorded on Victoria’s case file. The importance of accurately
recording observations about children cannot be over-emphasised. The importance
of accurate case recording will form a recommendation for general application later
in this Report.
4.71 The interview with Mr Victor lasted 15 to 20 minutes. Mr Victor found on the
computer the earlier referral made to Ms Fortune on 26 April 1999 – a hard copy
was also in the duty manager’s basket. But he did not know about the family’s
contact with the out-of-office-hours team. This is alarming given Mr Martin’s
evidence that the role of the out-of-office-hours team was “to hold things together
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
50
until the day services can take over”. Nor did Mr Victor do any other statutory
checks because the family had just arrived from France and he presumed such
checks would reveal nothing. It is clearly never safe to make such assumptions.
Checks against Ealing’s own housing department files, as the referrer, may have
led to a trail which, if vigorously pursued in France, as it would likely have been if
Victoria had come from another part of the UK, may have resulted in information
coming to light. Such information did come to light after Victoria’s death – she was
known to French social services and Victoria’s school in Paris had registered a Child
at Risk Emergency Notification with the French education authorities on 9 February
1999, because of Victoria’s repeated absences from school.
4.72 Kouao again requested financial assistance for food and other essentials for Victoria.
She spoke reasonable English. She told Mr Victor that the DSS had refused her
benefits because she had failed the habitual residency test. Mr Victor was aware
that Kouao had other children in France but she refused to provide any details
about them. This did not cause him to be suspicious and he assumed this would be
probed further when Kouao returned for a fuller family assessment. His only anxiety
was to ensure that Victoria was provided with a service that day.
Accommodation arranged
4.73 Mr Victor spoke to his manager, Ms Stollard, who agreed the provision of
short-term financial assistance, amounting to £10 for food for Victoria, until Kouao
could return to the office for an assessment on 30 April 1999. In the meantime,
bed and breakfast accommodation for the family was arranged at 6–8 Nicoll Road,
Harlesden. Mr Victor said he had no reason to believe Nicoll Road was unsuitable
for Kouao and Victoria, but he made no checks to find out, and he was not aware
of any complaints about the premises. It would seem that Mr Victor was also
entirely unaware that Ms Fortune had already arranged for Kouao and Victoria to
be assessed just one day earlier, despite the information recorded on the first level
assessment core form.
4.74 Ms Stollard’s perception of the case from the outset was that Victoria was in need
only in so far as she needed food and accommodation. Nothing was brought to
her attention at the time to suggest that Victoria might be in need of any other
assistance. As no inquiries had been made it is understandable that there was
nothing more to share. As a result, neither she, nor any of the six social workers
in her team who were to come into contact with Victoria during her time in Ealing,
did more than respond at this superficial level. Ms Stollard stated:
“[Victoria] did not present with injuries, she did not present as a child
that other agencies were concerned about, it was an accommodation
issue and a finance issue and that was how it presented at the time.
We did not go looking for child protection issues.”
4.75 This ignores the important fact that the only justification for the involvement of
social services was Victoria’s needs, which were not being assessed.
4.76 Kouao next returned to the office on 30 April 1999. Again Mr Victor saw Kouao
and Victoria and he admitted that once again he did not speak to Victoria:
“I attempted to speak to her, but mum was always talking to me.”
4.77 It was agreed, a decision authorised by senior commissioning manager Judith
Finlay, that accommodation costs would be met by social services funding,
and that the bed and breakfast accommodation at Nicoll Road, Harlesden
would continue until Kouao’s habitual residency appeal had been determined.
Ms Finlay said she assumed the accommodation was satisfactory because it had
been used previously. However, at no stage did she investigate or question
4 Ealing Social Services
51
whether the accommodation was in fact suitable for Victoria. She accepted that
Ealing’s approach to determining the suitability of Nicoll Road was not adequate.
Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
If social services place a child in temporary accommodation, an assessment
must be made of the suitability of that accommodation and the results of that
assessment must be recorded on the child’s case file. If the accommodation is
unsuitable, this should be reported to a senior officer.
4.78 Although Nicoll Road is not far from Ealing’s offices, it does in fact fall under
Brent council – a fact Mr Victor knew all too well because he had come across the
premises when he had been employed by Brent in the early 1990s. Yet it appears
that none of the relevant Brent agencies were informed of this placement. This is
despite the spirit of a pan-London agreement of social services directors, clearly set
out in Ealing’s own child protection procedures manual, that states:
“With families placed in bed and breakfast, it is considered good practice
for the placing borough to provide social services support immediately
following the placement, until and unless such support is specifically
assumed by the receiving borough.”
4.79 That was an obligation that Brent, of course, could not possibly have assumed if
Ealing decided to cease supporting Kouao and Victoria (which ultimately they did),
unless Brent were first made aware of the family’s presence within their area.
4.80 However, Mr Victor saw no reason for him to notify Brent because:
“The child was not at risk, the child was not under child protection. The
child was not being looked after. The child was not under a supervision
order. It was a case of just placing the family within Brent.”
4.81 Ms Finlay believed (wrongly) that the continuing support obligations applied only
to children on the child protection register, and while senior managers thought the
principle “admirable”, they believed it would be impossible to implement. Mr Tutt
shared this view and voiced concerns about the sheer quantity of information that
would need to be exchanged and the systems needed to support and maintain
that process.
4.82 The problem, however, may well get worse as the supply of affordable housing
shrinks in parts of London. Unless greater weight is attached to such agreements,
the risk of ‘losing’ vulnerable children somewhere in the system may well increase
too. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
If social services place a child in accommodation in another local authority
area, they must notify that local authority’s social services department of the
placement. Unless specifically agreed in writing at team manager level by both
authorities or above, the placing authority must retain responsibility for the child
concerned.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
52
4.83 Mr Victor did not manage to complete an assessment of Victoria and Kouao on
30 April 1999. Kouao told him that Victoria had not eaten that day. He said in
evidence that “because the department was child centred, we allowed her to
go in the belief that she would be back”. Kouao and Victoria left, but not before
collecting £17.50 subsistence, which was to last until the following Thursday
– 6 May 1999.
4.84 It seems probable that Kouao and Victoria moved into Nicoll Road on 1 May 1999
immediately after their bed and breakfast booking at Twyford Crescent in
Acton expired.
4.85 Kouao’s next two visits to Ealing Social Services were on 7 May 1999, to collect
a further payment of £17.50, and again on 11 May. On that second occasion,
Ms Stollard agreed further subsistence funding of £64.44 per week – an amount
equivalent to 90 per cent of the DSS rate for a mother and child. This appears to
have been local policy at the time.
Social services record keeping
4.86 Some time before 24 May 1999, but after Kouao’s visit to the area office on
11 May, Ms Lawrence, the duty senior that week, made the following, undated,
entry on Victoria’s case file. It reads:
“i) This lady came to England to learn English
ii) she has no connection with this country and has been found not habitually
resident so is entitled to no benefits
iii) she has a 17yr/16yr and 7yr and she intends to return to France for 2 other
children in June
iv) she has no skills and has made clear she has a 2 yr plan to be in this country
v) she has not even sought assistance from a solicitor yet ... I advised her to do so
yesterday [although had Ms Lawrence taken the trouble to read the First Level
Core Assessment form she would have noticed that Ms Fortune had already
noted down the details of Kouao’s solicitor]
vi) what do we do with this case, there will inevitably be a long-term financial
implication for this department if she remains.”
4.87 Ms Lawrence wrote a note to herself to speak to Ms Finlay, the senior
commissioning manager, or Mr Skinner, assistant director of children’s services,
for their view of this case.
4.88 As stated in paragraph 4.21, Ms Fortune thought 60 to 70 per cent of the cases
they were seeing on duty at the time were housing type cases. Families coming
from abroad and who were ineligible for benefits were not uncommon. Despite
this, when asked why this case should have prompted a discussion with senior
management, Ms Lawrence said, “There was no specific guidance around how
we approached cases or referrals where the presenting issue was homelessness or
destitution and there was no particular assessment framework for approaching
the case.”
4.89 Asked if Victoria’s case stood out in any way from the average, she replied,
“[Kouao] ... did come from France and she did have a family or part of a family
in France.” Ms Lawrence thought that needed exploring but was unclear as to
how to go about it. She thought an assessment was called for, yet Ms Winter’s
4 Ealing Social Services
53
recorded referral on 26 April 1999 had already requested that social services do
an assessment of Victoria’s need so there was no progress in decision making here.
Ms Lawrence “supposed” the assessment ought to be a full family assessment. In
fact, Ms Lawrence could no longer clearly recall whether that was what she meant
or whether she intended a short assessment in accordance with a format that the
team had devised for dealing with this particular type of case. Nor could she recall
whether she in fact spoke to either Ms Finlay or Mr Skinner. There is no record of a
conversation with either, though she expected she would only have gone to them
directly if Ms Stollard had not been available. According to Ms Lawrence, all cases
with long-term financial implications for the department would have necessitated
discussion with senior managers.
4.90 In the event, whatever assessment Ms Lawrence thought might have been
appropriate, according to her statement to the Inquiry, her discussions with senior
managers were heading in a completely opposite direction and were to culminate in
a “final decision of the social services department ... to withdraw financial support”.
Kouao complains about accommodation
4.91 On 24 May 1999, Kouao and Victoria came to the Acton area office without an
appointment. They were interviewed by Ms Gaunt, one of the duty social workers,
who had been in post in Ealing for just four months. She admitted that she knew
very little about the family other than Kouao had failed the habitual residency
test, that she and Victoria were living in Nicoll Road and that they had come from
France. She was not aware that Ealing housing services had already referred the
family for an assessment to be made of Victoria’s needs.
4.92 The interview lasted about 20 minutes and was conducted in English, although
Ms Gaunt thought there were sufficient lapses in understanding to have required
an interpreter.
4.93 Kouao voiced a number of complaints about her accommodation in Nicoll Road
which Ms Gaunt recorded. Kouao complained that the rooms were being burgled
and the police were often involved. She complained of the noise, drinking and
“weed smoking”, the violence in the corridors and the toilets that were often
vomited in. If true, Nicoll Road could hardly be described as accommodation
suitable for a mother and seven-year-old child, yet Ms Gaunt never alluded to
Victoria in her record of the interview nor to the fact that Victoria was resident in
the hostel.
4.94 Ms Gaunt explained to Kouao that the department would pursue her concerns
and decide whether the bed and breakfast accommodation was indeed suitable for
women and children. She arranged for Kouao to return to the office that afternoon
to collect her subsistence money.
4.95 In the meantime, she telephoned Peter Pandelli of Star Lettings, the letting
agency, to pass on Kouao’s complaints in the confident expectation that he would
investigate them with the manager of the accommodation and report back to the
duty team. Although this was the first complaint about temporary accommodation
that Ms Gaunt had dealt with, it did not occur to her that there was anything
inappropriate in leaving the checks for the letting agency to follow up. They clearly
had an interest in maximising the take up of hostel places and ensuring that those
places were suitable for as wide a range of local authority client groups as possible.
4.96 It is, of course, questionable whether social services should be involved in the
management of temporary accommodation. I suggest they should confine their
activities to supporting vulnerable families placed in such accommodation.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
54
4.97 Before leaving the office, Ms Gaunt discussed Victoria’s case with Ms Stollard
and a decision was made to provide Kouao and Victoria with subsistence and
accommodation for one more week, after which they would be invited to
return to France. The decision was relayed to Kouao and it was this, according
to Ms Gaunt, that prompted Victoria to start crying. She stopped when Kouao
gave her some sugar.
4.98 To Ms Gaunt, the whole episode appeared to have been “stage-managed”.
It seemed odd to her that the prospect of returning to France – where Victoria had
other siblings and where life by Kouao’s account had been reasonable – should
have provoked such a response.
4.99 Sadly, Ms Gaunt made no record of Victoria’s reaction, or of her own observations
about it, but she was clear that the incident had happened and that she had not,
in hindsight, confused this with a similar incident recorded by Bernadette Wilkin
later that same day.
4.100 In her evidence, Ms Gaunt made some other observations as to Victoria’s
appearance and her relationship to Kouao. Had these observations been
recorded at the time they might well have prompted closer scrutiny of their true
relationship. Ms Gaunt told the Inquiry that there was a marked difference between
Kouao’s appearance and that of Victoria. Whereas Kouao’s hair was well styled,
Victoria’s was dull, short, unhealthy and generally less well groomed. Victoria’s
skin colour was also darker than Kouao’s and was noticeably blotchy. She vividly
described Victoria as looking like one of the “adverts you see for Action Aid”.
4.101 To Ms Gaunt’s eye there seemed to be no obvious mother/daughter relationship
between them. When asked what she thought was lacking specifically, Ms Gaunt
replied, “When Victoria began to cry I may have expected a mother to comfort her
child in some way and that did not occur.”
4.102 This, coupled with the differences in skin colour, led her to doubt whether the
two were indeed mother and daughter. But she made no record of any of these
observations, nor did they prompt her to initiate any further assessment of
Victoria’s needs. She said, “I can see in hindsight that it may well have been a truly
important piece of assessment, but nevertheless at the time it was not. It did not
raise concerns. It did not make me concerned.”
4.103 Ms Gaunt said she was sufficiently concerned to raise her doubts with colleagues
on her return to the duty room. But she could no longer remember with whom
she raised the possibility that Kouao and Victoria were unrelated or what responses
she received.
4.104 Unlike some of her colleagues, Ms Gaunt seemed to have a clearer understanding
that Victoria was a “child in need” within the meaning of the Children Act 1989, and
she knew that the local authority had a duty to complete a full assessment of the
family. Ms Gaunt said, “She had no roof over her head, unless we were providing it
for her at the time. She had no recourse to public funds, and therefore her health or
well-being would have been hampered had we not provided those things.”
4.105 Nonetheless she allowed Kouao to leave the office that day knowing that no such
assessment had yet been completed, an assessment that she now conceded would
“have made the management of the case clearer, earlier”.
Kouao continues to collect subsistence
4.106 As instructed, Kouao returned with Victoria to the Acton area office later the same
day to collect her subsistence monies. On this occasion she was dealt with by
4 Ealing Social Services
55
Ms Wilkin, a support assistant in the referral and assessment team. This was not the
first time that Kouao had had her subsistence cash paid out in the reception area
by Ms Wilkin. The two women first met on 28 April 1999 when Kouao collected
the first of her weekly payments. Ms Wilkin, who had a daughter the same age
as Victoria, had also observed the differences between Kouao and Victoria. She
told the Inquiry that Kouao “was a very pretty lady with clear shiny skin and well
dressed. Victoria was petite with really short hair”.
4.107 She observed Victoria a few times wearing little short dresses and a leather jacket
which seemed “a bit old fashioned for a little girl. It was burgundy, it was gathered
at the waist and it had lapels on it”. She also noticed that Victoria always stood
very close to Kouao. Ms Wilkin recalled saying “hello” to Victoria but “she just
smiled and that was it”.
4.108 Ms Wilkin repeated to Kouao what Ms Gaunt had already told her, that this would
be her last payment and that the council would pay only for her accommodation
until Monday 31 May 1999. It was the first time that Ms Wilkin had had to
convey such information to a client. According to her file note, Kouao asked her
what she should do. Ms Wilkin explained that it was a management decision and
that perhaps she should take legal advice. Kouao proceeded to say something
to Victoria at which, for the second time that day, Victoria began to cry. Unlike
Ms Gaunt, Ms Wilkin did record this reaction in her file note. She said she also
relayed it back to a social worker but she could no longer remember to whom.
Accommodation complaint investigated
4.109 In a late additional statement to the Inquiry, Ms Gaunt recalled another material
event that she failed to record at the time and omitted to mention in her original
statement for the Inquiry. This concerned her visit to the Nicoll Road premises,
which she believed she made some time after Kouao had lodged her complaints
on 24 May 1999. It is Ms Gaunt’s hazy recollection that she volunteered to do the
visit in response to a suggestion by Ms Stollard that she lived in that direction and
could pass the address on her way home. The visit, according to Ms Gaunt, was
only partly in response to Kouao’s complaints. She believed other complaints may
have been made about the same premises and she said it was for this reason that
no write up of her visit appeared on Victoria’s file.
4.110 In the absence of any record, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when this visit
occurred. Ms Stollard told those who conducted Ealing’s Part 8 management
review following Victoria’s death that the visit to Nicoll Road had taken place
before Kouao made her complaints. But in evidence to this Inquiry she thought
it must have taken place at around the same time. The Part 8 review also noted
that Ms Stollard asked “two social workers to make an unannounced visit to the
accommodation and inspect it all”. In fact, Ms Stollard could only recall with any
conviction that an unannounced visit did take place at Nicoll Road and that it
happened while Kouao was living there. She thought it was “regrettable” that
there was no record of the visit on the case file. When pressed, she could not deny
that the only response to Kouao’s complaints may well have been the phone call to
Mr Pandelli at Star Lettings, as recorded by Ms Gaunt at the time.
4.111 In fact, unbeknown to Ms Gaunt, it appears that another visit was made to Nicoll
Road by Ealing Social Services. On this occasion the visit was announced and
conducted by two social workers – Ms Fortune and Cecilia Schreuder. I shall return
to this later and its implications in the evidence given by Ms Stollard and Ms Gaunt
in respect of the visit to Nicoll Road.
4.112 Ms Gaunt said that when she visited the premises she asked the manager
whether Kouao and Victoria were in their room but was told they were not. As a
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
56
result, it was not possible for her to assess the suitability of Room 13 for Victoria.
She proceeded, nonetheless, to check out the common parts of the house
– the corridors, toilets and bathroom – those areas that Kouao had mentioned
specifically. Ms Gaunt found nothing to cause her concern. She came away with
the general impression that the accommodation was adequate and she conveyed
this to Ms Stollard.
4.113 On 28 May 1999, four days after Kouao had been told that her board and lodging
would be paid up until 31 May, Ms Stollard reviewed Victoria’s case. She said she
may have read through the file but she probably would have been influenced
more by the decisions made by the senior practitioner than by what was on the
file. Ms Stollard decided to close the case one week later pending any further
contact. When asked if she was satisfied that there had been a proper assessment
of Victoria’s needs she said,
“I was satisfied we had looked at the accommodation issues ... I have to
say that I did not make any of the management decisions on this case.
Sharmain [Lawrence] made the decisions [yet it was Ms Stollard who
closed the case], and she made them with Judith [Finlay] so the details of
the discussion and the assessment did not actually involve me.”
4.114 The ‘assessment’ would not, it would seem, have involved Victoria either.
Ms Stollard wrote a brief description of the case on her review note: “French
woman homeless over here learning English. Has been told to go back to France.”
4.115 Victoria, ostensibly Ealing Social Services’ client, did not get a single mention. Nor is
it clear from the case file that it was Ms Lawrence who had made the decisions in
Victoria’s case. Her last recorded, but undated, entry showed that she was anything
but certain as to what to do next and needed to discuss the case with senior
managers. By contrast, Ms Gaunt’s case note for 24 May 1999 shows quite clearly
that the decision to offer Kouao board and accommodation for one more week
followed from “discussion and decisions with Sarah Stollard”.
The involvement of solicitors
4.116 Kouao, in the meantime, had instructed her solicitors and they wrote to Ealing on
27 May 1999. They pointed out that their client had come to the UK in March
1999, although Ealing housing department already knew from Kouao’s flight
tickets that she had arrived in England in April 1999. They also claimed that Kouao
had exhausted her savings as she was required to pay £166 per week for a room
for herself and daughter – again an assertion that Ealing could have questioned
as they had been funding Kouao’s accommodation since the beginning of May.
The solicitor restated Kouao’s position that she would have nowhere to live from
31 May 1999 as she had been asked to leave the hostel accommodation provided
by Ealing. Nor did their client have any money to feed herself and Victoria. They
reminded Ealing of their duty under sections 17 and 20 of the Children Act 1989,
seeking on Kouao’s behalf financial assistance and help with accommodation and
care for “her child”.
4.117 The letter came to Ms Fortune while on duty on 1 June 1999. She said she was
brought up to date on the case in the duty team discussion and knew that Ealing’s
funding of Kouao’s stay at Nicoll Road had come to an end the day before. On
reading the solicitor’s letter, Ms Fortune said she was anxious to discuss this with
her duty manager, Ms Lawrence, and to seek legal advice. If there had been a
clear strategy previously to close Victoria’s case the solicitor’s letter appears to have
turned that on its head. Ms Lawrence’s unsigned and undated instruction on the
case record contact sheet, was to extend the accommodation booking at Nicoll
Road and for the case to be allocated for assessment as “no thorough assessment
4 Ealing Social Services
57
has been carried out as yet”. Ms Lawrence also raised the possibility that Ealing
could consider paying for return tickets to France.
4.118 Ms Lawrence accepted it was unusual for housing cases to be allocated at all,
particularly in the light of Ms Stollard’s ‘decision’ the previous week that Kouao
be given one more week’s assistance before going back to France. But on this
occasion Ms Lawrence said:
“There appeared to have been some drift in that although there was a
process of information gathering and there was information recorded on
the file, the assessment format that we were using at the time had not
been used, and I felt that it needed to come off the duty system and be
given to one worker to carry out the task.”
4.119 However, by “thorough assessment”, Ms Lawrence said she meant no more than
completing the three-sided assessment template for families who have failed the
habitual residence test. This is an assessment which she admitted with hindsight
could not be described as “thorough”. The solicitor’s letter, it seems, had merely
been the prompt for her to review the case file and ensure that the paperwork was
up to date.
4.120 Despite being told that Kouao had no money for food – the last subsistence
cheque for £64.44 had been paid on 24 May 1999, just over a week previously,
though Ms Fortune did not know this because she did not check – Ms Fortune said
she had no concerns as to where Victoria’s next meal was to come from because
Ms Lawrence had also instructed that the subsistence money should continue for
another week. The monies were not paid out, however, until the next day, though
nothing was done by Ms Fortune on 1 June 1999 to ensure that Victoria did not go
without food.
4.121 Ms Fortune also had the impression that Kouao and Victoria looked very dissimilar:
“Kouao always dressed immaculately. Her clothing and jewellery seemed
expensive and her hair was very well done. She did not in any way look
destitute, contrary to what she always claimed. In contrast, Victoria was
poorly dressed. I cannot recall exactly what she wore but there were
times when she did not seem to be dressed appropriately. She always
appeared to look as if she was in hand-me-down clothes. I thought she
looked shabbily dressed. I also thought she looked very small for her age.
She was very slim and very dark skinned. She had very short dark hair.”
4.122 Yet again, none of these observations were recorded by Ms Fortune on the case
file. It serves to support the general recommendation I make on the importance of
case recording.
4.123 By chance, Kouao’s solicitor spoke to Ms Fortune the same day, 1 June, that
she received their letter. Apart from reiterating what was in the letter, they told
Ms Fortune that Kouao was destitute and that she had asked Brent Social Services
for assistance. Brent Social Services asked her to return to the Acton area office.
4.124 Ms Fortune told Kouao’s solicitor that “social services had been given variations
of her [Kouao’s] circumstances” and that social services had a duty to undertake a
“thorough” assessment of their client.
4.125 Kouao’s solicitor promptly advised Kouao to return to social services and she
arrived with Victoria at the Acton area office at about 4.45pm. Kouao was told that
she could stay at Nicoll Road one more night and that she would be telephoned
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
58
the next day and informed whether social services could continue to assist her.
Although she agreed to stay at the hostel, according to Ms Fortune, she seemed
unhappy at Nicoll Road. Kouao complained that for the last three days she and
Victoria had been sleeping in the kitchen area because of water leaking through
the ceiling. When she had complained to the manager he had been abusive to her
and that had upset Victoria. It had also upset Kouao sufficiently that she took her
complaint about the manager to Harlesden police station the next day. She also
mentioned again that the place was dirty and the toilets were filled to the rim with
vomit and excrement.
4.126 Those complaints notwithstanding, the very next day on 2 June 1999, Ealing Social
Services extended Kouao’s booking at Nicoll Road for another week until 9 June.
An interpreter was also booked and an appointment was made for the assessment
interview to take place on 7 June.
Inspection of accommodation
4.127 Asked how she responded to Kouao’s complaints about the premises, Ms Fortune
said, “I know that there was a phone call made to Nicoll Road and that they said
Kouao had ripped up the carpets.” In fact, this was a reference to a telephone call
received by Ms Wilkin on 4 June 1999 from the accommodation agency through
which Kouao and Victoria had been placed in Nicoll Road. The member of staff
at Star Lettings, Mr Pandelli, told Ms Wilkin that he had personally inspected the
accommodation the previous day and found it adequate. However, he was angry
because following Kouao’s complaints, she had been moved to a new room the
previous night but had removed all the carpets and put them outside her room.
4.128 Ms Fortune told the Inquiry that social services had checked out the premises.
She recalled that she herself had made an earlier visit to Nicoll Road – her
diary confirmed this visit on 1 March 1999 – and that she had made a second
‘announced’ visit with another social worker, Ms Schreuder. But, like Ms Gaunt,
she could not remember when that was. She thought it was “somewhere between
May and June”. Ms Fortune stated that she could not remember whether the visit
took place before or after her conversation with Kouao. Therefore it is not clear
whether the visit was a direct response to Kouao’s complaints or complaints by
other residents. She made no mention of it in her witness statement and she did
not record it on the case file. Asked why not, she said, “I was called to go out
with another duty social worker to see another family. I presumed she would have
written the information. She obviously presumed I would have.”
4.129 She said that if she had recorded her visit she would have noted that the bedrooms
and toilets that she saw had basic amenities and were reasonably clean.
4.130 Having heard their evidence and that of Ms Stollard, I am prepared to accept that
Ms Fortune and Ms Gaunt probably did visit Nicoll Road on two separate occasions
and may well have done so during the time that Kouao and Victoria lived there.
However, their and Ms Stollard’s recollection as to precisely when these visits
occurred was vague and inconsistent. On neither occasion was any serious attempt
made to see Kouao’s accommodation, particularly in the light of Kouao’s complaint
on 1 June 1999 that she and Victoria had been forced to sleep in the kitchen area
because of a water leak. There was also a failure to record anywhere on the case
file the outcomes of these visits. Therefore it seems unlikely that either visit was a
direct response to, or was designed to follow up specifically, Kouao’s complaints.
As a result, Ealing Social Services left unresolved the question of whether the
accommodation they were providing at Nicoll Road was in any way suitable for
Victoria to live in.
4 Ealing Social Services
59
4.131 Kouao and Victoria paid another visit to Ealing Social Services on 4 June 1999
without an appointment. Kouao made further complaints about Nicoll Road to
Louise Jones, another social worker in the referral and assessment team who was
on duty that day. She complained that there were no carpets in her room and that
she had not had a bath for a month because the place was so dirty.
4.132 Ms Jones said she knew that complaints had been made before about the state of
Nicoll Road so she asked in the duty room whether anyone had visited. She was
told – though she could not remember by whom – that the accommodation had
been checked and approved by social workers recently, and she passed on this
information to Kouao.
4.133 In her unsigned case file note, Ms Jones recorded that Kouao was due to attend
a job interview and that if she was successful she would arrange childcare
for Victoria.
4.134 She also noted that Victoria had some rough skin on her arm. Kouao explained
that Victoria had eczema and that she was registered with a Dr Emias, but Kouao
was unable to give any contact details for Victoria’s GP. Ms Jones accepted and
recorded these details without question.
4.135 In the meantime, Kouao had instructed her solicitors to write to Ealing a second
time which they did on 2 June 1999. Their letter, received in the social services
office two days later, noted that Kouao’s room in Nicoll Road had flooded on
28 May 1999 as a result of a burst water pipe and that her mattress was sodden
– a matter that the manager of the hostel had yet to resolve. They also advised
Ealing that neither Kouao nor Victoria had eaten in the last couple of days because
Kouao had run out of money. It is not evident that either Ms Jones or anyone else
in the Acton area office referral and assessment team ever responded to, or sought
to check out, this new information that Victoria was going for long periods of time
without food.
4.136 Kouao did not attend her appointment for the assessment interview on 7 June
1999. Instead she turned up again unannounced with Victoria, on 8 June 1999
for her subsistence monies. She explained to Ms Jones that she had missed her
appointment the previous day because she had gone for a job interview. She
had been successful and was due to start work at Northwick Park Hospital that
afternoon. She promised to telephone once she knew her shift rota so that she
could fix up a new assessment interview date and an interpreter could be booked.
In the meantime, she needed a letter from social services so that she could open a
bank account – her first pay cheque was due at the end of the month. Kouao then
collected another week’s subsistence cheque for £64.44.
4.137 Altogether, Ms Jones’s involvement with Kouao and Victoria while on duty
amounted to no more than two unannounced office visits, each lasting between
10 and 15 minutes. Yet she too recalled noticing the differences in the appearance
of ‘mother and daughter’, that Kouao “appeared to be well dressed and she had
very nice make-up and very nicely presented and [Victoria] by comparison did not
seem to be well presented in her clothes and appearance”.
4.138 She observed that Victoria appeared to be a little short for her age and that she
seemed “to stand quite quietly, a little behind Ms Kouao and to be extremely quiet
and reserved”. She did not play with the toys in the Wendy house like the other
children did. On the second of the two visits, she described Victoria’s posture as
“submissive, very quiet and timid”.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
60
4.139 However, like her colleagues before her, Ms Jones recorded none of these
observations about Kouao and Victoria’s physical appearance. She told the Inquiry
that in a busy duty system, the need to write down events and contacts as they
happened did not allow time for proper reflection and evaluation. Nonetheless, she
said she discussed what she had seen informally within the team shortly afterwards:
“We maybe had feelings – a gut feeling about the observations we had
made but ... this was not a level of concern that would mean we would
instigate child protection procedures, or any level of concern that we felt
that we would follow up.”
4.140 This cumulative failure to record basic information about Victoria over a period of
weeks denied Ealing the benefit of assembling what was becoming a substantial
body of information which could and should have been used to inform the
assessment of Victoria’s needs and future care. By not completing the simple
task of assessing Victoria’s needs, the original reason for the referral, two and
a half months of limited reactive and ineffective social work followed. It was
the start of a pattern of response Victoria was to receive in the months ahead.
Ms Finlay’s admission that less effort may well have been used in completing
a basic assessment of Victoria’s needs is correct, and it illustrates the degree of
disorganisation in the Ealing office at the time and that poor work can waste
scarce resources.
4.141 Kouao’s next contact with Ealing Social Services was not the telephone call she had
promised to make but an early morning unannounced visit on 14 June 1999. She
spoke to Ms Wilkin as soon as the office opened to ask whether the department
would pay the £30 a week costs of a childminder she had found to look after
Victoria while she was at work. It is not clear whether she was given an immediate
answer to her question. She did, however, collect her weekly subsistence money
and she was given a further assessment interview appointment for 1.30pm on
17 June 1999. She was told that failure to attend on that occasion would cost her
her place at Nicoll Road and her financial support would stop.
Kouao turns up for assessment
4.142 On 17 June 1999, Kouao attended Ealing’s offices for the assessment. On that
occasion, Victoria, who ought to have been the focus of the assessment, did not
accompany her. Ms Fortune, as the duty social worker, saw Kouao and was told
that Victoria was with a childminder. She was not particularly concerned by this,
even though by this stage Victoria had been in the country almost two months and
was still not at school. Kouao’s explanation was that she wanted to bring over her
other children from France, to settle the family’s accommodation and then make
arrangements for Victoria’s schooling.
4.143 Ms Fortune did nothing to alert the education authorities to Victoria’s presence in
Ealing, nor did she ask any questions to establish whether Victoria was going to a
registered childminder. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Where, during the course of an assessment, social services establish that a child
of school age is not attending school, they must alert the education authorities
and satisfy themselves that, in the interim, the child is subject to adequate
daycare arrangements.
4 Ealing Social Services
61
4.144 According to Ms Fortune, it was a difficult interview. Kouao seemed anxious
and distressed and said that she had only a limited time as she had to be at
work later in the afternoon. Kouao also refused to speak any English and would
only talk to, and allow information to be written down by, the French-speaking
interpreter, Ouafa Choufani. So Ms Choufani, rather than Ms Fortune, completed
the assessment of families who have failed the habitual residence test form. This
was the assessment form that Ms Lawrence had instructed to be completed by an
‘allocated social worker’. It is questionable whether Ms Fortune learned anything
new that day – certainly nothing about Victoria – and what she was told bore little
relation to the information Kouao had given in the past.
4.145 Kouao described her previous employment as a “manager at Roissy Airport”,
yet she had told Ms Winter that she had been a housewife. She gave the name
and contact details of Dr I Patel as her GP – the same name as she had given to
Ms Winter. She had previously told Ms Jones that Victoria was registered with a
Dr Emias whose address she did not know. In fact, none of these details relating to
the registration of either Victoria or Kouao were entirely correct. When asked about
Victoria’s education, she gave details of her own, which included “A levels in science
and three years study at a medical centre”. When asked about the general health
of the family, the recorded answer was “none”. When asked about her reasons
for coming to the country and staying here, Kouao again provided her French
national insurance card details and repeated her intention to improve her English.
Ms Fortune was able to complete the only remaining details on the form from
information she already knew, namely the name of Kouao’s solicitor and that she
had been supported by Ealing Social Services with accommodation and funding.
4.146 Ms Fortune’s assessment was limited by the fact that important sections of the
form – her conclusion, assessment and management decisions – were left blank.
Her assessment at best only partially considered Victoria’s needs. Ms Fortune told
the Inquiry that it was difficult to undertake an assessment if a person gives various
accounts: “We can only work with the information that we have ... I asked Kouao
to bring Victoria, she did not bring her at all. It was difficult.”
4.147 Ms Fortune’s case file note of the interview appears in two separate places. The first
note, which appears in chronological date order on the contact sheets for 17 June
1999, outlines Ms Fortune’s action points for the next day, 18 June, when she was
away on leave. The action points were:
• to contact Kouao’s solicitor to find out when the result of Kouao’s habitual
residency test appeal would be known;
• to write to Kouao and arrange a home visit so that the assessment could be
completed;
• to discuss with the duty team manager if financial assistance should continue
pending the outcome of the assessment.
4.148 There is no record on the file to suggest that any manager endorsed Ms Fortune’s
action plan. Managers remained unaware that a visit to Victoria in Nicoll Road was
ever made. Ms Fortune said that she later contacted Kouao’s solicitor but she did
not receive an answer to her question about Kouao’s appeal.
4.149 Ms Fortune’s second entry on the case file relating to her interview with Kouao on
17 June 1999 appears on the contact sheets after an entry by her duty manager,
Ms Lawrence, for 30 June. Ms Lawrence’s entry instructs Ms Fortune to “complete
the assessment and write to Ms Kouao, invite her into the office to discuss the
management decision”. It is in this entry that Ms Fortune describes Kouao’s
anxious state and her insistence on only speaking through the interpreter. She
also notes that she explained to Kouao that her financial support would probably
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
62
cease as she was now in work – in effect pre-empting the management decision
that Ms Lawrence referred to. When Kouao again repeated her request for help
with childminding fees, Ms Fortune told her that social services would “probably
not assist”.
4.150 When asked if she could have written this entry on the case file after 30 June 1999,
and indeed after Ms Lawrence’s instruction to her, Ms Fortune replied, “It could
be. I do not know.” In my view, this is the most plausible explanation.
4.151 On 22 June 1999, Ms Fortune discussed the case with her duty manager who
informed her that Kouao’s accommodation would not be funded after 30 June
1999. The next day Ms Lawrence made an entry on the file to the effect that the
duty social worker should contact Kouao’s solicitors to check the outcome of what
Ms Lawrence called “her housing appeal” (that is, her habitual residency test). That
social services should consider paying her return fare to France, that they should
withdraw funding once the outcome of the appeal was known and they should
write to Kouao informing her of the outcome of the assessment.
4.152 Ms Lawrence said that she could not recall if she ever saw Ms Fortune’s assessment.
She believed the only reason she recorded “something on the file” was because
Ms Fortune brought it to her attention for some direction. She said, “I did not
see the assessment. I was given feedback, I was told the assessment had been
completed; I did not check it.” As a result, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
All social services assessments of children and families, and any action plans
drawn up as a result, must be approved in writing by a manager. Before giving
such approval, the manager must ensure that the child and the child’s carer
have been seen and spoken to.
4.153 When asked if it was her responsibility to read the file and to make sure that the
case was properly directed, she replied, “Overall responsibility would have been
with the team manager. However, I played a part in that I managed duty on a
fortnightly basis.”
Case allocation
4.154 That same day, Ms Lawrence finally allocated Victoria’s case to Ms Fortune, or so she
thought. The process involved making the papers up into a file and logging the details
on the computer – a task that was to take a week before Ms Fortune finally received
the case papers. As a result, the case allocation date was subsequently changed to
30 June 1999 and Ms Fortune was instructed to “complete the assessment”.
4.155 It might seem bizarre that the decision to allocate Victoria’s case should have
come more than two months after Victoria was first referred to Ealing and after
an assessment had supposedly been completed which was to lead to Ealing
Social Services discontinuing their support to Kouao and Victoria. Ms Lawrence’s
explanation was “for the assessment that Pamela [Fortune] said she had completed
to be put down on paper ... to take it off the duty system, to ensure that that
person got it done”. It would seem that the process of allocation on this occasion
was no more than a vehicle for ensuring that Ms Fortune, the person who
conducted the assessment interview such as it was, also wrote it up.
4.156 By “completing the assessment” Ms Lawrence certainly meant no more than
that Ms Fortune should write it up. Ms Fortune, on the other hand, believed she
4 Ealing Social Services
63
was being asked to “complete” the assessment. She said she told Ms Lawrence
that she had found the assessment “difficult”, which no doubt accounts for why
Ms Fortune’s account of her interview with Kouao appears after Ms Lawrence’s file
instruction for 30 June 1999. Ms Fortune also knew that a decision had been made
“from quite early on that Mrs Kouao should go back to France or the child should
be accommodated”.
4.157 Ms Fortune was instructed to write to Kouao to invite her into the office to discuss
the decisions that had been reached. The decisions, as they appear on the case file
in Ms Lawrence’s handwriting, unsigned and undated, were:
“i) client has no connection with this country, has no significant family/friends
ii) there has been no appropriate/adequate planning prior to coming to this country
iii) reasons for coming are weak – to learn English
iv) she has family/friends in France, has access to housing and state benefits
in France
v) she has children who she left back in France whom she intends to return to
France to collect and bring back to this country, who will subsequently become
dependent on social services funding
vi) based on the above the department has decided that we can no longer
fund Ms Kouao as it is apparent that she will need intermittent funding for
a long period of time. Ms Kouao has left a stable lifestyle to come to this
country where she has no recourse to public funds or accommodation and
has therefore placed herself in a vulnerable situation. We are in a position to
provide Ms Kouao with return tickets for herself and child to France.”
4.158 What is extraordinary about these decisions was the basis for making them. As
Ms Lawrence recorded, they reflected almost precisely the reasons Ms Winter gave
back in April for Kouao failing the habitual residency test. All the emphasis was
on Kouao’s lack of significant ties in this country, the fact that she had left family
and friends in France and that her stay in the country was intended to be short
term. There is not a single mention of Victoria. Indeed, there can be no doubt that
the “client” referred to was Kouao. Nothing more had been learnt about Kouao,
let alone Victoria, in the two months since the case had been referred to Ealing
Social Services.
4.159 Ms Lawrence said she fully accepted that the focus of the assessment was on the
adult and the presenting issue, which was homelessness. She admitted that she did
nothing to assure herself that the assessment was complete, let alone adequate. In
fact, she never read Ms Fortune’s account of what had happened on 17 June 1999:
“I was not the person who closed the case – perhaps if I had closed the
case I would have referred back to the assessment before closing it as I
had directed that it be done ... I had been informed by Pamela [Fortune]
that it had been carried out and I informed Judith Finlay that it had.
I accept that I should have actually looked at that form and signed it off
and ensured that it was completed before I reported to Judith Finlay.”
4.160 Her only concern, it appears, was that the form had not been properly completed.
Asked if a different conclusion might have been reached if someone had read the
file from start to finish, Ms Lawrence replied:
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
64
“I do not think there would have been a different approach. I think we
could have come to the conclusions that we came to at an earlier point
in our involvement with the family, but I am not convinced that the
outcome would have been different.”
4.161 In a telephone call with Ms Lawrence, Ms Finlay ratified the management decisions
that had been made. She did not know at the time that Victoria had never been
seen or spoken to. She was told that a comprehensive assessment had been
undertaken: “My understanding of a comprehensive assessment is that the child is
seen and spoken to.”
4.162 But she also did nothing to check this was the case. On average, Ms Finlay said she
was consulted about once a week on similar cases where the presenting issues were
homelessness. Had she known the truth, she said she would not have endorsed the
management decisions.
4.163 Kouao returned to the Ealing office on 30 June 1999, again without Victoria.
She saw Ms Fortune and told her that Victoria was with the childminder.
Ms Fortune gave her a letter setting out the reasons why social services would no
longer fund her stay in England. Kouao was told that her accommodation would
be paid for until 7 July 1999 and she and Ms Lawrence went through the letter
with Kouao. Before leaving the office, Kouao made it clear that she did not want to
return to France and that she would be contacting her solicitor. To Ms Lawrence’s
eye, Kouao appeared “forceful” and “manipulative” and that she seemed to
understand only what was being said when it suited her. However, she never
recorded these observations on the case file.
Ealing council’s legal department
4.164 On advice, Ms Fortune contacted Ealing council’s legal department (interestingly the
only authority to make use of its legal section) and spoke to Phillip Joseph. Mr Joseph
told the Inquiry that he found the circumstances of Victoria’s case “slightly bizarre”.
He said, “It just struck me as peculiar that a lady would come from France with a
child and leave her other children in France merely to learn English.”
4.165 Regrettably, this was not a perception shared by his social work colleagues, and in
particular by Ms Fortune or her managers.
4.166 Mr Joseph was told by Ms Fortune that a section 17 assessment had been done
of Victoria’s needs. In his view it was perfectly reasonable to fund return tickets
to France for Kouao and Victoria if the child’s needs could best be met there.
He thought there had been some preliminary inquiries as to Kouao’s circumstances
in France, though he was reliant on what Ms Fortune had told him, and she in turn
had simply accepted at face value what Kouao had chosen to tell social services.
At no stage had Ealing Social Services attempted to verify independently any aspect
of Kouao’s life before her arrival in England.
4.167 On 2 July 1999, Mr Joseph had a second telephone conversation with Ms Fortune.
Kouao’s solicitors had written another letter to Ealing Social Services expressing
surprise at the decision to repatriate their “client”, and asking them to review
that decision or face judicial review proceedings. Mr Joseph repeated his earlier
advice and suggested as an alternative to the family returning to France, that social
services could offer to accommodate Victoria in their care until Kouao had found
full-time work. Ms Fortune passed this on to Kouao’s solicitors.
4.168 On 7 July 1999, Kouao again visited the offices alone. She was seen by Ms Fortune
who confirmed that social services would no longer pay for her accommodation
or continue to offer financial assistance. Kouao, who according to Ms Fortune was
4 Ealing Social Services
65
quite emotional at the time, was adamant that she would not return to France nor
would she agree to Victoria being accommodated separately from her. Ms Fortune
advised her to return to her solicitors but Kouao indicated that they were “no
good”. She also asked if she could have the money for the tickets, but Ms Fortune
repeated her offer of purchasing the return tickets if Kouao would give her a travel
date. Kouao did not respond and left the office.
The file is closed
4.169 That day, Ealing Social Services closed their files on Kouao and Victoria. They did so
in the full knowledge that funding for their accommodation at Nicoll Road would
cease the same day and that Kouao had no intention of returning to France. It was
a poor decision that lacked any sound professional basis. Ms Fortune said she was
not unduly concerned about Victoria because “[Kouao] had a part-time job at that
time so I knew she had money to be able to look after her”.
4.170 Ms Fortune conceded, however, that by the time Victoria’s case was closed, Ealing
had done nothing to determine Victoria’s future or safeguard and promote her
welfare. During the nine or so weeks Victoria had been Ealing’s responsibility, none
of the social workers who had come into contact with Victoria had got beyond
saying “hello” to her. No assessment of her needs had been completed.
Brent Social Services
4.171 On 14 July 1999, barely a week after closing Victoria’s case, Ms Fortune learned
that her team manager, Ms Stollard, had “received a message from Brent Social
Services” to the effect that Victoria had been admitted to the Central Middlesex
Hospital with suspected non-accidental injuries. There was also a message to
ring Elzanne Smit, a social worker in Brent. Ms Fortune did so the following
day. Ms Smit told Ms Fortune that Victoria’s childminder had noticed injuries
to Victoria’s body and had taken her to the hospital. Although admitted with
suspected non-accidental injuries, Kouao’s explanation that they were self-inflicted
had been accepted by another doctor. Victoria was diagnosed as having scabies
and the injuries were thought to have been caused by Victoria scratching herself.
4.172 Ms Fortune explained to Ms Smit that Ealing had closed the case. When asked if
Ealing could send over a copy of their assessment – an assessment that never of
course existed – Ms Fortune said, according to her contact note, that she would
speak to her manager and unless there was a problem she would send across a
summary. That ‘summary’, which ought to have chronicled Ealing’s involvement
with Kouao and Victoria since April and the outcome of their assessment, was no
more than a copy of the letter handed over to Kouao on 30 June 1999, which set
out Ealing’s decision to cease their support for the family and their reasons for
coming to that decision.
4.173 Ms Fortune believed that she did pass on more information to Ms Smit over
the telephone about Ealing’s involvement though she made no record of this.
At the very least, according to Ms Smit’s record of the conversation on the Brent
file, Brent learned that Kouao had come to England in April, that she had been
referred to social services by Ealing Homeless Persons’ Unit after failing the habitual
residency test, that she had sought legal advice and been offered accommodation
in Harlesden until 7 July 1999. Indeed, this would have been the first time that
Brent had confirmed knowledge of Kouao’s placement within their borough.
Ms Smit was told that Kouao planned to stay in the UK.
4.174 Kouao returned again to the Acton area office with Victoria later on 15 July 1999,
the very same day that Victoria had been discharged from the Central Middlesex
Hospital. It seems that Kouao left Victoria alone in the reception area. According
to Ms Wilkin she was told by reception staff that Kouao was waiting, but when she
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
66
went out to tell Kouao that a social worker would be out shortly she found Victoria
alone sitting in a chair. Ms Wilkin said she returned several times to check on
Victoria. She also told Ms Fortune that Victoria had been left alone.
4.175 Ms Wilkin could no longer recall anything about Victoria’s appearance on that
occasion. Ms Fortune went out to speak to Victoria and said “hello” just as Kouao
ran back in. Ms Fortune noticed at once that Victoria had a rash and blisters on
her face and arms. She presumed that this was the scabies that the consultant
at the Central Middlesex Hospital had diagnosed the day before. Ms Fortune
recalled that she felt quite angry and told Kouao it was unacceptable for her to
leave Victoria in the reception area. Kouao said that she had been to the toilet and
left Victoria for just five minutes. The reception staff were unable to say how long
Victoria had been sitting alone although Ms Wilkin said she was told it could have
been up to an hour. Nonetheless, uppermost in Ms Fortune’s mind were health
and safety concerns for the staff. If, as seemed likely, Victoria had yet to recover
from her scabies infection then she should have been at home. But this was not an
observation, nor an incident, that Ms Fortune thought worthwhile to mention to
Brent Social Services, despite their recent child protection concerns.
4.176 Ms Fortune informed Kouao that her case was closed at Acton and that she would
have to return to Brent. She also suggested that Kouao seek independent legal
advice from the Acton Law Centre, which was housed in the Acton area office
next to the reception area. Ms Fortune’s case file note for 15 July 1999 refers to a
telephone call that she received from a Mr Armstrong, whom she believed to be
from the law centre, asking for information and expressing some concern about
Kouao’s case. Ms Fortune told him that the case was closed and that Kouao was
now being seen by Brent “due to concerns about Anna”. Yet these were the
very same concerns which, according to Ms Fortune, had all but been dismissed
because “the information that we got from Elzanne [Smit] was that it was scabies,
and the doctor had made a decision”.
4.177 There was therefore no reason, in her view, to let Brent know that Victoria had
been left alone in the Ealing Social Services office on the day of her discharge
from the Central Middlesex Hospital. I strongly disagree. Ms Fortune knew that
as recently as the day before, Brent were investigating potential child protection
concerns. The proper course of action for Ms Fortune to have taken, while Kouao
and Victoria were still in the Ealing office, was to telephone Brent Social Services
there and then to let them know where Victoria was and what had just happened.
One telephone call ought to have prompted a discussion about what to do next,
leading ultimately to a meeting between social services officers as to who should
take on case responsibility in the immediate future. Most likely it would also have
been the trigger for Ealing to share all the information they already had about the
family, including Kouao’s lack of co-operation with the assessment process and the
observations of the Ealing staff as to the relationship between Kouao and Victoria.
4.178 Ms Fortune’s final action note for 15 July 1999 makes a clear reference to Brent
having “resumed the case due to their involvement with ‘Anna’ when she was
admitted to hospital”. Thereafter, neither Ms Fortune, nor anyone else from Ealing
Social Services, saw Victoria or Kouao again.
4.179 The only reason Kouao was referred to Ealing Social Services was because of
Victoria’s needs. Yet throughout contact, her needs were largely ignored and
instead the focus was on Kouao. Victoria was never seen as the client and
never became the focus of the work in Ealing. This was the start of a pattern of
social work practice that was to disadvantage Victoria repeatedly over the next
11 months.
4 Ealing Social Services
67
Analysis of practice
4.180 This first appearance by Kouao and Victoria at the childcare offices was the start
of a process which illustrates just how poorly organised the ‘front door’ services in
Ealing were. The case was passed from worker to worker with differing assumptions
being made about who had done what and what remained to be done. The
practice ensured that no supervisory overview was given to Victoria, other than a
rather brief reactive analysis being offered by the duty senior manager in passing.
Organisational failures
4.181 The capacity of the team to keep track of each of the referrals they were dealing
with appears to have been dependent upon the memory and diligence of the
senior staff and a defective system involving baskets, books, A–Z cabinets, pending
trays, diaries and logs. The case recording throughout was grossly inadequate
and the likelihood of cases drifting or being lost was high. Indeed, I wonder what
would have happened had Kouao not repeatedly been knocking at the front door
of social services? By Ealing’s own admission, the threat of legal action was the
only reason the case was kept open. Ealing’s main intervention was to give money
to Kouao for subsistence and to finance her accommodation once she had been
deemed ineligible for housing by the housing department. Although this response
was under the Children Act 1989, the reality was that the needs of the child,
Victoria, were never considered. In fact it was said that homeless families were
dealt with administratively and not allocated to a social worker. This is entirely
unacceptable and is bad practice.
4.182 I found it hard to understand the evidence I heard from qualified social workers
about what they described as a lack of clarity on how they should assess the needs
of a child and its family. While the National Assessment Framework was published
more recently, and welcomed, I would have expected qualified social workers at
the time Victoria needed protection to be capable of completing an assessment of
her needs. The Children Act 1989 had been implemented in 1991. The forms for
this purpose were available and senior managers accepted that the tasks had been
completed. In reality, however, the conversations with Victoria were limited to
little more than “hello, how are you?”. The only ‘assessment’ completed involved
the writing down of limited and sometimes contradictory information provided
by Kouao.
4.183 The overall picture of what happened to Victoria while in Ealing serves to illustrate
well the effect of drift in social work. No plan of action was ever devised and no
sense of direction could be identified. Little wonder that the information recorded
on the file in June 1999 was precisely that which was in the referral two months
earlier. This ineffective work was no doubt not helped by the confusion in the
managerial responsibilities and the ad hoc weekly handover arrangements and
irregular supervision between the team manager and the senior practitioner.
This is certainly something which should have been sorted out by senior managers.
The decision was made to close Victoria’s case without seeing or speaking to
Victoria, and without any indication of how her welfare was to be safeguarded or
promoted. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that no case involving a vulnerable child
is closed until the child and the child’s carer have been seen and spoken to, and
a plan for the ongoing promotion and safeguarding of the child’s welfare has
been agreed.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
68
What Ealing Social Services could have recorded
4.184 It is useful to reflect on what Ealing knew, or suspected, about Victoria despite their
failure to undertake an assessment of her needs. From the documentary evidence
and other evidence put to this Inquiry that did not always find its way onto the
case records, the following picture would have emerged under the four areas
for concern.
4.185 1: The credibility of the story as told by Kouao:
• Kouao and Victoria arrived in London on a travel package, which included
seven days’ bed and breakfast accommodation. (I suspect an unusual route by a
homeless family.)
• Kouao had no means to support herself and Victoria for more than a few days.
• Within two days, Kouao had presented herself as a homeless person with
a young child.
• Kouao said she had left three other children in France, a matter which should
have resulted in contact with the French authorities.
• Kouao said the reason she came was to improve her English.
• Kouao made it clear she had no immediate intention of returning to France.
• Kouao provided the Ealing duty team social worker with a French social security
number. Had the social worker contacted the authorities in France, they may
have heard about the quite serious concerns the school had about the welfare
of Victoria.
• Kouao claimed she was given financial assistance by French social security to
travel to London with Victoria, which was never checked.
• Kouao gave a different story to different members of staff in housing and
social services.
4.186 2: Concerns about Victoria’s appearance:
• Victoria was wearing a wig.
• The photograph of Victoria on the passport was a questionable likeness of her.
• Kouao was very well dressed.
• In contrast, Victoria was shabby and resembled one of the “adverts you see for
Action Aid”.
• Victoria was said to be small and of “stunted growth”.
• Kouao and Victoria appeared to have a different skin colour.
4.187 3: Concerns about Victoria’s behaviour:
• Kouao was “forceful” and “manipulative” and did not allow Victoria to answer
questions staff directed to her.
• Social services believed that Victoria was being coached in her reactions.
• When Victoria cried it seemed to be “stage managed”.
• In the office it was noted that Victoria stood silently and did not play with the
Wendy house or the toys like the other children.
4.188 4: The apparent lack of Kouao’s concern for Victoria’s welfare:
• There did not appear to be any parental warmth from Kouao toward Victoria.
• When a meeting was fixed to perform an assessment of Victoria’s needs,
unusually Kouao attended without Victoria and she was less than co-operative.
• Despite being in this country for some two months, Victoria still had not been
registered with a school.
4.189 Each of the above is not of itself a determining factor, but together they indicate
that Victoria was probably in need of safeguarding. I accept that in a busy office
4 Ealing Social Services
69
dealing with a high number and a wide range of referrals, decisions have to be
made about likelihood of deliberate harm and urgency. The fact remains that the
initial reason for Victoria’s referral was for an assessment of her needs and in my
view enough was known, or was observed about the family during the months
they spent in Ealing, to have triggered a full assessment of those needs. It is a
duty placed on social services to assemble and analyse information about children
who may need to have their welfare safeguarded and promoted. This needs to be
done in a rigorous way, viewed, as far as possible, through the eyes of the child.
It certainly needs to be both tough-minded and with an awareness of the ability
of some adults to mislead and to use children to satisfy their own needs. Had a
proper assessment been done at that point, it is possible that Victoria would have
received the necessary protection in Ealing and the other authorities may never
have been involved. That being so, I reject the implications of a key conclusion
of the Part 8 review, undertaken in response to the death of Victoria, that “staff
in Ealing were not aware of any indicators suggesting that Victoria was at risk of
serious abuse or any indicators of serious deficits in Kouao’s parenting”. Ealing
were not aware because they undertook no proper assessment of Victoria so that
they could become aware of her needs.
4.190 Doing the basic things well saves lives. In my view, Ealing failed to meet even
the elementary standards of childcare practice, and as a result Victoria went
unprotected. It could have been so different.
70
5 Brent Social Services
71
5 Brent Social Services
The managerial context
5.1 Brent Social Services had the opportunity to help Victoria on two separate
occasions. The first was on receipt of an anonymous telephone call expressing
concern about Victoria’s safety in June 1999, while Kouao and Victoria were
living at 8 Nicoll Road and supported by Ealing Social Services. The second was
almost a month later, after Kouao and Victoria had moved in with Carl Manning
at 267 Somerset Gardens. This was when Victoria was taken to the Central
Middlesex Hospital by her childminder’s daughter, Avril Cameron, with suspected
non-accidental injuries. Regrettably, at no time during Brent’s brief involvement
with Victoria did social workers make any connection between these two referrals.
Indeed, the first time senior managers acknowledged that there had been two
referrals in relation to Victoria was in February 2001, a year after her death and
in the month following the criminal trial of Kouao and Manning for her murder.
Had the link been made at the relevant time it seems highly likely that events in
Victoria’s life would have taken a very different turn.
5.2 The two referrals found their way to a duty team. The Social Services Inspectorate
(SSI) in May 2000 assessed this team to be “failing to meet basic requirements for
an initial response to referrals.” They were operating administrative systems the SSI
considered to have “broken down” and to be “creating serious risks”. Overall, in
May 2000 the inspectors found a situation that was “very serious” and a children’s
services department that “lacked any clear vision or sense of direction”. This did
not happen overnight.
5.3 Brent has accepted there were serious shortcomings in the practice and in
professional judgements made at the time, which resulted in missed opportunities
to help Victoria. If the criticism could be fairly made that senior management took
its eye off its ‘front door’ children’s services in Ealing, the position in Brent was far
more deep-rooted – as the SSI May 2000 inspection was to reveal. Mike Boyle, the
director of social services until April 1999, accepted that he had ‘taken his eye off
the ball’ in respect of children’s services from 1998.
5.4 In fact, at one stage children were so low in Brent’s priorities that children’s social
work was not even mentioned in the 1999 Corporate Strategy Update. It was not
surprising, then, that in May 2000, the SSI could find no up-to-date children’s
plan. The most recent was dated 1995 and referred to the period 1995–1998.
The interim child protection procedures were still considered ‘interim’, despite
being over four years old. Jenny Goodall, Brent’s new director of social services
appointed in April 2000, went further and said, “I think there was a period when
social services [my emphasis] somehow slipped below the horizon.” Therefore,
I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Chief executives and lead members of local authorities with social services
responsibilities must ensure that children’s services are explicitly included in
their authority’s list of priorities and operational plans.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
72
5.5 Responsibility for this sorry state of affairs rests squarely with Brent’s council
members, chief executive Gareth Daniel, and his senior social services officers.
Mr Daniel said in evidence both politicians and management accepted that in 1999
they had plainly not done enough for children in Brent. This does little more than
state the obvious – especially as the SSI May 2000 inspection was preceded by
critical SSI inspections into the safety of children looked after in February 1998 and
Brent’s child protection services in September 1996. The latter inspection warned
of serious deficiencies in child protection practice and urged a “re-prioritising of
management endeavour” so as to “increase the level of direct support, advice and
direction to team managers and social workers until such time as practice achieves
a consistently good standard”.
5.6 In 1998, the SSI identified an absence of workload management systems in the
social work teams and said workload pressures had worsened. They warned,
“These pressures could, if allowed to continue or deteriorate, reduce workers
ability to identify and address safety issues for children.”
5.7 Mr Daniel, who was appointed to his position in September 1998 after being the
acting chief executive from May 1998, said of himself, “I am a general strategic
manager for the authority and that is my discrete role. It is not my role to be a
surrogate for the people that I directly manage.” Mr Daniel then explained that
he discharged his responsibilities by “making sure that the resources are available,
the proper checks are in place and that we appoint people in whom we have
confidence to discharge the statutory responsibilities which I have to reinforce”.
5.8 In my view, other parts of the evidence of Mr Daniel cast some doubt on this
assertion. Looking specifically at social services and children’s social work,
Mr Daniel said that he thought the leadership at a high level in the social services
department during 1998, 1999 and 2000 was “seriously defective”, with staff
being “poorly managed and poorly led”. He said, “My impression of the social
services department from a professional distance [my emphasis] in the town
hall is [that] there were a lot of good front-line staff working in that department
putting in very long hours, and there were senior managers who were certainly
doing all of those things, but I did not feel confident that they were providing
the strategic leadership for the department that it needs.” As to how the lack of
good management affected the way children in Brent were looked after and cared
for, Mr Daniel said, “I do not think it assisted the process. I mean, I think the
endeavours of front-line staff probably rescued us from a lot of crises which may
potentially have arisen. We were very heavily dependent on the integrity and the
commitment of those front-line staff.”
5.9 In my view, the chief executive can exercise considerable influence on the quality
and effectiveness of front-line social work, and indeed has a responsibility to do so.
In the particular circumstances in which Mr Daniel found himself in Brent, he failed
(during the period with which I am concerned) to address the shortage of staff in the
children’s services and to implement the recommendations of the SSI reports of 1996
and 1998. He also failed to ensure these services were adequately funded. These were
all matters which had a major impact on the children’s services, for which Mr Daniel
must take personal responsibility. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
The Department of Health should require chief executives of local authorities
with social services responsibilities to prepare a position statement on the
true picture of the current strengths and weaknesses of their ‘front door’ duty
systems for children and families. This must be accompanied by an action plan
setting out the timescales for remedying any weaknesses identified.
5 Brent Social Services
73
5.10 A fair assessment of the performance of front-line staff in Brent at the time Victoria
needed protection has to be made against the backdrop of the dysfunctional and
administratively chaotic children’s service in which they were expected to work.
Structure of children’s social work
5.11 In 1999, Brent senior management team was structured as follows:
• Gareth Daniel, chief executive
• Mike Boyle, director of social services (and later Ronald Ludgate)
• Lucille Thomas, director of children’s social work services
• Branton Bamford, assistant director for finance and administration
• David Charlett, service manager for the duty team and the child protection and
investigation team.
5.12 Brent children’s social services had two initial assessment teams. These were the
duty team and the child protection investigation and assessment team (child
protection team) – and six teams that were allocated cases on a long-term basis.
The duty team was the first team to consider referrals received about children,
though this was complicated by the fact that many of these came through Brent’s
One Stop Shops. If the referral raised issues of ‘a child in need’, the case would
remain in the duty team for initial assessment. But if it was agreed that it contained
child protection concerns, it would be transferred to the child protection team.
Both of these teams were assisted by a duty administrative team, which would log
the referrals into a database and complete checks to find out whether the child was
known to the borough.
5.13 The duty child protection and duty administrative teams shared an open-plan
office on the ground floor of the children’s social work building. I heard evidence
that the building was “overcrowded”, “grotty”, and “neglected”. The SSI in 2000
said the accommodation for duty work needed to be improved to meet health
and safety requirements. The manager of the duty team, Edward Armstrong, and
the manager of the child protection team, Tina Roper, shared a small office at the
end of the room. The seven duty social workers including Lori Hobbs, Kate Thrift
and Yolande Viljoen (née Hurter), worked at one side of the room and the six child
protection social workers were stationed at the opposite side of the room.
5.14 At the time Victoria’s case was handled by Brent, all the duty social workers
had received their training abroad and were on temporary contracts. Several
workers in the child protection team were also recruited on a temporary basis.
The fact that so many staff in the initial assessment teams were agency staff had
important consequences to which I shall return later in paragraphs 5.59 to 5.61.
The two duty senior social workers were Monica Bridgeman and Pauline Phillips,
and the two child protection seniors were Michelle Hines and Christina Austin.
The group administrative officer was Robert Smith. Martin Punch was one of the
administrative support workers. Unlike other boroughs, Brent did not deploy any
of its social workers at local hospitals.
The duty team
5.15 Mr Boyle was frank in his evidence to the Inquiry on the state of the duty team.
Looking back, he said it was clear to him now that “the duty team began to
unravel during 1998 and 1999. The attention of senior managers was elsewhere
and as a consequence the service declined to a point that was unacceptable”.
He believed Victoria’s case demonstrated “individual, collective and institutional
failures in the system [which were] intended to ensure that the needs of the most
vulnerable children are met”.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
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Workload
5.16 Counsel for Brent acknowledged that the duty team was undoubtedly “a team
under pressure, over busy, very short of permanent and experienced staff” and
Mr Armstrong pointed out that in 1999 the pressure was particularly acute because
of the increase in the number of asylum seekers. Ms Viljoen described the duty
team as “very busy”. She said, “The phones would ring constantly.” Mr Punch said
the duty team was “very, very swamped with work”. Mr Armstrong said, “It was
concerning to look at working with between 200 to 300-odd cases per week that
was in the backlog system.” Given the caseload in June and July 1999, he said that
he barely had time for lunch, let alone to stand back within his office and look at
the systems the duty team worked under.
5.17 Mr Armstrong dated the beginning of the influx of unaccompanied asylum seekers
to 1999. By then, he said, “We lost our ability to be social workers [my emphasis]
because of the time we had to spend dealing with asylum seekers – there were no
additional resources to cope with it.” Mr Armstrong estimated that in June and July
1999 he was dealing with at least 15 referrals in relation to intentionally homeless
people and asylum seekers each week, and that at least 50 per cent of social
workers’ time would be spent working on cases of unaccompanied minors. By May
2000, the SSI found that duty staff were overwhelmed with cases of homeless
people and were required to spend up to 80 per cent of their time working on what
might be considered housing and homelessness issues. I can only question, and not
for the first time as will become clear, why Brent’s senior management team failed
to act more quickly to protect the ‘front door’ of their children’s services.
Bottleneck of cases
5.18 Even more significant than the increase in numbers coming through social services’
door was the inability of the duty team to pass cases on to the long-term teams,
after the initial work had been completed. Mr Armstrong described how every
Wednesday morning he would attend allocation meetings with the assistant
directors and the child protection team to refer cases for allocation to the long-term
teams. He said, “It had become a common theme for me to go to the allocation
meeting with cases for allocation to a ‘long-term’ team, only to return with the
same cases because there was insufficient resource availability in long-term teams to
deal with the cases.” He added, “It was something that went on, not for months,
for years.” Ms Roper confirmed that the relevant assistant directors and occasionally
Ms Thomas would attend the allocation meeting, so they were perfectly well aware
of the difficulty and the bottleneck in allocating cases to the long-term teams.
5.19 The effect on the duty team staff was immense. Ms Hobbs said it was a “major
problem”, which “was frustrating because there was little let-up”. This bottleneck of
cases meant that duty workers would have to carry out work that should have been
done in the long-term teams in addition to each day’s new referrals. For Mr Armstrong,
the pressures reached such a pitch that he said, “It got to the point where I actually
filled the boot of my car every Friday evening to take cases home, in order to get them
up to date, bring them up to date and still report to senior management about what
was happening.” To do this Mr Armstrong said he needed Ms Thomas’s permission.
Management knowledge
5.20 Mr Armstrong did not, however, suffer in silence. He raised his concerns about the
workload pressures and staffing with his superiors on a number of occasions. He
said, “I would mention it to all the senior managers that I came into contact with,
but it got to the point where I felt it was because I kept on doing the work, and was
not falling off sick or going off sick for months on end, that it became acceptable
to senior management.” Ms Bridgeman said she also reported her concerns to
members of the senior management team on numerous occasions. She said,
“We were constantly working in a crisis situation. Senior management knew this.”
5 Brent Social Services
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5.21 Mr Charlett, when discussing the problem of allocating child protection cases
to the long-term teams, said, “We could not stop work coming into the office,
but on the other hand, it seemed to be blocked at that point, and there was no
way I could – I had no authority to order people in the other teams to take on
cases.” It is difficult to credit a more ineffectual management response, despite
Brent’s action plan following the 1996 SSI inspection stating that they should take
measures to reduce pressures on team managers. Mr Armstrong said, “Nothing
was done to relieve the pressure. Instead the pressure increased.”
Faxed referrals
5.22 During the summer of 1999, the duty team also appeared to have let slip vital
administrative functions. Although the administrative team was a separate unit,
there was considerable overlap between the functions and operation of the two
teams, and often a confusion as to which team bore the responsibility for particular
tasks. One area of contention was the collection and distribution of faxed referrals
and other important communications received by the children’s social work team.
In his evidence, Mr Armstrong painted a graphic picture of faxes at times streaming
on the floor and nobody picking them up. It was not a description that others in
the duty team recognised, though Ms Bridgeman acknowledged she was aware of
significant delays in the distribution of faxes on one or two occasions. When asked
why he himself did not do something about it, Mr Armstrong said, “It was not my
job to pick up the fax from the fax machine. It was not my role. I had other things
to do.” He did, however, complain to administrative colleagues about the problem.
Cases going missing
5.23 The evidence relating to the tracking of cases within the duty and administrative
teams raised further serious concerns. According to Mr Armstrong, more than one
case was going missing every day and it was obviously difficult to monitor what
was going on in the missing cases: “Some files were misplaced and some were
never found.” Mr Smith believed that it had been known for files to go missing and
never reappear, though this was not his personal experience. Mr Punch wrote in a
later memo: “Retrieving files has become like the ‘National Lottery’ with the same
odds for finding files.” It was Mr Punch’s view that the high number of systems in
use at the time only contributed to the problem. There were just too many routes
and locations in which files could be lost.
5.24 There can be little doubt the duty system was in administrative chaos in 1999.
Instead of senior management taking urgent steps to remedy the sources of the
problems, the duty team was left to devise its own ad hoc solutions that included
introducing a number of manual logging systems. Mr Armstrong said there was no
way in which information could be matched up between the books they used. For
example, the duty book “would not give us as much information as we require,
but it will let us know that that file has been in the system, is in the system, but is
now missing”. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must devise and implement a system which provides
them with the following information about the work of the duty teams for
which they are responsible:
• number of children referred to the teams;
• number of those children who have been assessed as requiring a service;
• number of those children who have been provided with the service that
they require;
• number of children referred who have identified needs which have yet to be met.
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Supervision and monitoring
5.25 With the heavy work pressure and the presence of so many agency staff, good
supervision and support was essential. The agency social workers spoke highly of
the supervision and support they received from their seniors and team manager
while at Brent, but this was not carried through at more senior levels. In relation to
his supervision of the senior social workers in his team, Mr Armstrong said, “Due
to the volume of cases which we were handling, supervision arrangements slipped
and certainly did not occur on a monthly basis.” He was supposed to have monthly
supervision meetings with Mr Charlett but Mr Armstrong said he could not say
how often these actually occurred, other than to point out they were less regular
than monthly. Ms Roper said she found Mr Charlett’s supervision to be supportive,
but pointed out that his recent experience of child protection matters was limited.
5.26 In view of the regular turnover of staff, the monitoring of the quality of the
work carried out should, in my opinion, have been a top priority. In fact what
actually occurred in Brent was just the reverse. As Mr Armstrong pointed out,
it was obviously difficult to monitor work in the cases that were lost. In his
written statement Mr Charlett said, “Monitoring arrangements included case
records monitoring, the system of regular staff/case supervision through the line
management system, random monitoring of cases by supervisors/managers,
statistical analysis of referrals and caseloads.” However, when specifically
questioned on this, Mr Charlett made a somewhat unconvincing attempt to
outline these processes in practice and it became clear that there were no formal
procedures in place, or at least none used by him, to monitor cases. On the other
hand, Ms Roper said that she would monitor the progress of cases in the child
protection team and that she carried out an audit of cases once every fortnight.
5.27 Despite written procedures in the Brent Quality Protects Management Action Plan
1999–2000 requiring assistant directors to produce quarterly reports on individual
cases, Mr Charlett said he could not recall producing such reports routinely for the
director of children’s social work. When it was suggested to him that the systems
of monitoring and supervision of cases within his department were inadequate,
Mr Charlett said that he would have to agree, up to a point. He said, “Certainly
they were not what I would have liked, and what would have been desirable, but
as I have pointed out, there were lots of difficulties with regard to covering just the
day-to-day work.” Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that senior managers inspect, at least
once every three months, a random selection of case files and supervision notes.
Child protection team
5.28 Despite a very heavy workload and several temporary social workers, in contrast
to other teams in the children’s social work unit, Mr Charlett observed, “The child
protection team was always more stable, it had ... more of a team quality about
it, and it was a team where other social workers wanted to join.” Mr Charlett said
he had a great deal of confidence in Ms Roper and the other workers in the team.
Child protection team members themselves said they thought it was a supportive
team, with a good manager. Mr Charlett was also of the opinion that the team
was capable of managing its workload. This may in part have been because the
administrative and the long-term teams would prioritise the cases above those
concerning children in need. In fact, Ms Roper said that on occasion she would
volunteer at allocation meetings to keep some of her cases, in an effort to allow
some duty cases to be allocated.
5 Brent Social Services
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5.29 Mr Charlett said that all child protection workers were meant to follow a sevenday
modular course, but that agency workers were less able to pursue training
courses. Although it was not something he agreed with, Mr Charlett said, “There
was certainly a feeling that it was sometimes a waste of time training agency
staff.” Yet these were the very same workers whose task it was to assess the most
vulnerable of Brent’s children, those for whom it had already been decided, rightly
or wrongly, that there were clear child protection concerns.
5.30 Ms Roper said that she would meet with any new worker to the team and talk
them through the processes and systems of the child protection team and they
would initially co-work with other members of the team. However, there was no
formal induction process in place. Ms Hines said she personally had not received
any induction and whether or not locum workers who joined more recently
received an induction depended upon the staffing of the department at the time.
Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that all staff who work with children
have received appropriate vocational training, receive a thorough induction in
local procedures and are obliged to participate in regular continuing training so
as to ensure that their practice is kept up to date.
Effect of workload on administration
5.31 The increased workload in the two initial assessment teams, particularly the duty
team, had a knock-on effect on the duty administrative team. Yet Brent’s response
was to understaff this department as well. According to Mr Bamford, there were
three members of the administrative team during the relevant period, but one
of these three was off sick. He said that the previous fourth position had been
notionally frozen. When the third staff member went on sick leave, Mr Bamford said
he discussed whether to get in additional temporary help. But after considering the
time it would take to train someone and that they might stay only a short time,
Mr Smith agreed to cover until Brent Social Services’ Finance and Administration
Department had a better idea of the length of the sick leave.
5.32 Mr Bamford said he was unaware of any administration problems at the time,
other than the staffing issues. While he acknowledged that “things were not run
as smoothly as one would hope”, he seemed totally unaware of any backlog at the
time in question and thought that if there were any problems these should have
been brought to his attention.
5.33 I found Mr Bamford’s ignorance of the problems facing the team to be surprising.
The administrative problems were numerous and glaring. In addition to the
backlog of referral details waiting to be inputted because of staff shortages,
the absence of a common database in social services meant that administrative
staff had to complete checks on five or more different databases. As the duty
administrative team staff did not have direct access to most of these, the time
taken to complete a check was unnecessarily lengthened, which just added to the
workload. Child protection cases were prioritised but the backlog meant that cases
not yet on the system could not be easily searched. Mr Armstrong said referrals
that were initially or wrongly categorised as ‘child in need’ but later transpired to
have child protection issues, were almost inevitably caught up in this administrative
delay, making it harder and slower to detect and remedy any mistake, as happened
in Victoria’s case.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
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Administrative backlog
5.34 According to Mr Punch, “People were struggling in a very difficult environment.”
Ms Hobbs said she could remember cases piled high and thought the
administration staff were under more stress than anyone. Others described the
team as “relentlessly overworked” and “overburdened”. Records for June 1999, the
month of Victoria’s first referral to Brent, showed that only 107 referrals (42 per
cent) were logged onto the system within one working week, and 41 (16 per cent)
took between four and 12 weeks. Mr Armstrong said, “I complained week in, week
out to the administrative officers about the backlog, about getting people to come
in and clear the backlog, because the backlog was getting so high it was actually
hiding the administrative staff from the rest of the team.” Nor did this situation
appear to be temporary either. In May 2000, the SSI inspected a duty area where
there were “hundreds of case files that had not been administratively processed,
going back four to five months”. Staff, therefore, had to rely on their memories
to link new contacts with past contacts, and there was no system to ensure that
repeat contacts were linked and patterns of referrals identified and responded to.
5.35 Other problems relating to the duty administrative team were raised in abundance.
Ms Bridgeman said that due to work pressures, the administrative team did not
make up a whole file for the duty workers. Instead they just received the duty
manager’s action sheet, the administrative checks sheet and the referral.
5.36 Mr Punch also identified the problems of inadequate filing space and the unusual
system of filing by problem type, rather than by the person’s name. On the
basis of the evidence of Mr Armstrong, there appears to have been almost a
complete absence of filing closed cases. Mr Armstrong said that when a file was
closed and the administrative officers had input the necessary information on
the database, “Instead of the files being taken from the duty room direct to the
archive room, they were just put in a corner or on desks around the office, until
the administrative officers had time available on their hands to get them up there,
which could take months. I have known files which took years to get upstairs.”
Management responsibility
5.37 As team manager for the duty team, Mr Armstrong was clear that he had no
management responsibility for the administration team or over its systems, yet he
was dependent on them for the logging in of referrals, the checking of databases,
and the issuing of appointments, which were fundamental to the smooth operation
of his duty team. Mr Armstrong said, “Looking back, maybe I should have taken
the view to go above the heads of my senior managers, and possibly maybe as far
as the chief executive.”
5.38 I heard much evidence in support of his opinion. Although the administration
failings in Brent deserve my criticism in full, I do not direct this at the individual
administration workers. Mr Punch, for one, appears to have been conscientious
and hard-working and to have tried his best in the impossible situation
management put him in. Mr Punch considered the position so fragile that even
as late as September 2000, seven months after Victoria’s death, he wrote a
lengthy plea to Mimi Konigsberg, the new assistant director for children’s services,
Mr Bamford and Mr Smith. He outlined his grave concerns and suggested ways
in which improvements could be made. In general, he spoke of a particularly
“difficult, frustrating and depressing period of work” during which he had become
disheartened because he felt he was part of a function rather than a team. He said,
“The work of duty admin has generally been under-resourced, unsupported,
unappreciated and not fully understood by other staff members and even by
management.” It was not until the instigation of this Inquiry, and some 14
months after he sent his memo, that he finally received a substantive reply from
Ms Konigsberg. It therefore came as no surprise to me that the SSI wrote in 2000,
5 Brent Social Services
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“Communication in the past had been too much top down and staff needed
to be listened to and their contribution to the development of the department
recognised and supported.”
Financial pressures
5.39 Part of the explanation of how and why Brent children’s social work teams had
fallen into such a state of disarray must lie with the legacy of past council decisions,
and a corporate structure designed to deal with their persistent financial pressures.
5.40 Mr Daniel said, “I think children’s social work was under-funded, I think social
services were under-funded, and I think Brent council was under-funded.” Mr Boyle
believed that the primary difficulties were Brent’s historic debt that had to be met
from revenue funds, the under-funding by government of adult community care
services, the inadequate level of council reserves, and the failure of the government
grant to keep pace with the real costs of inflation. As such, Mr Boyle said he
thought the council was effectively bankrupt. It had no ability at all to respond to
any significant variations in service demands and was managing in a “financially
impossible position”.
5.41 The implications were severe. In 1997/1998, the overall social services budget
was fixed at 4.4 per cent below the Government’s Standard Spending Assessment
(SSA), while the average total spending on social services in England was
8.3 per cent above the SSA. Brent was the second lowest spending authority in
London. Children’s services were particularly badly hit. In the financial year
1998/1999, Brent had a children’s SSA of £28.12m (as against £26.5m in the
previous year), but the actual spend was only about £14.5m, up barely £250,000
on the year before. Mr Boyle, who was the director of social services at the time,
said he felt “extreme concern and unhappiness” about only being allowed to
spend half the SSA. In 1999/2000, the SSA itself decreased by almost £7.5m to
£20.65m as a result of the Government’s decision to remove ethnicity from the
assessment formula. This sorely affected Brent, which has a substantial ethnic
minority population. Mr Daniel described his oversight of the budget as a “baptism
of fire” because of the reduction of £7.5m and a budget deficit of £17.5m that he
had to try to bridge. Yet he could not dispute that, even with the reduction, the
council was still not spending the SSA on children’s social work.
5.42 Politicians and management were keen to submit that the SSA was a notional
figure or formula for distributing money, rather than being prescriptive as to
what the council should spend. Councillor Mary Cribbin said that there was
real deprivation in the borough and that the budgeting process was therefore
a “balancing act” between competing concerns. As a result, while spending on
children’s social work was under the SSA, other units were being funded in excess
of their designated SSA. I address the issues concerning spending in relation to
Government-set SSA’s elsewhere in this Report. It is enough to say here that I
heard no evidence from Brent’s senior managers or lead council members to show
that they could justify spending so little on children’s services during the relevant
period. In fact, it became clear that wherever the money was going, the adequate
provision of children’s services was certainly not one of the council’s priorities.
5.43 The social services committee certainly could not claim it was unaware of the
implications of budget decisions or of the problems surfacing in children’s social
work. Mr Boyle said, “There was a corporate understanding that social services
was financially very challenged indeed.” There were the critical SSI reports in both
1996 and 1998 and the committee regularly received information from its officers.
Mr Boyle, as director of social services, wrote to the social services committee on
4 March 1999. In his letter he outlined the likely impact of the council’s decisions,
since September 1998, to reduce the spending plans of the committee by £4m.
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Mr Boyle pointed out that the managed reduction in spending had resulted in
“severe pressures and stresses” including long-term illnesses and absences among
a number of service unit directors and front-line staff. He said that social services
were carrying vacancies in all teams and the Area Child Protection Committee
(ACPC) had been advised for the first time in many years that there were
unallocated child protection cases. Mr Boyle’s letter continued:
“Your officers advised that it is not possible for these savings to be
achieved from ‘salami-slicing’ and there will be significant and serious
implications for service delivery. I[n] some instances, we may be
expecting staff to manage risks which are unacceptable and dangerous.
Your officers fully appreciate the circumstances facing the Council
but setting unachievable savings targets will not assist you, or the
Committee, in meeting the objectives of the Council.”
5.44 The message could not have been clearer. However compelling the financial
pressures may have been at the time, they could not, in my view, excuse the
failure of Brent’s council and senior management to address the problems in
their children’s services that had become so evident in the late 1990s.
Structure and business units
5.45 I was told that alongside the financial pressures, Brent’s other legacy from the
previous administration was its corporate structure. The council had been split
into ‘core units’ with corporate and strategic responsibilities, ‘commissioning
units’ that dealt with needs analysis and service planning, and most importantly
‘business units’ that were responsible for service delivery. Ms Goodall said that this
structure “did away with everything that I think you would recognise as traditional
local government”. She said at one point there were nine different business units
in children’s social work and they were all semi-autonomous, operating without
traditional line management responsibilities. Although the new administration
sought to alter this framework, Ms Goodall observed: “Brent Social Services really
had not sort of thrown off the old business unit culture. And to a great extent
there was not a departmental culture, there were lots of separate managers, really,
doing their own thing.” In Mr Boyle’s view, “Many of the difficulties, financial
and operational, encountered in later years arose from the inherent weakness in
these structures established during 1993/1994 and 1994/1995.” He said, “Over a
period, the lack of accountability became apparent, complex cases were not dealt
with properly, and financially many social services units were not able to make a
corporate contribution without compromising the safety of the service.”
5.46 A clear example of the failings of the independent business units was the absence
of a common database throughout the whole of social services, let alone the
whole council. In 1993, the main system in use was the Social Services Information
Database (SSID) and this continued to be the predominant database used by
adult social services and the One Stop Shops. In May 1996, when Mr Bamford
arrived in children’s social work, the department had no connection to SSID after
a corporate decision had been made to discard it. He believed that parts of social
services were meant to make their own alternative arrangements. In so doing, and
because SSID was not generally considered by Brent to be an easy system to use
nor did it lend itself to reporting information on children, Mr Bamford decided that
children’s social work would use Filemaker as their primary database. This database
was only accessible by administration and not practitioner staff. In addition to
Filemaker, Mr Punch, who was responsible for inputting practically all the child
protection referrals, had his own system specifically catering for child protection
cases. Mr Bamford explained that the operation of five or more different systems in
social services “was not an ideal situation”, with the consequence that telephone
calls would have to be made to different departments to find out whether or not
5 Brent Social Services
81
a family was known. Worse still, the out-of-office-hours team, which operated the
out-of-office hours social work, could only consult the child protection register
and had no access to either the SSID or Filemaker database to find out whether
children not on the register were known to Brent. It was not until September 1999
that SSID was actually reintroduced to children’s services, and the out-of-officehours
team and practitioner staff could access this information. Therefore, I make
the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Local authority chief executives must ensure that only one electronic database
system is used by all those working in children and families’ services for
the recording of information. This should be the same system in use across
the council, or at least compatible with it, so as to facilitate the sharing of
information, as appropriate.
Staff reductions
5.47 Accompanying the introduction of the business units was a reduction of general,
non-operational support services. Mr Daniel described the devolved culture in
Brent by saying:
“On the whole we have a minimalist corporate centre – as a deliberate
policy choice between 1991 and 1996, support services in the authority
were stripped down to the bare minimum, and that meant quite a lot
of central support functions, particularly in areas like HR or information
gathering, were either reduced to a skeletal basis or eliminated
altogether ... a lot of our capacity to gather information about the
organisation became somewhat limited.”
At a departmental level, by the late 1990s Mr Ludgate said that social services had
lost all of its human resources and training staff.
5.48 According to Mr Boyle, “A further feature of the new arrangements was a general
belief that the council, and social services, was over-managed. Consequently,
significant reductions were made in non-operational budgets resulting in the loss
of a number of key management posts.” The effect was to significantly reduce the
strategic and management capacity of the organisation. The posts of both senior
policy manager for children’s services and the service development director were
frozen or deleted in late 1997. According to Mr Boyle, by 1997 the effects of this
policy prompted the then chief executive to describe the council as suffering from
“institutional anorexia”. Reductions nevertheless continued and as a result, when
practice began to deteriorate, Mr Boyle said, “The management infrastructure was
not in place to identify that that was happening.”
5.49 Front-line children’s services did not escape the cutbacks. Despite increasing
pressures on the department, in August 1997, service reductions resulted in 10
children’s social work posts being deleted and a further 13 vacancies frozen. The
SSI in 1998 recognised that “Staff reductions had had a debilitating effect.” From
inside, Ms Roper observed, “The whole of Brent children’s social work was running
with a large number of vacancies.” In June 1998, the director of social services
reported to the Committee: “Eight social workers have been recruited to ease
caseload pressures and to reduce the number of unallocated cases.” However,
overall that only placed the council, in the words of Councillor Cribbin, “down
23 and up 8”.
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Difficulties of senior management
5.50 In his evidence, Mr Daniel was critical of the strategic leadership of the directors
of social services and of children’s social services at the time.
5.51 Certainly Ms Thomas, as director of children’s services, held a key position in the
management framework. The absence of a witness statement and her inability
to give evidence to this Inquiry due to ill health has made it more difficult to
assess fairly her contribution to the state of affairs in Brent’s children’s services.
Ms Thomas’s ill health also caused her to be absent from work on sick leave for five
or six weeks during the summer of 1999. I heard evidence that as non-front-line
posts were deleted from children’s social work, Ms Thomas, along with other
managers, were consequently expected to carry a much larger and more varied
workload, in her case a workload that was both strategic and operational. Brent’s
Management Action Plan in mid 1999 was heavily criticised by the SSI, in particular
reflecting that the service “lacked any clear vision or sense of direction”. The
previous post of senior policy officer for children’s services had been deleted,
and Mr Daniel considered this to have created a “critical weakness” in the senior
structure of the department. I can only assume this was a view he held with
hindsight, otherwise once again I am left asking why he did nothing about it once
in post as chief executive.
5.52 Mr Boyle, talking of his time as director of social services, said, “Throughout
1998/1999, most senior management time was spent on financial matters, either
in trying to align actual spending with the budget available, or in making plans to
deal with the financial shortfall in 1999/2000.” Mr Boyle said that he thought the
turning point came in 1998 when “Social services senior managers began to take
on more and more work and took their eye off the ball, I think particularly with
the director of children’s social work services ... because of the extra work that she
was required to do ... as a consequence ... strong management attention on the
service, which the SSI pointed out in 1996 was required, did not occur and the
service deteriorated from that point onwards.” Mr Boyle said that he had “very
serious concerns” about what was happening in social services in 1998/1999, “not
just with children’s services ... but also with the increasing effect of concentrating
social services provision, both in children and on adults, on those at the most
risk”. Looking back, he said, “In truth, the funding problems for Brent and in social
services were there even before I arrived. I was just unable to stop the position
deteriorating year on year.”
5.53 Despite his own admission that it took him some time to “come up to speed” with
children’s social services as it was not his “area”, Mr Ludgate (appointed acting
director of social services in April 1999) appeared to be well aware of the problems
facing children’s social services. The level of children’s services they were able to
provide caused him concern because of:
• the very high proportion of agency and temporary workers;
• the imbalance of too many complicated cases and too few experienced social
workers;
• not having the training and development staff to bring locum workers up to
speed fast enough on policies and procedures;
• the fact that child protection and children-looked-after cases were being held by
teams without appropriate manpower.
Mr Ludgate said, “Managers and social workers were responding to the highest
need and highest risk presenting at the time.”
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Staffing problems
5.54 In March 1999, following a series of meetings between the SSI, council members
and senior managers, Brent council accepted proposals involving the release of
£170,000 from reserves in 1999/2000 and £250,000 in 2000/2001 into children’s
social services. The extra funds were in part to improve the infrastructure of
children’s services, to re-establish the post of assistant director for children’s
services and positions within human resources, to appoint three family support
workers, and to pay for scarcity and honorarium payments. Mr Daniel said, “At the
time, I have to say that was a very difficult decision for the members to take, given
the overall financial position of the council, and the low level of our reserves, so
it was a very significant tide of political commitment, I think, to start at least the
process of addressing the problems that were beginning to be identified.” In fact,
as shall become clear, it was a matter of ‘too little too late’.
Recruitment difficulties
5.55 In view of the staffing crisis, Mr Ludgate said that during his tenure as acting
director he “was willing to pay for any social worker we could get hold of. So no
posts were being frozen in terms of operational staff”. But the decision to recruit
was only the start. Filling posts was not so simple. Difficulties in recruiting social
workers was a London-wide problem, but Brent was particularly badly affected
because of the terms and conditions offered. Also, according to Mr Charlett,
“There was a residual kind of perception of Brent as not a very attractive place to
come to, so I think you were starting with a disadvantage anyway.”
5.56 In May 1999, the issue was discussed by the Area Child Protection Committee
(ACPC) as the staffing crisis was contributing to the number of unallocated cases.
Dr Bridget Edwards, the Brent ACPC vice chair, subsequently wrote to Councillor
Cribbin on 8 June 1999 “to express serious concerns about children’s social work
unit’s ability to recruit and retain qualified and experienced social workers”.
Dr Edwards said:
“You’ll be aware that recruitment and retention of staff in children’s
social services have been a problem for quite some time now. However,
it seems there has been a particularly high level of staff turnover in
the past few weeks, not helped I think by the introduction of new pay
and conditions of services, on top of the already low level of London
weighting payments in Brent.”
Dr Edwards continued:
“As safety of children is an important issue when cases remain to be
allocated, I wonder if you would consider improving the existing package
of pay and conditions to enable children’s social services to attract new
staff as well as to keep experienced staff.”
Dr Edwards could not recall receiving a reply to her letter. This was further
evidence of the lack of impact of ACPCs.
Uncompetitive salaries
5.57 It appears that Brent council did little to help itself ease the problem. In 1999, along
with other local authorities across the country, Brent was required to implement
the ‘single status agreement’ which equalised the terms and conditions of existing
manual and office staff. However, the decision was taken that new staff coming to
Brent should not receive the higher London weighting. Instead the inner-London
weighting was preserved for existing staff by way of “honorarium payments”.
Mr Charlett said, “This was obviously not very attractive to people from outside ...
I thought it was plainly ridiculous, but that was part of the council’s cost cutting
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– saving strategy. So that made it difficult with agencies who frankly told us we were
uncompetitive in the job market.” He added, “It meant there was a kind of two tier
system ... but it also meant that compared to neighbouring boroughs, Brent was
paying less money and expecting people to work longer hours, in arguably worse
conditions. It seemed to me quite a potent factor, if I had been looking for a job
myself.” Councillor Cribbin disagreed: “We made a political decision because of
financial restraints, and it was a method of saving money.” She said that she did
not think “that a matter of a few hundred pounds would be a deterrent to a social
worker coming to work in a borough”.
5.58 Brent was not alone in experiencing problems with the recruitment and retention
of social workers. Evidence as to the scale of the problem emerged clearly in Phase
Two of this Inquiry, as well as from looking at social services provision in Ealing and
Haringey. While pay and conditions were clearly a factor, albeit not the only factor,
I question whether this at least might be addressed through the implementation of
a national pay structure.
Agency staff
5.59 The approach taken by Brent, ironically designed to save money, led to the
recruitment of a large number of agency staff, costing approximately 30 to
40 per cent more per employee than permanent staff. When asked about the
recruitment of temporary staff, Councillor Cribbin said, unconvincingly, one of
the reasons Brent was not able to fill the vacancies was because “we had decided
we were only going to employ the best staff”. This was perhaps an unrealistic
goal for a council offering among the worst pay and conditions in London.
A comprehensive recruitment package was not finalised in Brent until October 2001.
5.60 The teams most affected were the duty and child protection teams because Brent
Social Services had made a policy decision in 1996 that in an effort to ensure that
all long-term cases were held by permanent social workers, it would manage the
initial duty response through agency and temporary staff where necessary. As a
result, Mr Armstrong said the duty team he managed, in mid 1999 at a time of
high workload pressures and when the two referrals relating to Victoria passed
through his team, was staffed entirely by agency workers who had not qualified
in England. He agreed it was not acceptable to have people on short-term
contracts at the front-line of contact with very vulnerable children but said, “It was
what we were doing and what we were working. There were occasions where a
person will get off a plane in the morning, arrive in the office just after lunch, be
interviewed and start work either in the duty team or the child protection team.
It was happening very, very often.” Mr Charlett said, “I thought the fundamental
problem was there were just not the resources available. There were just not the
people there that stayed long enough for the continuity that was desirable, and
to familiarise themselves properly with the work, and become a true team ... it
seemed to me that there were obvious disadvantages in having a team composed
of people who are purely agency staff.”
5.61 Mr Charlett’s concerns at the time were well justified. Because of the bottleneck
in passing cases on to the long-term teams, the very same short-term agency staff
were left holding cases on a long-term basis. Also, as agency staff they did not
stay long enough to be trained and their induction was varied or non-existent.
Inevitably, as both Mr Armstrong and Mr Charlett pointed out, the agency staff
were less familiar with the procedures and the local area and therefore took longer
to carry out their tasks. Although hesitant on the subject, Mr Charlett said that it
was likely that the reliance on agency workers caused the service in the duty team
to suffer. Mr Armstrong said that he was told by one of the assistant directors
within children’s services that the financial cost of a week’s worth of induction
outweighed the financial cost of the workers being allocated cases immediately.
5 Brent Social Services
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Poor inductions
5.62 If help was needed, the newly arrived duty workers would and did turn to the
support of other staff members and their seniors. Ms Hobbs said that she felt
well equipped to do the work, but that was mainly due to the extra support she
received from her seniors and manager. She said, “I think they had to provide a lot
more than they should have if there had been a more formal induction process.”
Ms Thrift also spoke very highly of the help from those around her, but said,
“I did feel, though, maybe I should get a little bit more time to understand Brent
procedures.”
5.63 In fact, the length and complexity of the procedures and policies existing at
the time, namely the interim child protection periods of 1996 and Volume C of
Brent Social Services’ Children’s Services Manual of Procedures, meant they were of
limited help. Dr Edwards said the local authorities’ child protection procedures and
guidance could be voluminous. She found them quite daunting and thought it was
“quite difficult to grapple with so many sheets of paper”. Ms Hines said she would
not say the procedures were “user friendly”, while the SSI in 2000 found them to
be “inadequate and in need of a major revision”.
Conclusion
5.64 Overall, it is difficult to draw any other conclusion than front-line staff in Brent
Social Services, whose actions and decisions affected Victoria in mid 1999, were
working in an under-resourced, understaffed, under-managed and dysfunctional
environment. The SSI in 2000 and again in 2001 remained highly critical about
a number of the deep-rooted problems that were apparent in 1999, such as the
over-reliance on agency staff, the tracking of cases and the transfer of cases to the
long-term teams. Senior managers and elected members were either unaware of
or unable to tackle these deep-rooted deficiencies within the organisation, and for
that they must take responsibility.
Victoria in Brent
The first referral
5.65 Esther Ackah, a distant relative of Kouao, made the first of two telephone calls
to Brent Social Services from a telephone box on the afternoon of Friday 18 June
1999. She gave details about a child called ‘Anna’. She said she was aged about
seven, her mother’s name was Marie-Therese Kouao, their address was Room 10,
8 Nicoll Road, Harlesden, London, and that they were French. She said she was
worried about the unfit state of the accommodation that Kouao and ‘Anna’ were
living in, the problems the child was having with incontinence, that she had a scar
on her face which her mother had said was due to a fall from an escalator, and
that others had expressed concerns about the well-being of ‘Anna’. Ms Ackah said
at that stage she believed Victoria’s life was in danger, not because of physical
harm, but due to the dangers posed by her living conditions. She said she made
this clear to the person on the other end of the telephone. She wanted social
services to make an urgent visit. As the coins for the telephone ran out, Ms Ackah
was cut off before she could give, or was asked for, her own name as the referrer.
5.66 Samantha Hunt, a temporary customer services officer in the call centre at the
One Stop Shop at Brent House, said she received an anonymous call from a lady
concerning a child aged eight years. The caller gave the child’s first name as ‘Anna’
but gave no surname. She described herself as a neighbour and wanted to report
her concern about the child.
5.67 The caller said she had seen ‘Anna’ repeatedly wetting herself and that she had
also previously seen her with cuts and bruises to her face, although the mother
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86
had said that this was caused when she fell down an escalator. Other neighbours
had expressed their concern and had asked this neighbour to call social services.
The caller said that as far as she was aware, ‘Anna’ was not attending school and
was living in a home “surrounded by drug addicts”. She did not think that ‘Anna’
was being treated by a doctor. The caller then hung up without giving any further
information.
5.68 Ms Hunt believed she made a note of the conversation by hand and typed it up
immediately after the telephone call. Although she could no longer remember the
conversation, she was confident that if she had been given the child’s surname or her
place of origin she would have recorded those details. Similarly, if she had been told
that the child’s life was in danger, that also would have been recorded on the referral.
5.69 Notwithstanding these discrepancies in the detail of the concerns relayed to
Brent Social Services about ‘Anna’, it is clear that the first telephone call made
by Ms Ackah and the anonymous telephone referral received by Ms Hunt on
18 June 1999 were one and the same. Whether or not Ms Ackah told Ms Hunt that
Victoria’s life was in danger, the referral, as Ms Hunt recorded it, was clearly a child
protection referral and should have been dealt with as such, even if it did not fully
express the weight of Ms Ackah’s concerns.
5.70 Ms Hunt responded promptly and did exactly what she was trained to do. She had
been told to put all calls regarding children through to the children’s social work
department. However, at times this would prove impossible because all the lines
were busy. In that situation the customer services officers, and she was one of two
dealing mainly with social services, were expected to take down the referral details
themselves and then pass them on. This is what Ms Hunt did on this occasion.
5.71 One can only speculate about what other potentially important details Ms Hunt
might have found if she had had the time to question Ms Ackah further. What
is clear is that social services should do as much as possible to access such
information at the earliest opportunity, particularly in relation to child protection
concerns where these have been relayed by members of the public whose chosen
means of communication is by public telephone. I therefore make the following
recommendation:
Recommendation
Local authorities with responsibility for safeguarding children should establish
and advertise a 24-hour free telephone referral number for use by members of
the public who wish to report concerns about a child. A pilot study should be
undertaken to evaluate the feasibility of electronically recording calls to such
a number.
5.72 Ms Hunt also checked the client database system for any previous referrals
matching the name ‘Anna’ and the address of 8 Nicoll Road but drew a blank.
At 4.21pm that same afternoon, Ms Hunt faxed the referral across to the children’s
social work department. According to Ms Hunt, all children’s social work was
deemed as urgent. She said, “It was not for us to ascertain the urgency, so all the
children’s social work referrals, from what I can remember, were faxed through.”
There was therefore no need in her mind to attach a cover sheet to Victoria’s
referral to signify that it was urgent, nor was it the practice to check whether
anyone in the children’s social work department had received the fax.
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5.73 Sadly, nobody picked up Ms Ackah’s referral that Friday afternoon and what
actually happened to it was to prove the subject of some of the most bizarre and
contradictory evidence this Inquiry was to hear.
Logging the referral
5.74 The next agreed sighting of the 18 June referral was some three weeks later on
6 July 1999. Robert Smith, the group administrative officer, undertook the index
check for Victoria that day. His team was responsible for completing checks for the
duty intake and child protection teams on all new referrals. As the team supervisor,
he had stepped out of his usual role on that occasion to assist his staff because the
office was understaffed and busy with a backlog of work.
5.75 Notwithstanding these staff shortages, he said it was unusual for a delay of as
much as three weeks before a case was logged, although other documentary
evidence to the Inquiry clearly suggested the contrary. By way of explanation,
Mr Smith thought it possible that if some work had already been done on the case
before his office received it, the administrative staff might have only just seen the
referral on 6 July 1999.
5.76 That, unfortunately, does not appear to have been the situation in relation to
Ms Ackah’s referral. Whether the fault lies with the administrative team or the
duty team that failed to pass it on, a delay of three weeks in processing any child
protection referral can never be acceptable and Brent accepted this. In Victoria’s
case, inquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 should have begun
immediately on 18 June 1999. The failure to do so constituted a significant missed
opportunity to protect her.
5.77 To my surprise, Mr Smith and others confirmed that there was no system for
ensuring that faxes that arrived in the building went to the people for whom they
were intended. In a case such as this, the fax from Ms Hunt should have gone to
the duty manager or duty senior social worker, who would log it in the referrals
log book and complete the necessary paperwork. They, in turn, would pass it to
the administration team who would log it onto the database and complete index
checks to find out whether the child was known to Brent. Referrals marked as ‘child
protection’ were usually passed to one particular administrative officer, Mr Punch,
for processing.
5.78 Mr Smith entered the details of Ms Hunt’s referral onto the database, creating
a new, ‘unique’ record reference number: 1009966. This reference number was
important. It contributed the crucial evidence to show that while the social workers
involved with Victoria’s case may not have made a link between the 18 June 1999
referral and the later referral by the Central Middlesex Hospital, the computer
certainly did.
5.79 Mr Smith summarised onto the computer the details of the case as:
“Sees the child constantly wetting herself and has seen her previously
with cuts and bruises around the face. Others have expressed concerns.
As far as the referrer knows the child is not attending school.”
5.80 Importantly, one printout of the computer record created by Mr Smith as it
appears on the case file, and as it might well have been seen by those social
workers involved with Victoria, shows no more than the first line of case detail and
reads, “Sees the child constantly wetting herself and has seen her.” Social workers
should, however, also have had access to other records with the complete referral
information.
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5.81 It is clear that the information inputted by Mr Smith was edited from the details
of Ms Hunt’s referral. There can therefore be no doubt that it was this referral that
was seen by Mr Smith on 6 July 1999. Mr Smith also had sight of a duty manager’s
action sheet, which enabled him to fill in on the same day and as part of the status
section of the same computer record the following facts:
• the initial action date as 21 June 1999
• the duty manager’s name as Eddie Armstrong
• the action to be taken as a home visit on 14 July
• the social worker’s name as Lori Hobbs
• the decision – ‘open on duty’.
5.82 The duty manager’s action sheet also asked for the details to be logged in and
checked. The box marked ‘other advice and assistance’ was ticked but not the
child protection box. Mr Smith therefore logged in the referral under what he
understood to be the default classification of a child in need. He did this despite
the detailed references to cuts and bruises.
The team manager
5.83 Edward Armstrong was the team manager of the intake duty team at the time
Victoria’s case was handled by Brent Social Services, and his involvement is of
central importance to an understanding of this part of Victoria’s story. His evidence
merits particular close scrutiny, not least because it is out of line with that of
other Brent witnesses on almost every count, and the quality of it leaves much to
be desired. Mr Armstrong’s memory proved to be highly selective about events
of seemingly equal importance and his insistence on how things appeared to be
could rarely be substantiated by any rational explanation of why they should be so.
5.84 It was Mr Armstrong’s view that there was another referral on 21 June 1999 and
that it was this referral, not the 18 June referral taken down by Ms Hunt, that he
handled and for which he completed a duty manager’s action sheet. This later
referral was not a child protection referral. It is Mr Armstrong’s evidence that all
the papers for this 21 June referral, except the duty manager’s action sheet, have
gone missing. But he said that a social worker in his team, whom he could no
longer identify, did receive a telephone call in relation to a child named ‘Anna’
in temporary accommodation who was wetting herself. He said the child in this
referral was about eight years old. By an extraordinary coincidence, Mr Armstrong
claimed that this less serious referral was also not logged onto the system until
6 or 8 July 1999.
5.85 Given that, by his own admission, the papers for the 21 June 1999 referral
went missing some time after July 1999, it is almost impossible to accept that
Mr Armstrong could have pinpointed so precisely the date of this second referral
as well as the date on which it was logged onto the system. Victoria was one of
many ‘child in need’ cases. Indeed, Mr Armstrong stated that his team would hold
around 300 cases open. Not surprisingly, Mr Armstrong had no real answer to this
point in evidence. Nor did he make any mention of a referral on 21 June in his
interview for Brent’s Part 8 management review of Victoria’s case, nor as part of his
own disciplinary process. More importantly, there is no evidence whatsoever that
any referral received on 21 June was ever logged onto Brent’s client-based system.
5.86 Despite giving vivid accounts of an office in chaos where files went missing and
faxes spilled out regularly onto the floor, Mr Armstrong was adamant that the
18 June 1999 referral taken by Ms Hunt was never received in his office. He said
that there were three floors in children’s social work and that the fax from Ms Hunt
could have gone to any of these floors. He said that if he had received that referral
he would have discussed it immediately with the child protection team. When
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89
asked whether the fact that the fax came through late on Friday afternoon meant
that it would have been left to the following Monday 21 June to be dealt with,
Mr Armstrong replied that the referral would have been dealt with by his team
unless it was received after 5pm, in which case it would have been referred to the
out-of-office-hours team. Out-of-office-hours teams are not necessarily staffed by
people with expertise in services for children. Since children are not exposed to
risk only during normal office hours or at times of administrative convenience, the
timing of a referral should not determine the quality of the service provided. I return
to the organisation of out-of-office-hours social services at paragraph 6.172.
5.87 To add to the confused picture, Ms Ackah said in evidence that a few days after
she spoke to Ms Hunt – she thought less than a week later – she rang Brent Social
Services again on exactly the same telephone number. Her reason for doing so
was to make “absolutely sure” that social services had taken some action following
her earlier call. She spoke to a different person, briefly repeated her story about
‘Anna’ and was asked to hold on while they went to check. When the person on
the other end of the telephone eventually came back to Ms Ackah, she told her
that she “thought the first call was received, and probably they [social services] had
done something about it”. In my view this was no way to respond to a member
of the public who had behaved responsibly in contacting the authorities about her
concerns for a child.
5.88 I cannot be certain when Ms Ackah made her second telephone call. It could have
been on 21 June 1999 and it might have been this second call which was dealt
with by someone in Mr Armstrong’s team. What is clear is that the call did not
trigger a new referral by whoever picked up the telephone in the One Stop Shop
and no separate referral was ever logged onto the computer system.
5.89 According to Mr Armstrong, the social worker who took the referral found out that
the family had moved from Ealing to Brent and it was Brent’s housing department
that revealed that Nicoll Road was used by Ealing to place temporary residents.
Yet the case file evidence presented to the Inquiry suggests that Brent knew
nothing about Ealing’s involvement until 14 July 1999. As a result of this referral,
Mr Armstrong claimed he made a telephone call to Ealing Social Services to
establish whether they had placed a child called ‘Anna’ in Nicoll Road. Surprisingly,
neither he nor anyone else thought to ask Ealing for ‘Anna’s’ surname or, if he
did, no surname was recorded at the time. There is no record of this telephone
conversation in the Ealing case file for Victoria to support Mr Armstrong’s claim.
5.90 Mr Armstrong also said he decided that inquiries should be made to Brent council’s
housing and health departments, and to the General Medical Practitioner’s Board.
Those instructions, he said, were put in written form and attached to the case
papers, which he claims have now gone missing. Mr Armstrong’s initial assessment,
based on the information he said he had that the child was wetting herself, was
that Victoria was a ‘child in need’. As a result, he authorised two unannounced
home visits by social workers he could now no longer identify. No records exist of
any of these steps being taken, nor of their outcome. The only available recorded
instruction by Mr Armstrong are the words “home visit” on the duty manager’s
action sheet, as noted by Mr Smith when he inputted the details of Ms Hunt’s
18 June 1999 referral.
5.91 Asked why it was that a child wetting herself would have of itself justified a ‘child
in need’ label, two unannounced home visits and many inquiries with other
agencies, Mr Armstrong replied, “Because a child is wetting herself, and secondly
because the culture in Brent at the time was that people who were in temporary
accommodation, and came to the borough, we just tried to get them out of the
borough for financial reasons.”
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5.92 This might be thought to be an unconvincing explanation. According to
Mr Armstrong, Brent also knew Victoria had been placed by Ealing Social Services.
Establishing that Ealing was funding the placement was only a telephone call away.
Contact with Ealing Social Services
5.93 Mr Armstrong recounted a number of telephone conversations that were supposed
to have taken place some time after 21 June 1999 between himself and members
of his team and Ealing Social Services, all of which it seemed were aimed at shifting
responsibility for Victoria’s case back to Ealing.
5.94 The first was between Ms Viljoen, a social worker in Mr Armstrong’s team, and
Godfrey Victor, a social worker at Ealing Social Services, who reportedly said that
as the family was living in Brent the case was Brent’s responsibility. Mr Armstrong
said in evidence that he then rang Mr Victor to press the case for Victoria being
transferred back to Ealing but that he was unsuccessful.
Home visits
5.95 Mr Armstrong said that it was at this point he decided that his team should carry
out an unannounced visit to the family, pending agreement by Ealing to retake
responsibility for the case. He also said that he discussed the case with Ms Roper,
the manager of the child protection team, or one of the two seniors in the team,
though he could not recall with whom. It was agreed that the case properly
belonged to Ealing and should be dealt with as a ‘child in need’.
5.96 Within one or two weeks of 21 June 1999, Mr Armstrong said he spoke to John
Skinner, assistant director for children’s services at Ealing, who accepted that case
responsibility rested with Ealing as the family was only temporarily resident in
Brent. In the light of his conversation with Mr Skinner, Mr Armstrong said he then
contacted Mr Victor again to inform him of the agreed decision. He also said he
faxed across the information that Brent held, including details of the two home
visits. Rather bizarrely, as Ealing had by now accepted case responsibility according
to Mr Armstong’s version of the events, Mr Armstrong said he told Mr Victor that
Brent would make an appointment for a home visit to Nicoll Road and report back
to him.
5.97 When asked why this was thought necessary when his team could barely cope
with the pressures for which they did have responsibility, Mr Armstrong tried
to explain his actions by saying, “It’s something we do for other boroughs.” It
seems more than a passing coincidence that the two people Mr Armstrong said
he had spoken to at Ealing Social Services were both known to him as former
employees of Brent Social Services. Yet neither Mr Victor nor Mr Skinner, nor for
that matter Ms Viljoen, Ms Roper or either of her two seniors could recall any
of the conversations recounted by Mr Armstrong. There are no records of these
conversations or of the fax that Mr Armstrong said he sent to Mr Victor in the
Brent file, or more importantly, in the Ealing case file. In short, there is not a
shred of written documentation to support any aspect of Mr Armstrong’s version
of events this far. If Mr Armstrong is to be believed, the implication must be,
and Mr Armstrong asserted as much but was unable to point to any evidence
to support his allegation, that the papers in both the Brent and Ealing case files
relating to just the 21 June 1999 referral must have been tampered with or they
were lost in both offices.
5.98 It remains Mr Armstrong’s contention that he never saw Esther Ackah’s referral
of 18 June, but instead dealt with a less serious referral which he appropriately
identified and responded to as a ‘child in need’ case. I find this version of events
wholly unbelievable. I am left in no doubt that Mr Armstrong’s evidence to this
Inquiry in relation to a referral on 21 June 1999 – a referral that I conclude never
5 Brent Social Services
91
existed – is an attempt to cover up his team’s inept handling of a genuine child
protection referral that slipped through the net. The duty manager’s action sheet
dated 21 July 1999 does not in my opinion support the existence of a new referral,
but merely proves the delay in dealing with the referral recorded by Ms Hunt on
18 June. Inevitably, my conclusion as to Mr Armstrong’s credibility in relation to
this matter will have some impact on the weight to be attached to the rest of his
evidence to the Inquiry.
5.99 On 7 July 1999, a computer-generated letter was sent from the duty manager to
the occupant of Room 10, 8 Nicoll Road, arranging a home visit for 14 July 1999
at 3pm to discuss the referral about ‘Anna’. Although it looked to an inexpert eye
suspiciously like his writing, Mr Armstrong denied that he wrote the date 14 July
1999 next to the name “Lori” at the top of the duty manager’s action sheet
that he signed off on 21 June. Yet Mr Smith was equally clear that, although the
administrative staff were responsible for making appointments for social worker
visits and recording those on the system (hence the computer-generated letter),
they would not have written these dates. Mr Smith assumed that either the duty
manager or senior social workers had written the date of 14 July on the action
sheet because that was when they wished the visit to take place.
5.100 According to Mr Armstrong, Lori Hobbs, the social worker who had been asked
to visit Nicoll Road, went to the address twice on 14 July 1999. On his account,
despite knowing that an appointment had been made for 3pm, he said Ms Hobbs
inexplicably went to the premises ahead of the appointment time, found no one
in and returned to the office. She later went back to Nicoll Road at 3pm in the
company of Monica Bridgeman, one of the senior social workers in the duty team.
5.101 Ms Hobbs’s recollection, though hazy some two years after the event, was that she
made no other visit to Nicoll Road other than in the company of Ms Bridgeman
for the 3pm appointment. She explained that she was with Ms Bridgeman only
because she did not feel confident to do the visit scheduled immediately after
Nicoll Road on her own.
5.102 Ms Hobbs said that the premises they came to looked like houses that had been
converted into bedsits. There was no reception area, as Ms Hobbs might have
expected of a bed and breakfast, and they found no one who appeared to be in
charge. Ms Hobbs said, “There was nothing to indicate that it was anything other
than bedsits.”
5.103 Ms Bridgeman and Ms Hobbs spoke to a number of people hanging around
outside the premises, some of whom were drinking. They asked where Room
10 was, if anybody knew who lived there, and if there was anyone upstairs.
The people they spoke to informed them that the family had moved away about
a week ago. This was of course true, as Kouao and Victoria had moved in with
Manning on or about 6 July 1999. However, Ms Bridgeman agreed in evidence
that she should not have relied on this information. They went upstairs to Room 10
and knocked on the door. There was no answer. They asked the people they had
spoken to earlier if they had any concerns about the family, but none were raised.
5.104 Ms Hobbs and Ms Bridgeman learned nothing from their abortive visit and they
carried out no further investigation while on the premises. The premises did not
look like a hostel, so they made no attempts to find out what sort of premises they
were in or whether any of the occupants had been placed there by local authorities.
Nor did they knock on any other door. It did not occur to them to try to find a
manager of the property who would have been the most obvious source of the
information they were seeking. Had they pursued any one of these lines of inquiry
it might have opened up a fresh trail to Victoria’s whereabouts.
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5.105 In fact, Ms Bridgeman and Ms Hobbs had come to Nicoll Road with only the
haziest idea of the nature of the referral they were supposed to be investigating,
a referral which was at least three weeks old judging by the duty manager’s action
sheet, and without having done any background checks first. They did not even
know whether the family was being accommodated by Brent. Ms Bridgeman said
she was sure that Ms Hobbs would have done the necessary checks on the address
beforehand. She should have checked rather than presumed. Ms Hobbs said in
evidence:
“I do not recall doing any checks prior to the visit, mainly due to the lack
of information that was on the form. I probably would have made the
decision that it would be more fruitful and economic with my time to do
that afterwards, to see if the visit itself brought some light.”
5.106 Ms Hobbs thought that before the visit she would have seen the duty manager’s
action sheet with the instruction to do a home visit, as well as the administrative
checks form. There would also have been the referral itself plus anything else that
was documented on the computer. But she admitted that she had little to go on.
She recalled knowing that the referral was about an eight-year-old girl, she had an
address but no surname, no date of birth, no referrer’s details and the substance of
the referral was about the suitability of the girl’s accommodation. This was indeed
exactly the issue that Ms Ackah was so keen to stress in her referral to Ms Hunt
almost a month earlier. She had no specific memory of a child wetting herself.
5.107 Ms Bridgeman could not assist with any clearer recollection of what she knew
when she went to Nicoll Road. However, despite the passage of time, she was
“definite” that she knew nothing about a child wetting herself, or references to
cuts and bruises or being told the child was not at school. She was clear: “If I was
taking a referral like that, the referral details, that would have not gone to Child in
Need.” If she had seen Ms Hunt’s referral sheet she said, “There is no way that I
would have taken that on.” Like Ms Hobbs, she was not aware of any earlier visits
to Nicoll Road by any other social worker. If there had been any unannounced
visits she expected they would have come to her attention and they had not.
5.108 If, as seems likely, Ms Hobbs and Ms Bridgeman were in fact responding to the
18 June 1999 referral, then it is deeply troubling that they believed they were
dealing with accommodation issues rather then responding to concerns about a
child who had been seen with cuts and bruises. It is possible that they are now
seeking to minimise the nature of the concerns they were responding to, that they
have forgotten, or they were sent out with incomplete information. Nothing on
the file allows me to trace what information they had at the time of the visit. What
is clear, and admitted by Brent, is that the home visit lacked any sort of social
work focus and the inquiries made, such as they were, fell far short of an adequate
investigation of a child in need, let alone a child in need of protection. Therefore,
I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Social workers must not undertake home visits without being clear about the
purpose of the visit, the information to be gathered during the course of it,
and the steps to be taken if no one is at home. No visits should be undertaken
without the social worker concerned checking the information known about the
child by other agencies. All visits must be written up on the case file.
5.109 By the time Ms Hobbs returned to the office after completing the second of the
visits scheduled for that afternoon, it was too late to do any further checks. She
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said that she intended to make some inquiries of the housing department as well
as write up a note of her visit the following morning.
5.110 When asked what form her report would take, she replied that it would have been a
running case note. She said, “I would have just outlined that a visit was completed
with Monica [Bridgeman], that the child was no longer at the address according to
the information we received, and that is all I really remember about it.”
5.111 She thought she would have passed her note directly to either Ms Bridgeman or
Mr Armstrong.
5.112 If indeed such a report of her findings or of any notes of follow-up discussions with
her manager existed, they are now all missing. All that is left on the file annotated
on the bottom of the 7 July 1999 appointment letter are Ms Hobbs’s handwritten
notes stating no more than “Not at this address. Have moved.” Ms Hobbs disputed
that this was the sum total of her recorded note of the visit on 14 July 1999 and
Ms Bridgeman agreed. Ms Bridgeman was adamant that she had seen the report
prepared by her colleague. The lack of any corroborating evidence, however,
suggests the contrary. I am of the opinion that no such report ever existed and
that the ‘write-up’ contained in Ms Hobbs’s annotated 7 July appointment letter is
all that might have been anticipated, given the vagueness of the referral she and
Ms Bridgeman say they were responding to. It is an appalling reflection of Brent’s
children’s social work team that from 18 June to 14 July 1999, the only information
additional to the referral was, “Not at this address. Have moved.” This was a
dreadfully inadequate response to the serious concerns expressed by Ms Ackah
and to the needs of Victoria.
The referral from the Central Middlesex Hospital
5.113 Events were then to overtake both Ms Bridgeman and Ms Hobbs. At the time they
were making their unsuccessful visit to Nicoll Road, Victoria was admitted to the
Central Middlesex Hospital. At 4pm that same day, according to the form she
completed at the time, Ms Thrift, a duty social worker in Mr Armstrong’s team,
received a referral from the Central Middlesex Hospital in respect of a child named
‘Anna’, about whom the hospital had serious child protection concerns. ‘Anna’ had
been brought to the Central Middlesex Hospital by Avril Cameron, the daughter
of ‘Anna’s’ childminder, Priscilla Cameron. ‘Anna’s’ address was said to be 6 or 8
Nicoll Road. Ms Thrift marked the referral as ‘child protection’ and took down the
following details:
“Anna is a recent arrival in the UK. Her mother lives in a bed and
breakfast in Nicoll Road (believed to be housed by Ealing Council – to
be checked.) For five weeks Anna has been cared for during the day by
a lady named [Priscilla] Cameron (aged 63) ... Avril hadn’t seen the child
since last Wednesday then mother dropped her off yesterday evening
due to problems at the B&B. This morning mother dropped off some
items for Anna and said she would return at 7pm today.
Avril noticed bruising on the feet (2–3 days old), arms, legs, buttocks and
infected bruises on the fingers. Also noticed Anna’s eyes were bloodshot.
She took her to the CMH. (Please see fax)
Child currently at the CMH with carer. Will await contact from Brent
CSW [children’s social work].”
5.114 The referrer was Dr Ajayi-Obe. Ms Thrift was quite clear that all the information that
she had taken down by telephone that day, including the suggestion that Kouao
had been placed in Brent by Ealing council, must have come from Dr Ajayi-Obe.
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94
Minutes before 4pm, the hospital also faxed across Dr Ajayi-Obe’s body map.
The body map showed the distribution of marks on Victoria’s body as well as her
medical report on “a child thought to have suffered abuse”.
5.115 At 4.20pm, Ms Thrift passed on the referral, most probably to Mr Armstrong or one
of her seniors, who in turn passed it to Ms Hines, a senior social worker in the child
protection team. In accordance with the Brent Child Protection Procedures Manual,
Ms Hines should have consulted with her team manager and the assistant director
of child protection on receipt of the referral. Ms Hines said that she attempted
to do so, but that her manager, Ms Roper, was at a child protection conference
on another case and Mr Charlett, the assistant director for child protection and
duty service manager for the duty team and the child protection investigation and
assessment team (CPIAT), was not in his office. Ms Roper was adamant that she had
arranged for one of the assistant directors to cover her responsibilities, but could not
remember whom. Quite clearly it was Ms Roper’s job to ensure that proper cover
arrangements were in place for her team and that her staff were aware of these, if
only so that they could meet the requirements imposed on them by Brent’s own
child protection procedures. On 14 July 1999, Ms Hines was either unaware of what
those cover arrangements were or none had effectively been put in place.
Failure to spot previous referral
5.116 At this stage, or prior to passing the case to Ms Hines, administrative checks on
the databases should have been made by a member of the administration team to
ascertain whether ‘Anna’ was known to Brent. Martin Punch believed that he may
have inputted the new child protection referral details from the Central Middlesex
Hospital. He said, “I think the case came in directly as a child protection case, and
I would have done that check.” He could not confirm when he did the checks but
said that he may have done them on 14 July 1999. Although I cannot rule this out
completely, it is, however, more likely these checks were done at the same time as
the case was logged onto the database, and a link with the previous referral was
made electronically. Scrutiny of the computer printouts supplied by Brent show
this in fact occurred the following day, on 15 July, and not on the day when the
hospital referral was received. It was on 15 July that the computer system provided
Victoria with a second ‘unique’ reference record number. In fact, during Victoria’s
brief involvement with Brent Social Services, and partly as a result of the children’s
social work department running both manual systems and a completely separate
client-based computer system from the rest of Brent Social Services, Victoria
acquired five different identifier numbers, creating ample scope for information loss
and case mismanagement.
5.117 On this occasion, the computer records made on 15 July suggest that a link was
made between the Central Middlesex Hospital referral and the 18 June referral
taken by Ms Hunt. Against the child protection referral category and description
Mr Punch had typed in, the computer printout displayed the following:
“See also URRN 1009966. Carer Avril Cameron noticed bruises on Anna
Kouro’s body & that she had bloodshot eyes.”
5.118 The link was there for anyone who had access to these printouts to see, but it
seems likely that as the administrative staff were struggling to cope with the
backlog of work at the time, it was simply overlooked. As a result, the link was
not at any time drawn to the attention of Ms Roper, the child protection team
manager, or either of the seniors. The papers were never brought together and
the link was never followed. This had serious consequences for Victoria.
5.119 Ms Hines therefore had to make decisions about Victoria’s case without the benefit
of information from the previous referral. As far as she was concerned, the family was
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not known to Brent Social Services at that time. Although she could not recall what
happened, Ms Hines said that she could have seen a copy of the computer printout
log that specifically said “See also URRN 1009966”, but in evidence she confused this
reference number as referring to the same Central Middlesex Hospital admission. In
any event, she was clear that her attention was not specifically drawn to any earlier
referral. Ms Hines accepted that if she had been aware of an earlier child protection
referral it would have altered her approach to handling Victoria’s case entirely.
5.120 The only witness who gave direct and first-hand evidence that a match was
made and recognised between the telephone referral from the Central Middlesex
Hospital and the unsuccessful home visit by Ms Hobbs and Ms Bridgeman,
was Mr Armstrong. He said that later on 14 July 1999, after Ms Hobbs and
Ms Bridgeman returned to the office to report there was nobody present at
Nicoll Road, he took the paperwork to Mr Punch who made the match. As a
result, Mr Armstrong said he was satisfied that ‘Anna’ had been identified and
her whereabouts were known.
Contact with the Central Middlesex Hospital
5.121 Having received the referral, Ms Hines first telephoned Barnaby ward and was
told by Dr Haviland that Victoria had been admitted for what was believed to be
non-accidental injury. Although she should have had Dr Ajayi-Obe’s body maps
and medical report on the file, Ms Hines said in evidence that she never saw these.
Despite the reference in Ms Thrift’s referral form to “please see fax”, Ms Hines never
followed this up. Indeed, failure to follow up critical information faxed to Brent Social
Services was fast becoming the hallmark of Brent’s poor handling of Victoria’s case.
5.122 The timing of the Central Middlesex Hospital referral, too, seems to have made a
difference to Ms Hines’s management of the case, though in practice it should not
have done. It was late afternoon when Victoria’s case found its way to Ms Hines’s
desk. She knew that for the moment at least, Victoria was safe in hospital having
been taken there by her childminder’s daughter. Ms Hines also knew that the
hospital had serious child protection concerns but that the whereabouts of the
‘mother’, who at that stage must have been a prime suspect, was unknown.
Ms Hines and her colleague Elzanne Smit then made a number of telephone calls.
Contact with Ealing Social Services
5.123 Ms Smit first made contact with Ealing Social Services at 4.55pm. It is not clear
to whom she spoke on this occasion, though she recorded in her contact note a
telling comment: “Case was never opened to them in a Social Services capacity.”
This would seem to illustrate the fact that Ealing viewed Victoria’s case as
concerning only the family’s housing needs.
Placing Victoria under police protection
5.124 In the meantime, at about 5.15pm, Ms Hines, promptly and quite appropriately,
telephoned the Brent police child protection team and spoke to PC Rachel
Dewar. The decisions taken following the conversation were, however, less than
appropriate. Ms Hines told PC Dewar that Victoria’s injuries were felt to be serious
enough for the hospital to admit her. Together they agreed to take Victoria into
police protection, which they did at 5.20pm. Ms Hines colluded in this decision
without seeing and speaking to Victoria or her childminder. She did so without
making any sort of assessment as to the likelihood of Kouao removing her from
the hospital. She did so without ever establishing that the grounds for taking
a child into police protection were properly made out. She also did so without
authorisation from her senior colleagues. In my view, placing Victoria in police
protection was a serious step that could have been safely deferred until, or if, it
became necessary. Mr Anderson, who was working that night in the emergency
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96
duty team, said he felt confident he could arrange police protection out of hours if
it was required.
5.125 Ms Hines admitted that police protection on this occasion was no more than a
holding measure designed to keep Victoria in a safe place. However, the practical
consequence of this action appears to have been that neither the police nor social
services felt they needed to begin their respective inquiries that evening. Instead,
Ms Smit briefed Mr Anderson to alert him that Victoria was in police protection
and should Kouao turn up at the hospital, she was to be told that Victoria was
under police protection and could not be removed.
5.126 Ms Hines said in evidence that she fully intended seeing Victoria the next day.
She said:
“The child was in a safe place, in hospital, all the safeguards had been
put in place, we had phoned the emergency duty service ... the police
had been informed ... the hospital had been informed that the child was
in police protection, so the child was felt to be safe and it was late in the
evening and our investigation would have started the following day.”
5.127 Looking at the times of the telephone calls made by Ms Hines and Ms Smit that
evening, it is doubtful that “late in the evening” could have meant any later than
6pm. Whatever Ms Hines’s intentions may have been, the fact was that she failed
to see Victoria either that evening or at any time thereafter. I regard prompt action
in cases such as this to be vitally important and therefore make the following
recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that children who are the subject of
allegations of deliberate harm are seen and spoken to within 24 hours of the
allegation being communicated to social services. If this timescale is not met,
the reason for the failure must be recorded on the case file.
5.128 Ms Hines painted an entirely different picture of how she might have responded if
she had received the referral at, for example, 10am. She said she would have tried
to make contact with whoever had parental responsibility and seek their permission
to speak to the child. If she could not track down that person, or permission to
speak to the child was denied, she said she would have discussed the problem with
her legal section and possibly sought an emergency protection order. However,
Ms Hines did not consider an emergency protection order to be an option in this
case because the legal services unit went into answer-phone mode at 5pm every
day. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
No emergency action on a case concerning an allegation of deliberate harm to a
child should be taken without first obtaining legal advice. Local authorities must
ensure that such legal advice is available 24 hours a day.
5.129 As well as speaking to PC Dewar, Ms Hines rang Priscilla Cameron. Her purpose in
ringing was not to question her about what had happened to Victoria, but instead
to ask her to act as a messenger to Kouao. Incredibly, she wanted Mrs Cameron
to tell Kouao that Victoria was in police protection and that she was not to be
5 Brent Social Services
97
removed from the hospital or the police would be called. In fact, it is a police
responsibility to do this.
5.130 Ms Hines agreed that Mrs Cameron was an important source of information in any
assessment of Victoria’s circumstances and a person she would have interviewed if
she had been carrying out inquiries under section 47. However, no such inquiries
under section 47 were under way on the evening of 14 July 1999 because
the matter had been put on hold until the next day. In the event, Brent never
interviewed Mrs Cameron, either as part of the section 47 inquiries or any other
inquiries. Indeed, Mrs Cameron was an unregistered childminder, and Brent did
not make inquiries about this either.
5.131 As it happens, Kouao was with Mrs Cameron when Ms Hines telephoned, and
they spoke over the telephone. Kouao explained to Ms Hines that Victoria’s injuries
were all self-inflicted. Ms Hines was surprised by this and thought that Kouao
sounded “quite cold and matter-of-fact”. However, she took the matter no further
that evening. As with Victoria and the childminder, Ms Hines did not consider it
necessary to interview Kouao there and then. Although Ms Hines agreed that time
is of the essence in child protection cases, this was one child protection investigation
where time seemed to be anything but of the essence. Instead she gave Kouao an
appointment to attend the Brent Social Services office the next morning at 9.30am.
Police protection lifted
5.132 Events were to overtake Ms Hines too, with the result that no section 47 inquiries
were ever begun by Brent Social Services the next day, let alone completed.
Furthermore, Victoria was placed in, and then taken out of, police protection in
less than 24 hours, without ever being seen by either the police or social services.
I comment further on the use of police protection in section 13.
5.133 When Kouao failed to turn up at the office on 15 July 1999, Ms Hines telephoned
the hospital and spoke to Dr Charlotte Dempster, only to be informed that Kouao
was at the hospital. This was her second visit to the ward since Victoria had been
admitted and placed under police protection, giving her ample opportunity,
if opportunity was needed, to coach Victoria as to how she should respond to
questions from a police officer or social worker.
5.134 According to Ms Hines, Dr Dempster told her that Victoria’s case “was not child
protection at all, and more or less it was not to be seen as child protection, it was
actually a child in need”. It was for this reason that Ms Hines said she did not
feel unduly concerned that Kouao had failed to turn up for her appointment. She
presumed that the doctors had already passed this information on to Kouao and this
was why Kouao had stayed at the hospital rather than attending the appointment.
It was an assumption that she never checked, as she should have done.
5.135 In her contact note at the time, Ms Hines wrote:
“Dr Schwartz who has now seen the child does not feel that the injuries
are non-accidental. Dr Dempster said that the child possibly has scabies
and that they would like child protection to withdraw and treat this
as a child in need because the family need urgent housing. I advised
Dr Dempster that this would be dealt with by our duty team.”
5.136 This was a medical diagnosis that was to have important consequences for
Victoria, well beyond the confines of this single admission to the Central Middlesex
Hospital. That it was Dr Ruby Schwartz who had made the diagnosis appears to
have elevated Victoria’s case beyond the realm for questioning by social services.
As a result, an important opportunity was lost to verify directly Dr Schwartz’s true
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
98
concerns. Subsequently, Dr Schwartz acknowledged that although she had ruled
out non-accidental injury, she believed that Victoria must be suffering “other
forms” of deliberate harm.
5.137 Ms Hines did nothing to question what factors had been taken into account in
the hospital’s coming to its diagnosis. She did not speak to Dr Schwartz directly.
She said in evidence, “I was told this child was seen by Dr Ruby Schwartz, who
is a consultant paediatrician who is highly respected in Brent, she is a member of
the ACPC ... I felt that if Dr Schwartz had seen the child, her diagnosis would have
been correct, and I did not feel I could have disputed that.”
5.138 Yet Ms Hines knew that at the time Victoria was admitted she had been observed
to have suffered bruising over her feet, arms, legs and buttocks, to have infected
bruises to the fingers and to have bloodshot eyes. All she knew about scabies was
that it was some form of skin disease and that it could be caused by unhealthy
living conditions. Faced with these glaring discrepancies, however, she was still
content to rely completely on what she understood Dr Schwartz’s diagnosis to be,
as conveyed to her by a third party. She was also content to rely on Dr Schwartz’s
opinion that there were no longer any child protection issues. This was an opinion
that no one in the hospital, including Dr Schwartz, acting on their own, was
qualified to give. Social services are charged with the responsibility for investigating
and assessing child protection concerns in conjunction with their partner agencies.
Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
The training of social workers must equip them with the confidence to question
the opinion of professionals in other agencies when conducting their own
assessment of the needs of the child.
5.139 In evidence, Dr Dempster disputed that she had asked social services for the child
protection order to be lifted. She said that she did no more than relay Dr Schwartz’s
diagnosis and outline some concerns about housing and other issues to the duty
social worker and to Ms Hines. Ms Viljoen, who was working in the duty team,
logged this as a separate ‘child in need’ referral on 15 July 1999. Dr Dempster was
clear that she did not request that child protection be lifted for Victoria, although
she kept no record of her conversation. While Ms Viljoen’s referral summary makes
no mention of child protection, Ms Hines’s note completed at that time and
the written confirmation subsequently faxed by Dr Dempster to social services,
communicated only too clearly that the hospital had ruled out child protection
concerns. Whether or not Dr Dempster had also expressly used the term ‘child in
need’, in Ms Hines’s mind there was now no longer any other track to pursue.
5.140 This was not the first or only occasion when there were conflicts in the evidence
as to who said what between staff working on Victoria’s case.
5.141 Ms Hines rang PC Dewar to tell her that the injuries were no longer thought to
be non-accidental and the police protection could now be discharged. PC Dewar
confirmed: “I was told that they were all as a result of scabies. It was very clear.”
Victoria was duly discharged from police protection, such as it was, at 10.40am
that morning (15 July), without Victoria or her carer ever having been questioned
and without any further explanation of the issues that had been deemed important
enough, according to both the police and social services, to put Victoria into police
protection in the first place.
5 Brent Social Services
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Communication with the hospital
5.142 Ms Hines spoke to her team manager, Ms Roper, when Ms Roper returned to the
office at about midday on 15 July 1999. She fed back to Ms Roper the medical
opinion that Victoria’s was no longer a child protection case but was now a case
about a medical condition. Ms Roper agreed that the section 47 inquiries, which
had never got off the ground, could be safely aborted. Although Dr Ajayi-Obe’s
medical report and body maps had been faxed the day before, Ms Hines said she
had not seen them and Ms Roper did not consider these in reaching her decision.
Ms Roper said she was not aware of these documents at the time and their
existence only came to her attention in 2001. She said she had had difficulty in
reading them, but said that even if she had been able to read them, they contained
nothing that would have caused her to rethink her decision. This is remarkable
given the graphic representation of widespread injuries in Dr Ajayi-Obe’s notes.
However, Ms Roper was clearly influenced by the information from Dr Dempster,
as relayed by Ms Hines and subsequently confirmed in writing from the hospital,
that the marks on Victoria’s body were caused by scabies. Ms Roper understood
that the reportedly self-inflicted marks were the result of Victoria scratching the
scabies. She did not query the inconsistency of these reports.
5.143 If the hospital had any other concerns, Ms Roper would have expected the
examining doctor to have referred to those in his or her report and they had not,
except to mention issues of housing and schooling – neither of which on their own
would constitute grounds for continuing with child protection inquiries.
5.144 Ms Roper conceded, however, that it was social services’ job, not that of the
hospital, to pull together what information existed and ensure that it was properly
evaluated as part of any such inquiries. The duty to assess the needs of children
is clearly placed on social services. The paediatric assessment notes taken by
Dr Rhys Beynon demonstrated that the hospital possessed information that would
have been relevant to an assessment of Victoria’s needs. Not unreasonably,
Ms Roper said she would have expected the hospital to have faxed across a copy
of those notes. However, what use she would have made of them had they been
sent is questionable.
5.145 Ms Roper said if Brent Social Services had known – and to my mind there can be
no doubt whatsoever that it was social services’ job to find out – that Kouao had
asked Mrs Cameron to look after Victoria for good or that she had suggested that
Victoria had cut herself with razor blades, she would have expected her team to
have continued with the section 47 inquiries that day. With hindsight, Ms Roper said
that a joint visit by a child protection social worker and a duty social worker should
have been undertaken before closing the section 47 inquiries. It was, however, her
expectation at the time that all the key parties, including Victoria, Kouao and the
childminder, would be interviewed as part of a ‘child in need’ assessment.
5.146 Instead, Ms Roper agreed with Ms Hines that Victoria’s case should be re-labelled
‘child in need’. The primary focus was once again housing and the case was
transferred back to Mr Armstrong’s duty team. This illustrates well the dangers
which attend the premature classification of ‘child in need’ and ‘child protection’.
In my opinion, the correct application of the Children Act 1989 requires a proper
assessment to be completed before such a decision is taken.
5.147 Ms Roper wanted to have the hospital’s diagnosis in writing. Dr Dempster duly
faxed a letter across to the duty team on 15 July 1999, the content of which
Dr Schwartz was subsequently to describe as “very superficial”. The key passage
that was to have such an impact on how Victoria’s case was handled not only
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
100
by Brent Social Services but also by Haringey Social Services thereafter reads
as follows:
“She [Victoria] was admitted to the ward last night with concerns
re possible NAI [non-accidental injury]. She had however been assessed
by the consultant Dr Schwarz and it has been decided that her scratch
marks are all due to scabies. Thus it is no longer a child protection issue.”
5.148 Dr Dempster went on to record several social welfare issues that needed to be
sorted out urgently, including the fact that Kouao and Victoria were homeless and
that Victoria was not attending school.
5.149 Dr Schwartz mentioned for the first time in evidence that she was “almost positive”
that she had spoken to someone from social services that morning about her
concerns for Victoria, and that possibly it was to Ms Hines. However, Ms Hines
firmly denied this. She believed she faithfully recorded in her contact notes the
names of all the doctors she had spoken to, together with a brief summary of the
conversations. There is no record of any conversation with Dr Schwartz on the
Brent case file, nor anything to support Dr Schwartz’s claim in the hospital records.
In these circumstances, it seems unlikely to me that any such conversation took
place. As a result, Brent Social Services were left with Dr Dempster’s letter and
telephone conversation with Ms Hines, themselves an interpretation by one doctor
of a second doctor’s notes of Dr Schwartz’s evaluation of Victoria, as the final
summary of the hospital’s concerns.
5.150 Ms Hines passed Victoria’s file through to Ms Roper for her to sign off on the
morning of 16 July 1999. Owing to a careless error, Ms Roper’s own closure
summary note would appear to have reduced still further what started out as
serious child protection concerns to little more than a minor medical complaint.
She wrote:
“This child has been examined by Dr Dempster and Dr Schwartz. It is not
felt to be a child protection case as the marks on the child are noted to be
eczema [my emphasis]. Dr Dempster has faxed a letter to that effect …
Dr Schwartz wishes the case to be looked into for a child in need
assessment particularly as the family are homeless.
Family were originally placed in Brent by Ealing.
Case passed back to duty in order to complete an assessment or agree
transfer of case to Ealing.”
The internal transfer of case responsibility
5.151 According to Mr Armstrong, Ms Roper had already discussed with him her
recommendations to transfer the case back to the duty team the day before, and he
had acted on that by telephoning Ealing to agree the transfer of the case to them.
It seems an unlikely coincidence that Pamela Fortune at Ealing Social Services should
have received a telephone call on the same day, also from a Mr Armstrong, whom
she thought worked at the Acton Law Centre. It was her recollection, as recorded in
the Ealing case file, that Mr Armstrong had expressed concerns about Kouao’s case.
However, she said she told him that Ealing had closed the case and that Brent Social
Services were dealing with it because they had some concerns about Victoria.
5.152 In evidence, Mr Armstrong relied on Ealing’s record of the telephone conversation
as support for his claim that he made the telephone call on about 15 July 1999,
but his recollection of the outcome of that call was wholly different. It was his
5 Brent Social Services
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contention that Ealing accepted case responsibility, though this, he said, was
by verbal agreement with Mr Victor. As a result, Mr Armstrong faxed over the
papers to Ealing on 15 or 16 July. Although Brent’s duty manager action sheet
purports to record that the case was transferred to Ealing on 16 July, there is no
other documentation evident in either authority’s papers to suggest that a formal
transfer of the case was properly executed and recorded. In my judgement, the
likelihood is that it was not. If it wasn’t for Victoria’s later admission to the North
Middlesex Hospital and the subsequent involvement of Enfield and Haringey Social
Services, concerns about Victoria may well have been left unresolved with neither
Brent nor Ealing taking any direct action. This leads me to make the following
recommendation to ensure that local authority social services departments are
absolutely clear as to who has case responsibility at any one time:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that the transfer of responsibility of a
case between local authority social services departments is always recorded on
the case file of each authority, and is confirmed in writing by the authority to
which responsibility for the case has been transferred.
5.153 Quite by chance, Ms Hines saw Kouao and Victoria for the only time when they
appeared in reception at social services on 15 or 16 July 1999. By that stage
Ms Hines’s involvement in the case had already ceased and the case had been,
or was in the process of being, transferred back to the duty team. She saw a little
girl who was sitting down while Kouao was making a bit of a scene. Ms Hines
understood that she had asked for the taxi fare to take her back to Ealing but duty
staff refused this. She saw enough of Kouao to observe, as others had done before
and were to do again in the future, that she “was very well turned out, dressed up
very nicely”. Interestingly, Ms Hines could not really say what Victoria looked like,
or comment on her demeanour or her clothes.
Kouao’s housing application
5.154 A housing application to Brent council was a two-step process, first involving an
assessment of a person’s eligibility for housing, and second an assessment of points
to determine whether an offer of housing can be made.
5.155 Kouao attended Brent’s One Stop Shop in Harlesden on 1 September 1999 and put
in an application for housing in the borough. Two days later, Faithlyn Anderson, a
senior officer in Brent’s housing resource centre, received Kouao’s application and
made the initial assessment of Kouao’s eligibility.
5.156 Kouao’s application indicated that none of the family suffered from any medical
condition, but was in fact accompanied by a nearly two-month-old letter from the
Central Middlesex Hospital indicating that Victoria had been treated there for an
infection. The letter also stated that Victoria and Kouao were homeless.
5.157 Kouao stated in one section of the form that the people to be included in the
application were herself, Victoria, and her son Jean. However, later in the form,
when describing her current housing conditions, she stated that only she and
Victoria were living in Nicoll Road – an inconsistency that was later picked up by
Rachael Green, a transfer and registration officer, when assigning points. Kouao
stated on the form that the living conditions at Nicoll Road were very poor and
that the family was occupying one room.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
102
5.158 Kouao’s application met the local eligibility criteria, but it was judged by
Ms Anderson to be non-urgent for the following reasons. Although the letter from
the Central Middlesex Hospital indicated that Victoria and Kouao were homeless,
Kouao stated on her accompanying application form that she was not homeless
and was not expecting to become homeless. Kouao had also waited nearly two
months from the date of the letter from the Central Middlesex Hospital to make
her application; to qualify for urgent treatment applicants must be threatened with
homelessness with 28 days. Ms Anderson stated that applicants often say that they
are homeless but are still in accommodation several months later.
5.159 Over the course of the next seven weeks Kouao’s application was registered by the
finance and systems section – a not unusual delay given the non-urgent nature of
the application. Ms Green made the second-stage assessment on receipt of the
application on 20 October 1999. She found that Kouao had insufficient points
to qualify for housing. A letter to this effect was sent to Kouao on 28 October.
At the same time, Ms Green sought clarification about the whereabouts of Kouao’s
son and about the condition of Nicoll Road. These two issues could potentially
affect the number of points Kouao had already been awarded. The letter advised
Kouao she would be informed about this at a later stage, presumably after she had
provided Brent with the additional requested details. However, as no response to
this was received, no further action was taken.
Closing the case
5.160 Brent Social Services closed Victoria’s case on 3 September 1999. It might
be thought odd that despite the agreed transfer to Ealing Social Services,
Mr Armstrong should have marked the case as pending from mid July, a practice
that he said was common, particularly if the cases were out of the borough. On his
first day back from a month’s annual leave, Mr Armstrong marked on the action
sheet “Client referred to Ealing” and closed the case.
5.161 There were, in my view, strong grounds for believing that Victoria’s needs could
and should have been met in Ealing, and I have commented upon this earlier. That
did not happen and an opportunity to safeguard and promote her welfare was
clearly missed. A second opportunity arose in Brent but once again no assessment
was made of Victoria’s needs, despite the clear indications that her safety was at
risk. Had Brent met their responsibilities to Victoria, it may be that Haringey would
not have become involved.
Analysis of practice
5.162 It is plain from the sequence of events that I have just described that the handling
of Victoria’s case by Brent Social Services is littered with examples of poor practice
and a consistent failure to do basic things competently.
5.163 While there can plainly be no excuse for the failure of the front door duty system,
it was not helped, in my view, by a structure that was far from conducive to
efficient social work intervention. In particular, I regard the following aspects of the
system to have contributed to the failure by Brent Social Services ever to undertake
a proper assessment of Victoria’s needs:
• The taking of referrals by the One Stop Shops
• The lack of efficient IT and administrative support
• The division between ‘child protection’ and ‘child in need’ intake teams
• The disproportionate use of agency workers in the duty teams.
I consider each in turn.
5 Brent Social Services
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The role of the One Stop Shop
5.164 The manner in which social services receive and process information concerning
vulnerable children can be critical to the effectiveness of the services that those
children eventually receive. The process used to deal with Ms Ackah’s referral on
18 June 1999 was unnecessarily complicated and carried with it too great a chance
that important information would be lost or misinterpreted.
5.165 Ms Ackah’s call was first received by the council’s main switchboard, which then
passed it on to a One Stop Shop. The One Stop Shop, for these purposes, would
seem to have acted as nothing more than a staging-post for such referrals, which
were then passed on to the social services duty team.
5.166 The aspect of this system that causes me most concern is that a person in
Ms Ackah’s position who wishes to pass on information about a child who
is potentially in need of protection, speaks, in the first instance, to someone
who has little or no training or experience in the taking of referrals concerning
vulnerable children. The majority of the work of a One Stop Shop of the type in
operation in Brent, will be the handling of routine inquiries about various aspects
of the council’s work. The handling of sensitive information about a child, perhaps
coming from a hesitant referrer, requires skills of a different nature.
5.167 The problem is compounded when, as in Victoria’s case, the administrator who
takes the call is expected to classify the referral as being of a particular type.
Cases involving vulnerable children do not come with convenient labels attached,
particularly when the referrer is a member of the public who may have only a
sketchy knowledge of the child’s circumstances.
5.168 In my view, the solution lies in the establishment of a dedicated 24-hour telephone
number manned by specialist staff in children and families’ services in accordance
with the recommendation I made earlier in paragraph 5.71. I recognise, however,
that such arrangements may take time to implement and that even after their
implementation, referrals will continue to be made to various points in the local
authority network. In such cases, it is vital that proper and efficient use is made of
the information provided.
5.169 The fact that the first referral to Brent Social Services concerning Victoria was
handled in the first instance by a One Stop Shop, not only caused unnecessary
delay in its being picked up by the relevant team within children’s services, but
it contributed to the fact that the referral was effectively ‘lost’ afterwards. The
management of referrals from members of the public must proceed in accordance
with procedures that are simple, clear and universally understood by all front-line
workers. The procedures in Brent met none of these criteria. In an effort to ensure
that they are met in the future in Brent and elsewhere, I make the
following recommendation:
Recommendation
All front-line staff within local authorities must be trained to pass all calls about
the safety of children through to the appropriate duty team without delay,
having first recorded the name of the child, his or her address and the nature
of the concern. If the call cannot be put through immediately, further details
from the referrer must be sought (including their name, address and contact
number). The information must then be passed verbally and in writing to the
duty team within the hour.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
104
Lack of IT and administrative support
5.170 Once the handling of Ms Ackah’s referral got off to a bad start, the prospects of
ever redeeming the situation and realising that much still needed to be done to
ensure a proper response to the concerns she had highlighted were significantly
reduced by the lack of any effective administrative system in operation in Brent at
the time.
5.171 The overriding impression I received from the evidence that I heard on this issue
was of a lack of any ‘system’ worthy of the name for the logging and tracking of
referrals. I was told, for example, that it took an average of three weeks for a new
referral to be logged onto the relevant database, and that a delay of 12 weeks was
not unheard of. I also heard evidence of files going missing and faxes containing
important information concerning vulnerable children arriving in offices in which
there was no system in place for recording their arrival, or distributing them to the
correct member of staff.
5.172 The haphazard and chaotic nature of the administrative systems which were
supposed to assist Brent’s social workers in the efficient discharge of their
responsibilities is perhaps most graphically illustrated by the fact that Victoria
managed, during the time that her case was open in Brent, to acquire five different
‘unique’ identification numbers on the various systems that were designed to
ensure that the progress of her case was effectively monitored.
Division of teams
5.173 Further confusion was created, in my view, by the division of Brent’s intake team
into separate ‘child in need’ and ‘child protection’ teams. Later in this Report I
consider the validity of such a distinction and whether it serves any useful purpose in
the safeguarding of children. For the present, it is sufficient simply to observe that the
organisation of Brent’s intake teams in this manner meant that there was often doubt
as to whether a particular case was in the right place. As Ms Roper put it, “What we
found ... was that there was a considerable overlap between the two teams and what
that meant was that a large number of cases ... were classified as child protection
cases when really what was required was a child in need assessment.”
5.174 One of the consequences of the overlap she described would seem to have been
that children would be transferred between the two teams depending upon the
existing view as to the child’s appropriate classification. The two most unfortunate
side effects of such an approach are risk that important information concerning the
case will be lost in the transfer, and the disruption in the continuity of care that will
inevitably result when a case is passed between social workers.
5.175 In addition, at times of heavy workload and stretched resources, the temptation to
reclassify a case so that responsibility for it could be transferred onto another team
could result in social workers being too eager either to downgrade or play up the
seriousness of a particular case.
Use of agency staff
5.176 Finally, the effectiveness of the service offered by Brent’s front door teams was
further undermined, in my view, by the policy to assign the majority of permanent
staff to the long-term teams, with the result that there was a disproportionately high
number of agency staff working in the duty teams. While I am in no position to
judge the general competency of individual agency workers employed by Brent at
the time, I was told that many had recently arrived from abroad and were inevitably
unfamiliar with local procedures. Regular briefing sessions had to be held in order to
familiarise recently arrived agency workers with basic elements of their roles.
5 Brent Social Services
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5.177 As was pointed out in the SSI May 2000 inspection report, intake work is highly
skilled and demanding. Important decisions have to be taken, sometimes in the
absence of detailed information about the child concerned, and there can often
be limited time available for careful reflection and consideration as to how best to
respond to the child’s immediate needs. The use of agency staff unfamiliar with
basic aspects of the work only increases the chances of mistakes being made and
important information being missed.
Impact of structural deficiencies
5.178 Overall, the evidence I heard leads me to the view that the procedures adopted by
Brent for the taking of referrals, together with the manner in which its intake teams
were structured and resourced, contributed to the chaotic and haphazard manner
in which the two referrals concerning Victoria were dealt with and, in particular,
the failure to adequately monitor the progress of her case during the period for
which it was open in Brent.
5.179 The effective safeguarding of children is a difficult and highly pressurised task. It is
rendered virtually impossible if those who are charged with achieving it are not
supported by proper systems and structures to work within. I take the view that
the chaotic procedures for the monitoring and tracking of cases adopted by Brent
Social Services during the period with which I am concerned, contributed greatly
to the inadequate response made to both of the referrals they received concerning
Victoria.
Poor practice
5.180 Although the front-line staff who came to deal with Victoria’s case were not helped
in their task by the structure within which they operated they were, in many cases,
guilty of inexcusable failures to carry out basic elements of their roles competently.
In Brent, as elsewhere, the social workers involved would have needed only to
do the simple things properly in order to have greatly increased the chances of
Victoria being properly protected.
5.181 Despite the poor quality of the systems in place for the taking, recording and
monitoring of referrals in operation in Brent at the time, both of the referrals
concerning Victoria eventually came to the attention of staff who should have
been in a position to have responded properly to them. With regard to Ms Ackah’s
referral, for example, two qualified social workers went out to visit Victoria at her
home. Properly handled, this visit could have been the first step in the formulation
of an effective plan to safeguard and promote Victoria’s welfare. In the event, the
planning of the visit was so poor that the social workers concerned arrived in Nicoll
Road without any real idea of what they were doing there. This, together with their
failure to make even the most basic inquiries when they discovered that Kouao and
Victoria were not at home, meant that the opportunity to protect Victoria afforded
by the visit, and by the referral that prompted it, was squandered.
5.182 Also, basic failures undermined the effectiveness of Brent’s response to the second
referral. The fact that Victoria was placed under police protection on the evening
that the referral was received, clearly demonstrates that the matter was considered
to be a serious one that required a positive response. In fact, no assessment
of Victoria’s needs was ever undertaken in response to this referral. In the first
instance, such an assessment would have involved nothing more taxing than
speaking to those involved. As it turned out, neither Victoria nor Kouao nor Avril
Cameron nor Priscilla Cameron nor the referrer (Dr Ajayi-Obe) were ever spoken to
by Brent Social Services for the purpose of gaining an understanding of Victoria’s
needs and circumstances.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
106
5.183 Time and again the written record of Brent’s handling of Victoria’s case
demonstrates a complete absence of any proper reflection or analysis of the
information available to them. Perhaps the most glaring example is provided by
the failure to speak to Ms Cameron. Taking another person’s child to a hospital
and expressing the suspicion that the child is being deliberately harmed is not
something that anyone would undertake lightly. It seems inconceivable that
anyone who applied their mind to Victoria’s case file in any meaningful way could
have failed to pick up the fact that the lady who had brought Victoria into hospital
in the first place had yet to be spoken to.
5.184 In my view, the proper handling of Victoria’s case would have involved at least the
following basic steps:
• Victoria should have been seen and spoken to.
• The accommodation in which Victoria and Kouao were living should have been
visited and assessed for its suitability.
• Whatever background information was available from Ealing Social Services and
the French authorities should have been obtained.
• Legal advice as to Kouao and Victoria’s status and the options available to social
services in dealing with them should have been sought.
• Avril and Priscilla Cameron should have been spoken to in order to understand
why they had come to the view that Victoria had to be taken to hospital.
• Kouao should have been interviewed about the injuries to Victoria and the
concerns that had been expressed by the Camerons.
• A multi-agency discussion should then have taken place involving representatives
from the Central Middlesex Hospital, Brent Child Protection Team and Ealing
Social Services, at which a plan to promote and safeguard Victoria’s welfare
should have been agreed.
Lack of supervision
5.185 The steps listed above amount to no more, in my view, than standard social work
practice of a type that should reasonably be expected in every case of alleged
deliberate harm. Their impact on the outcome of Victoria’s case is likely to have
been very significant indeed. The fact that none of them were taken in Victoria’s
case is attributable not just to poor practice on the front line, but also, in my view,
to a lack of clear managerial direction and, in particular, effective supervision.
5.186 As far as the deficiencies in the supervision offered to those working on Victoria’s
case is concerned, it is necessary to do little more than observe that her case file
was never read thoroughly by any manager for the duration of the time that her
case was open in Brent. Effective supervision takes time. It involves reading the case
file and applying some thought to the decisions taken on the case. In Brent, such
supervision would appear to have been one of the primary casualties of an intake
team which was simply unable to cope adequately with the work required of it.
5.187 It is little wonder, therefore, that basic omissions such as the failure to speak to
Victoria or Ms Cameron before the case was closed were never picked up and
challenged by the managers involved in the case. There can be no excuse for the
closure of a case before the basic steps necessary to secure the well-being of the
child have been taken. I therefore make the following recommendation:
5 Brent Social Services
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Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that no case that has been opened in
response to allegations of deliberate harm to a child is closed until the following
steps have been taken:
• The child has been spoken to alone.
• The child’s carers have been seen and spoken to.
• The accommodation in which the child is to live has been visited.
• The views of all the professionals involved have been sought and considered.
• A plan for the promotion and safeguarding of the child’s welfare has been
agreed.
Low priority of children’s services
5.188 A lack of priority was given to the standards of the day-to-day work of front-line
social workers by the managers responsible for the operation of the intake teams.
This was replicated further up the organisation by the low priority accorded to
children’s services by Brent’s senior officers and elected councillors.
5.189 Despite the efforts of central government to move the protection of children
further up the local government agenda through the Quality Protects initiative,
I heard much evidence to indicate that children’s services in Brent were significantly
underfunded at the time that Victoria arrived in the borough. I have set out in
detail in paragraphs 5.40–5.41 the extent to which Brent spent less on children’s
services than the sums allocated to it for that purpose by central government in
the Standard Spending Assessments for the periods up to and including the one
with which I am primarily concerned. I have also made reference to the various
arguments deployed by witnesses from Brent in an effort to persuade me that
underspending of this nature should not be interpreted as being indicative of a lack
of focus on the protection of children. I do not seek to rehearse those matters here.
5.190 For present purposes I wish simply to record my conclusion on this issue which
is that the lack of priority and resources accorded to children’s services by Brent
over several years leading up to Victoria’s arrival in the borough, contributed
significantly to the deterioration of the service offered to vulnerable children by
the intake teams which handled her case. I found those teams to have been in
a deplorable condition in mid 1999. An almost total lack of effective supervision
meant that poor practice went unnoticed and unchallenged. A lack of sufficient
numbers of staff with the skills and training necessary to perform the tasks required
of them, meant that the systems in place were on the verge of collapse.
5.191 As I have already made clear, a lack of resources and management attention
cannot provide an excuse for front-line workers for failing to perform basic aspects
of the job for which they have been trained and employed. That said, the fact that
the teams with which I am concerned were allowed to deteriorate into the state
in which I found them during the course of this Inquiry can only be the result of
wholly inadequate monitoring by those who were ultimately responsible for the
provision of a proper service to vulnerable children in Brent.
5.192 As I stated at the outset of this section of the Report, I have little regard for the
concept of what Mr Daniel referred to as “professional distance” between those
at the top of the organisation and those working on the front line. It is the job of
senior officers and elected councillors to inform themselves about the quality of
services being offered by their front-line staff, and to take appropriate action to
remedy deficiencies as they are revealed.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
108
5.193 Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the evidence I heard regarding Brent Social
Services was the lack of concern, and even interest, that the senior figures in
the council appeared to show in the condition of their children’s services intake
teams. I regard the regular monitoring of front-line work by senior managers and
elected councillors to be an essential component of the effective delivery of services
to children. In an effort to ensure that such monitoring takes place, I make the
following recommendation:
Recommendation
Chief executives of local authorities with social services responsibilities must
make arrangements for senior managers and councillors to regularly visit intake
teams in their children’s services department, and to report their findings to the
chief executive and social services committee.
6 Haringey Social Services
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6 Haringey Social Services
The managerial context
6.1 Victoria spent some 308 days in England. For 211 of them, and in response to
a clear child protection referral, she had an allocated social worker from the
North Tottenham District Office (NTDO) of Haringey Social Services. Their single
responsibility to Victoria throughout this period was to safeguard and promote her
welfare in accordance with the Children Act 1989. Their clear and overwhelming
failure so to do is the subject of this section.
6.2 As with the other agencies involved in Victoria’s care, it is not enough to
consider the omissions and failings of individual practitioners in Haringey without
considering the context in which they were working at the time. It is also necessary
to understand the extent to which the organisation in which they served, and
the working practices of the organisations, can, and must, shoulder the blame for
serious lapses in individual professional practice. The evidence on this in Haringey
is, in my judgement, overwhelming.
6.3 Although the failings in Lisa Arthurworrey’s (Victoria’s social worker) practice were
many and serious, she was badly let down by her managers and the organisation
that employed her. In particular, council members and the senior management
of Haringey must be held to account for the yawning gap between safe policies
and procedures, and poor practice in their children and families’ services.
As Pauline Bradley, a social worker at Haringey, observed, they “were way out
of touch with what was happening at the grass roots and did not really seem to
care”. Yet Gurbux Singh, chief executive at the time, felt able to distance himself
from these failures. He told the Inquiry, “It is absolutely clear that Haringey has
messed up and it is absolutely clear that there were fundamental failures ... but I
am not clear in my own mind as to where the line of responsibility lies. That is my
own dilemma.” It is not a dilemma I share, as I have already made clear in respect
of Gareth Daniel, chief executive of Brent council. For Mr Singh to seek to hide
behind the cloak of corporate responsibility and to say that beyond making sure
that effective systems and processes were in place – which they clearly were not
as this section will demonstrate – he “could not honestly think of what else I could
have done to ensure that the tragedy which happened did not happen” entirely
misses the point. As chief executive, Mr Singh carried overall responsibility for the
way in which the council operated and performed. If there was a gap between
local policies and practice it was exactly his job to know about it, to keep his
members informed and to take timely and corrective action.
Haringey
6.4 Haringey is an outer London borough with many of the characteristics and
problems of an inner city area. In its 1998 position statement to the Joint Review
of Social Services in Haringey Council, Haringey noted that it is the thirteenth most
deprived authority in England. A large proportion of its residents were described
as experiencing:
“Severe poverty, unemployment and deprivation, which manifests itself
in all areas of their lives, such as the lack of adequate affordable housing,
poor levels of educational attainment, poor health and high numbers of
children in need.”
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
110
6.5 I heard evidence that Haringey has one of the most diverse populations in the
country, with 160 different languages spoken locally, a long tradition of travellers
settling in the borough and a high proportion of asylum seeking families (nine
per cent of the total population). The pressure this places on all departments
within the local authority is inevitable – none less so than for the children and
families’ services.
Haringey Children and Families Service
6.6 The NTDO was one of two district offices in the borough accommodating the
Haringey Children and Families Service. The other area office was some five
miles away in the west of the borough in Hornsey. Based in north Tottenham, in
cramped and rather dingy premises, were two investigation and assessment teams
(IAT A and IAT B) and four children and families’ long-term teams. Members of
each of these teams would staff the duty team on a rota basis. It was the duty
team that handled in the first instance most of the referrals – including Victoria’s
– that came into the office, although they operated a completely different system
from the duty team in Hornsey.
6.7 Once the social worker on duty had conducted an initial assessment of referrals,
cases were transferred to an IAT. It was generally understood, but not made explicit
in local guidance, that cases should not be held open for more than three months
by an IAT, and usually not beyond a case conference, before being transferred to
a long-term team for implementation of a care plan. Despite this, Victoria’s case
remained throughout her seven-month period in Haringey with the IAT and the
social worker to whom it was originally allocated. This adds further weight to the
recommendation made in paragraph 4.14 that managers of duty systems must
be aware of how many cases are open on duty, what is being done on them and
by whom, and when the action needs to be completed. It also demonstrates the
need for managers to be aware of when key deadlines in the progress of a case
are missed. The fact that a case spends an excessive amount of time open on duty
can often indicate that it has been allowed to drift. In an effort to ensure that such
signs are not missed, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that where the procedures of a social
services department stipulate requirements for the transfer of a case between
teams within the department, systems are in place to detect when such a
transfer does not take place as required.
6.8 Within each IAT there were six social workers and a senior practitioner accountable
to a team manager, who was in turn responsible to the commissioning manager
for children and families. Until the changes brought about by restructuring in early
November 1999 (to which I shall return), Angella Mairs managed team A and
her senior practitioner was Rosemarie Kozinos. Carole Baptiste managed team B
and her senior practitioner was Barry Almeida. Both team managers reported to
David Duncan, commissioning manager, who in turn reported to Carol Wilson,
assistant director of children’s services and chair of the local Area Child Protection
Committee (ACPC). Both team managers took turns managing the duty team.
Accordingly, following Victoria’s admission to the North Middlesex Hospital in July
1999, it was Ms Baptiste who allocated Victoria’s case to Ms Arthurworrey, a social
worker in her team.
6 Haringey Social Services
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Induction and training
6.9 At the time she was allocated Victoria’s case, Ms Arthurworrey had been employed
in Haringey for nine months. Although she told the Inquiry that she was not given
“any sort of induction” when she started with Haringey other than to be shown
around the building and told to read the department’s child protection guidelines,
Ms Arthurworrey was not wholly inexperienced because this was her second
children’s services post since qualifying as a social worker in 1997. Surprisingly,
though, she had yet to conduct and see through to completion a joint section 47
inquiry of suspected deliberate harm to a child with the police.
6.10 In Bernard Monaghan’s subsequent review of staff involved in Victoria’s case,
he concluded, “All the staff directly concerned with the VC case had received
appropriate training to equip them to deal with the practice matters that arose
during their involvement.” Mr Monaghan found “no basis to believe that a lack of
appropriate training of staff was a contributing factor”. Indeed, Ms Arthurworrey
told this Inquiry that by June 1999 her training was adequate and it was not
a factor relevant to Victoria’s case in terms of her conduct of it. I do not share
that view. Setting aside Ms Arthurworrey’s limited experience in child protection
inquiries, she was not trained in the Memorandum of Good Practice and could not
therefore take a section 47 child protection inquiry through to its conclusion.
6.11 Common sense dictates that before any social worker conducts section 47 inquiries
they should:
• be trained in how to complete such an inquiry;
• have had experience in participating in section 47 inquiries while shadowing a
more experienced colleague;
• ideally be trained in the Memorandum of Good Practice.
6.12 Ultimately it was the responsibility of Ms Wilson to ensure that staff in her
department carrying out section 47 inquiries were competent to do so. In order
that this happens in future, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
No social worker shall undertake section 47 inquiries unless he or she has
been trained to do so. Directors of social services must undertake an audit of
staff currently carrying out section 47 inquiries to identify gaps in training and
experience. These must be addressed immediately.
Caseloads
6.13 The atmosphere within the NTDO duty and IATs was hectic in 1999. Shanthi Jacob
spoke of the “bombardment factor” and Mary Richardson, director of social services
in Haringey at the time, stated:
“Undoubtedly North Tottenham was the busiest social work office.
As a consequence of that, by definition staff probably held, on average,
slightly more cases than their Hornsey counterparts ... there was regular
and fairly unremitting pressure on the north Tottenham office.”
6.14 It was an issue recognised by the Joint Review team in early 1999, who referred in
their report to potential staff “burn out”, which needed to be addressed quickly.
6.15 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry that initially her caseload at Haringey was
manageable, but it slowly increased. By the end of August 1999 she was
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responsible for 19 cases (of which half were child protection). This is seven
more cases than the maximum laid out in the Duty Investigation and Assessment
Team Procedures devised by Ms Mairs. Mr Duncan argued that it was hard to
imagine how a social worker could work on more than 12 cases at a time.
Yet Ms Arthurworrey said she was unaware of the guidance, and during 1999
Mr Duncan said he knew, though Ms Wilson said she did not, that staff in the
NTDO IATs were dealing with a high number of cases and that the average
caseload was in excess of the recommended maximum.
6.16 Haringey Social Services admitted that Ms Arthurworrey’s caseload in the second
half of 1999 was higher than they generally considered desirable, but they argued
that this did not affect her ability to deal with Victoria’s case. Ms Arthurworrey
did not, they said, identify any tasks at the time that she could not carry out
because of workload pressures. However, the fact remains that Ms Arthurworrey
failed to complete a number of key tasks in relation to Victoria’s case, and she
worked considerably in excess of her scheduled hours, notching up by the end of
1999 some 52 days of time off in lieu, which could not easily be taken because
of workload pressures. It also overlooks entirely the additional need for effective
supervision – so demonstrably absent in Victoria’s case – when social workers carry
active caseloads of this size.
6.17 Ms Bradley, a social worker in one of the long-term teams and a UNISON
representative, described the situation as “conveyor belt social work”. She said that
the “ethos seemed to be particularly about getting the cases through the system
and meeting the targets, meeting the statistics, getting them through the system”,
rather than doing the work that needed to be done.
The management of the IATs
6.18 The personalities of those in charge of the two IATs contributed much to the way
the teams worked. Marina Hayes, a social worker in IAT B, recalled that the team
was “very divided, and there were a lot of deep conflicts. At times the working
environment felt hostile, and it was not a comfortable place to work constructively
in”. Ms Hayes stated that there seemed to be “two camps in the I and A team.
It felt to me that there were insiders and outsiders within the office.” Ms Hayes
also said, “There were historical conflicts that were just never resolved. Probably
nobody knew what they were about. They were just part of the culture. They were
part of the dynamic.” Ms Hayes found the atmosphere less than supportive, in fact
she found work in the NTDO a struggle.
6.19 Similarly, Ms Arthurworrey recalled that there always appeared to be conflict in
the IATs. She said it reminded her of a school: “Angella Mairs was the headmistress,
Rosemarie Kozinos was the head girl. There were also other head girls [the senior
practitioners] and we the social workers were the children.” Ms Arthurworrey stated
there was a clear division of the team into camps. “The basis of the split was the
headmistress and the head girls against the social workers ... It was very difficult to
rebel among the schoolgirls because we were regarded as children who should be
seen and not heard.” Others, including Ms Bradley, agreed.
6.20 I heard different and often conflicting views expressed about Ms Mairs’s
management style. Ms Arthurworrey and Valerie Robertson, another social
worker in IAT B, both considered Ms Mairs a powerful and assertive manager
with a reputation for being a bit of a bully. However, Ms Robertson said she felt
more comfortable in her social work role once Ms Mairs took over as manager
of the combined IAT in November 1999, because she received more and clearer
direction. Ms Kozinos, on the other hand, found her an approachable manager
and Mr Almeida described her as hard working and loyal.
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6.21 Whether or not Ms Mairs’s management style verged on the bullying, the evidence
suggested that she was a tough, if controlling and autocratic, manager whose
reputation was known and valued by Haringey’s senior management team and
whose skills were considered necessary to run an efficient duty system. Mr Duncan
confirmed that twice in the past three or four years Haringey had got itself into a
crisis in the management of its duty teams, once in the NTDO and more recently
in Hornsey. On both occasions Haringey called on Ms Mairs to pull it out of a
tight spot, because she was clear and set up safe, strong systems. According to
Mr Duncan, that was one of the things that Ms Mairs was good at. He described
her style as “controlling, she wants that team run in her way”. In his opinion
Ms Mairs would not be everyone’s favourite manager, but she may come out on
top as being the manager that gives the closest and clearest instructions on what
to do. Certainly her management style was to have an influence on relationships
between the NTDO IATs and those external agencies that could and should have
played a critical role in Haringey’s child protection system.
6.22 Relations with health colleagues were, on the whole, reasonable but not without
their difficulties. At the time Victoria was admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital,
Haringey had no social work presence at the hospital, which raised concerns for
hospital staff over gaps in the service provided to Haringey patients. Dr Mary
Rossiter, consultant paediatrician at the North Middlesex Hospital, said that prior
to Victoria’s case there had been occasions when Haringey Social Services had not
fully appreciated the paediatric team’s concerns or fully respected her views about
cases. She felt there were occasions when Haringey Social Services had not reacted
properly to her expressions of concern about children that she believed might be
the victims of deliberate harm. She said, “It was more that we did not have a good
working relationship. I really felt that I had not been able to get through to them
to explain my concerns.” Dr Rossiter felt social workers were not appreciating her
point in more complicated cases. When asked whether race made any difference
to the way social workers responded to her concerns, she replied, “Maybe
some social workers felt they knew more about black children than I did.” The
minutes of a meeting between hospital social workers and the North Middlesex
Hospital paediatric consultants on 11 February 1998 concluded, “There are a lot
of problems with North Tottenham District Office and referring to them (which
is done by the clinical staff in some circumstances). This causes negative feelings
about social services in general which can be unjustified.” It was not a problem
that Ann Graham, manager with responsibility for liaison between Haringey Social
Services and the North Middlesex Hospital, or more importantly the ACPC on
which Dr Rossiter sat, ever properly addressed.
6.23 Tensions also existed between Haringey Social Services and the police.
Ms Arthurworrey described a general feeling of hostility towards the police and
other agencies, which stemmed from Ms Mairs’s view that, “Social services knew
best ... we worked the hardest and we knew our procedures. There was just very
little consultation.” This was not Ms Graham’s impression, but this may only serve
to highlight the disparity in perception between those on the ground and those
operating one step removed. Detective Sergeant Michael Cooper-Bland of the
Haringey Child Protection Team summed up relations as a bit like “the curate’s
egg, partly good and partly bad”. He thought that on an individual basis, social
worker to police officer, there were many examples of good working relationships.
Conversely there were examples of poor working relationships and “in a very few
cases, downright rudeness”.
6.24 Evidence emerged that the police felt pressurised about their role within child
protection inquiries. There were differences of opinion on how cases should
proceed, despite the existence of a protocol for inquiries between the police and
social services. The police felt social services blocked or frustrated steps that the
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police wanted to take. Sergeant Alan Hodges did not believe that the work carried
out in Victoria’s case in July and November 1999, could be said to have been an
independent, thorough investigation by the police: “I believe in Haringey the
working practices there were difficult for the police officers.”
6.25 In a letter to Highgate police staff dated 8 March 2000, Detective Chief Inspector
Philip Wheeler mentioned the “difficulty of working with what seems to be an
‘aggressive’ social services unit”. In a report of the same date, DCI Wheeler stated
that Haringey Social Services “seems to have its own particular culture and ways
of working within the child protection framework. It seems that they are extremely
powerful within the protection network and some social workers work hard to
actually prevent police involvement”. Detective Inspector David Howard said
that some of the working relationships were difficult, but relationships had to be
maintained and difficulties overcome to prevent a possible total breakdown. Once
again the ACPC appeared to have done little to broker good relations between its
partner agencies.
Carole Baptiste
6.26 In contrast to Ms Mairs, the main issues arising out of Ms Baptiste’s management
of IAT B were her lack of availability and her incompetency as a team manager.
Ms Baptiste worked two and a half days a week from the end of 1998, following
her return from maternity leave, until the summer of 1999. In July 1999, before
Victoria’s referral to Haringey, the members of IAT B raised a number of persistent
and serious concerns with Mr Duncan about Ms Baptiste’s management of the
team. In particular, the B team felt that Ms Baptiste did not know her cases
properly, and care planning suffered as a result of this. Staff also informed
Mr Duncan that it was hard to seek Ms Baptiste’s advice on cases, given the
uncertainty about when she would be in the office.
6.27 As front-line manager of the B team and Ms Arthurworrey’s immediate supervisor,
the extent to which Ms Baptiste’s managerial competency fell short of the mark
and was known to be deficient, or ought to have been known to be such by her
managers, is of critical importance and deserves careful consideration.
6.28 Ms Baptiste had been temporarily promoted by Haringey as a team manager for at
least four and half years. This was not a satisfactory situation but was not unusual
according to Joe Heatley, Mr Duncan’s predecessor as commissioning manager.
He claimed that acting-up managers were not uncommon in the late 1990s.
Indeed, most managerial posts were filled that way. He believed this was partly
due to the general shortage of experienced social workers at that time.
6.29 While there will always be a need for staff to be temporarily promoted to
fill unforeseen vacancies, directors of social services must ensure that such
arrangements are subject to routine review at no later than six-monthly intervals,
and the reasons for continuation or termination should be recorded on the
appropriate personnel file. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
When staff are temporarily promoted to fill vacancies, directors of social
services must subject such arrangements to six-monthly reviews and record
the outcome.
6.30 Prior to joining IAT B, Ms Baptiste had moved to one of the long-term children
and families’ teams as an acting team manager. Dawn Green (née Cardis), a
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child protection adviser for the NTDO, recalled Ms Baptiste as being a chaotic
manager with lots of files and unallocated cases on her desk. She said Ms Baptiste
“presented as not focused and chaotic. She seemed less competent than other
managers”.
Previous problems
6.31 Mr Heatley, manager for children’s services, was equally concerned about
Ms Baptiste’s lack of management and this came to a head in connection with an
under-performing social worker in the children and families’ team who was known
to this Inquiry as Ms B. Not only had Ms Baptiste failed to pick up Ms B’s poor
performance, she had failed to respond when asked to deal with it. Ms Wilson
was fully aware of the situation and an independent human resources consultant,
Alister Prince, was asked to prepare a report into the matter.
6.32 Its terms of reference were extended to consider not only the performance of
Ms B but also that of Ms Baptiste, her team manager, as well as that of Mr Heatley
because of his handling of the whole affair. Although the report was commissioned
in early 1998, the 15-page report was not finally received by Haringey Social
Services until March 2001. That was some 21 months after Ms Baptiste joined
IAT B as its manager after returning from maternity leave. Given the scope of the
report, in particular its focus on the performance of both a first and second tier
manager, by any standard this was an unacceptably long delay. Significantly,
no decision was made to pursue the findings of the report with any of the
individuals concerned.
6.33 Although Ms Baptiste failed to co-operate with Mr Prince’s report, it is clear
from the evidence given by others including Ms B, a new inexperienced social
worker, that supervision with Ms Baptiste closely mirrored the later observations of
Ms Arthurworrey and others about their supervision experience with Ms Baptiste
in the IAT B. Ms B said that she was an unsupportive and unfocused supervisor
and that she would spend supervision sessions talking about feeling oppressed by
a sexist and racist department. Ms B said she “felt at sea”.
6.34 Mr Prince’s report contained a number of other, relevant observations, namely:
• Ms Baptiste had had management responsibility for one of Ms B’s cases for in
excess of two years and was not aware that the social worker had made only
three visits in that time. Mr Prince concluded that Ms B was a problem for
Ms Baptiste to manage and consequently a number of children and their families
failed to receive a service. Indeed Ms B had presented problems as a social
worker from the outset and these had not been vigorously addressed. As with
Ms B’s caseload, they were allowed to drift. Mr Prince found that even a cursory
view of Ms B’s files “from her earliest involvement in a case evidences little or no
social work input of any meaning, simply gaps exist”. It is a comment that could
apply equally well to Victoria’s file.
• Ms B subsequently transferred to Ms Mairs’s IAT and under vigorous
management her performance as a social worker turned around. Her new
practice manager, Ms Kozinos, “was very positive about her abilities”.
• In the face of a near revolt by Ms Baptiste’s old children and families’ team,
she was transferred on return from maternity leave to IAT B team in the NTDO
in 1998, but still in an acting-up capacity. Mr Prince was highly critical of the
“ostrich like” management response in this regard, and suggested that no
consideration was given to returning Ms Baptiste to her substantive grade as
a senior practitioner. He argued that the corporate response was in effect to
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avoid a difficult decision rather than to take positive action. “This lack of positive
action meant ... unacceptable ‘supervision’ of the C&F team by Ms Baptiste and
the potential passing on of that particular problem to duty, investigation and
assessment workers.” It was a telling conclusion.
6.35 The validity of Mr Prince’s conclusions was called into question by Haringey.
In particular I was told that any subsequent improvements in Ms B’s performance
were not sustained. Also that it was only one worker from the children and
families’ team, and not the whole team, who threatened to leave in the summer
of 1998 if Ms Baptiste returned to manage that team. Nonetheless, I am firmly of
the view that enough was known in 1997, or ought to have been known, about
Ms Baptiste’s management style for alarm bells to be ringing.
6.36 According to Mr Duncan, Ms Baptiste had recognised the difficulties she had had
with the children and families’ team and it was she who requested a transfer to the
IAT on her return from maternity leave in August 1998. Ms Wilson and Mr Duncan
agreed the transfer. According to Mr Duncan, the thinking was to wipe the slate
clean and let Ms Mairs, who was considered a strong manager and who had earlier
been Ms Baptiste’s line manager in another social work team, act as her mentor.
6.37 If this had been the managerial intention, it certainly rendered invalid any notion
that the managers of the two IATs in 1999 carried equal responsibility for the
running of the teams. Indeed, the overwhelming impression from the evidence
of the social workers in Ms Baptiste’s team was that Ms Mairs was very much in
control. Ms Mairs was equally clear that it was not her understanding that she had
any mentoring role for Ms Baptiste. Certainly, no such support was offered by her.
Nor was any additional support given to Ms Mairs to take on this task.
Problems with supervision
6.38 The tensions that had featured during Ms Baptiste’s time in the children and
families’ team began to resurface in IAT B. As a result, according to Ms Baptiste,
she found it hard to engage some social workers, Ms Arthurworrey included, in the
regular supervision so fundamental to good practice. Although Ms Arthurworrey
has denied ever refusing supervision when it was offered, there clearly was an
issue about the quality and timeliness of the supervision that was provided in
Ms Baptiste’s team. This was confirmed by the director of social services at the
time, Mary Richardson.
6.39 Ms Arthurworrey understood she would get supervision every two to three
weeks, “but this never happened”. In practice she received supervision about
once every seven weeks. “When I asked about drawing up a supervision contract
Carole [Baptiste] told me that I was responsible for doing that.” Ms Arthurworrey
said she experienced serious problems in arranging supervision sessions with
Ms Baptiste because of her continued unavailability. Often Ms Baptiste would
cancel or rearrange sessions or simply not appear without an explanation.
6.40 Of equal concern, Ms Arthurworrey said she found supervision with Ms Baptiste
frustrating because, more often than not, they would start discussing cases
and then Ms Baptiste would go off on a tangent. Ms Arthurworrey stated that
Ms Baptiste often talked about her experiences as a black woman and her
relationship with God. The result was that they would not have time to finish
discussing the cases. Ms Arthurworrey said she just tried to manage. Generally it
was Ms Baptiste’s practice to agree with whatever suggestions Ms Arthurworrey
put in front of her. Ms Arthurworrey found this disturbing in the sense that it led
her to question Ms Baptiste’s knowledge base.
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6.41 Two other social workers in Ms Baptiste’s team gave evidence as to the irregularity
and variable quality of her supervision and complained that she referred to her
religious beliefs and gave religious guidance during supervision sessions. However,
her senior practitioner Mr Almeida was unaware of any complaints as to the
content of Ms Baptiste’s supervision sessions, as was Mr Duncan. Ms Baptiste
denied using supervision sessions to talk about her own personal religious beliefs
saying that any talk of religion “was definitely relevant to the casework”. However,
she admitted mentioning her religious beliefs during the course of her work
because during the period when she was dealing with Victoria’s case Ms Baptiste
had started attending the Rahema church.
6.42 The extent to which supervision sessions, when they occurred, were preoccupied
with talk about religion or matters unrelated to the casework in hand has been
difficult to gauge some two years after the event. As pointed out by Haringey
council, the record of the meeting with Mr Duncan in July 1999 confined itself to
a discussion of Ms Baptiste’s poor timekeeping, lack of availability for supervision,
poor case management and case allocation. This, together with the assertion
by Mr Duncan that he knew nothing of the complaints about the quality of
Ms Baptiste’s supervision, may suggest that the experience of Ms Arthurworrey
and others was not universally shared by other members of the team.
6.43 One outcome of the July meeting was that Ms Baptiste agreed to work full time
from July 1999 and it was hoped that this would ease the problem of availability.
But, as the restructuring interviews took place throughout the autumn of 1999 and
Ms Baptiste’s job looked increasingly insecure, her timekeeping became even more
erratic. I shall return to the restructuring interviews later at paragraph 6.124.
6.44 Ms Arthurworrey recalled, “Some days she was in the office, most days she was
not [and] she did not record her movements in the movement book.” Cases would
appear on social workers’ desks without any guidance from Ms Baptiste about the
issues. When she was in the office, Ms Baptiste was not readily available, which
became problematic when cases required an urgent response. Ms Arthurworrey
said she felt unsupported and isolated at Haringey.
Allocation of cases
6.45 Complaints from IAT B about the lack of any formal allocation system for new cases
met with little response. Managers ultimately had discretion as to who was given
which cases – a discretion that should have systematically taken into account a
social worker’s experience and capacity for taking on more work. Typically, cases
were just ‘plonked’ on social workers’ desks without prior knowledge, often with
very little consideration to a social worker’s experience, current commitments or
workload. There would be no conversation between manager and social worker
as to what work needed to be done on a case. Peter Lewington, assistant branch
secretary of Haringey UNISON, stated, “Team managers seemed to be under
pressure to get cases allocated and it seemed as if their main priority was just to
get a worker’s name against a case.”
6.46 Once again, Ms Wilson said she was not aware that cases were allocated without
the team manager reading the case beforehand or that cases were just left on
social workers’ desks. Ms Richardson, however, accepted that case allocation
was not done in the most rational way and that this may have had an impact
on Ms Arthurworrey at the time.
6.47 Following the July 1999 meeting, a new system of case allocation was introduced.
Social workers were expected to attend weekly meetings so that cases could
be allocated to them involving issues in which they had a particular interest.
The experiment was extremely short-lived. Ms Arthurworrey recalled, “One
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case allocation meeting chaired by Carole [Baptiste] was held in July or August
1999 and this appeared to work quite well. The second meeting was due to be
chaired by Carole but was never held because Carole arrived at work late ... and
the following week we were informed that the case allocation meetings had
been scrapped because there was ‘no commitment from the social workers’.”
Ms Baptiste blamed the social workers for failing to attend and said, “Eventually
we reverted to the old system of allocation, as there was simply insufficient
commitment to the new system.” The problem remained unsolved.
6.48 When Ms Baptiste was not available, Ms Mairs, Mr Almeida and Mr Duncan would
provide guidance and supervision to social workers in IAT B. This put additional
strain on Ms Mairs and Mr Duncan. Ms Mairs stated that the quality and depth of
support she was able to provide would have been less than what would have been
available had there been a manager there full time.
6.49 Mr Duncan said he had serious doubts about Ms Baptiste’s availability to manage a
team after July 1999. Mr Almeida felt that Ms Baptiste could be a capable manager
but at the time there were outside factors that affected her capability to a degree.
Even more worryingly, Ms Wilson acknowledged that Ms Baptiste “was one of our
weaker managers. She was not the weakest”.
Restructuring
6.50 At interview in September 1999, Ms Baptiste was deemed unappointable.
According to Ms Wilson, “[her] practice responses were not inappropriate and her
presentation and performance was just about adequate. In one or two areas she
achieved higher marks than other managers. However, she appeared to have little
confidence.” Ms Wilson admitted, however, in her statement to Mr Monaghan
as part of Haringey’s own internal inquiry that she became very concerned about
Ms Baptiste’s performance at interview and said she did not feel that she had
a “management grip”. Ms Baptiste was subsequently moved from front-line
services to Quality Protects funded project work in November 1999. She was
formally suspended on 15 February 2000 and made redundant on 25 February
(the very day of Victoria’s death), though she had been absent on sick leave from
20 December 1999.
6.51 Ms Baptiste’s suspension was entirely unrelated to her handling of Victoria’s case
or to her work in Haringey. However, the issue for this Inquiry is whether the
deterioration in Ms Baptiste’s mental health culminating in her suspension was
one that had been developing in the preceding months and, more particularly,
while Ms Baptiste was the team manager responsible for Victoria’s case. If so, did
it manifest itself in ways that were or should have been noticeable to Ms Baptiste’s
managers? The evidence on this is far from clear.
6.52 Mr Duncan said that he thought Ms Baptiste’s mental state was entirely stable
throughout 1999. Further, Mr Duncan stated that he saw Ms Baptiste more than
any other manager and he saw no mental or physical symptoms in her. “No more
so than any of the other managers.” Ms Baptiste was asked whether she was
treated or diagnosed with any mental disorder prior to January 2000. Ms Baptiste
stated, “not that I am aware of, no”. Ms Baptiste advised that she had not been to
a doctor about a mental disorder before January 2000 and nobody had diagnosed
her as suffering from any mental disorder before January 2000.
6.53 Ms Baptiste stated that she did suffer memory losses during the period August to
December 1999 and had discussed this with her manager, Mr Duncan. Ms Baptiste
recalled “not being able to conceptualise things … I was not able to visualise
things … I remember that I found it very difficult to do simple calculations and
particularly leading up to the restructuring where it was said that there was
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going to be … a mathematical exercise … I was really struggling with numbers.”
Ms Baptiste confirmed that this was around summer 1999. Ms Baptiste spoke to
Mr Duncan informally about how she was finding it difficult to remember things
and to remember how to do things.
6.54 Asked whether her illness in January came out of the blue, Ms Baptiste said
that, “probably in hindsight … I am probably able to say that there was a lot of
forgetfulness, absentmindedness, not remembering things, but not being aware
that I was not remembering things, which was something that I had mentioned
to my manager but it was not something that was taken particularly seriously.”
Ms Baptiste stated that it was difficult to say whether these early signs were
affecting her competence as a team manager during the period from July to
November 1999. She confirmed, however, that there was nothing that led her to
suspect she might be suffering from any form of mental disorder before January
2000 nor did she report her difficulties to her GP. “I thought at the time it was just
because of the additional pressures of what was going on … I did not think it was
out of the ordinary.”
6.55 Whatever Ms Baptiste’s precise mental state may have been during the second
half of 1999, it seems clear to me that her managers, in particular Ms Wilson and
Mr Duncan, knew enough about her weakness as a manager by the time she left to
go on maternity leave in November 1997 to at least seriously question the wisdom
of putting her in charge of a pressured investigation and assessment team.
6.56 Indeed, not only were the additional supports entirely absent for Ms Baptiste, but
the restructuring process that was to occupy the time of managers throughout
so much of 1999 actually limited the capacity of Ms Baptiste’s manager to do
his job properly.
6.57 Mr Duncan now believes that he may not have dealt sufficiently rigorously with
the concerns raised by staff at the July 1999 meeting. In his closing submission
he said, “I clearly should have taken a more controlling approach to Carole and
her team.” As a temporarily promoted manager himself – Mr Duncan was acting
commissioning manager for the NTDO from April 1998 to September 1999 – his
substantive grade remained that of team manager. As part of the restructuring
process, Mr Duncan was expected to compete for both positions – in effect putting
him in direct competition with Ms Baptiste, at least for the team manager post.
This, he said, may have caused him to take his eye off the ball and led him to
feel disempowered in supervising Ms Baptiste from March 1999. While I accept
Mr Duncan’s evidence as to how he felt at the time, I am of the view that a
stronger manager would not have let their acting-up status interfere with the way
they did their job. The net effect was that there was no adequate supervision of
Ms Baptiste’s practice and her supervision at all times.
Local guidance
6.58 This was particularly significant because, at the time, social workers in the NTDO
and their first-line managers were simply not following local guidance, and senior
managers either knew and condoned this or remained blissfully unaware of
its consequence.
6.59 Among the several sets of guidance that IATs were subject to, were the following:
The undated Child Protection Guidelines
• These were rewritten in 1997 and outlined the duties and responsibilities of
social workers undertaking investigative and assessment work. The introduction
states, “It is expected that these will be followed by all staff involved in
child protection investigations.”
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120
Duty Investigation and Assessment Team Procedures
• These were devised by Ms Mairs in June 1998 and covered “the overall
framework for the provision of a Duty Children and Families Service for the North
Tottenham District Office [and] work in conjunction with existing procedures”.
These procedures were intended to operate as a pocketbook enabling social
workers to be clear about their duties at a glance. Ms Arthurworrey was aware
of the Duty Investigation and Assessment Procedures, which she said influenced
her practice. But according to Ms Bradley, “There was a practice manual and
other procedures available to social workers. However, social workers were
never directed to it and practices developed which were separate to the practice
manual. There was a lot of confusion about what the relevant procedures were.”
Haringey ACPC handbook
• In addition, there was a handbook prepared by the Haringey ACPC, dated
June 1997, outlining each agency’s role in the child protection process. These
provided a guide to inter-agency procedures and a working tool for professionals
involved with children. Ms Arthurworrey, however, had never heard of the ACPC
handbook. Likewise, Ms Kozinos said that she had no idea that there were ACPC
child protection guidelines to assist her. Ms Mairs said that she had seen the
ACPC guidance but she did not think they had much relevance to the day-to-day
operation in Haringey. Asked how she expected her team to be able to take into
account the ACPC guidelines if she was not familiar with them, she replied that
she could not answer. Ms Mairs stated that the guidelines were not something
her team would use.
• Not for the first time, senior managers were to express surprise at what
they learned during the Inquiry’s evidence stage. Speaking about the ACPC
guidelines, Ms Richardson said, “I find it difficult to believe that people were
not aware of them. They were widely circulated and available in area offices.”
Ms Richardson said she would expect them to use the guidelines in relation to
the inter-agency work that was going on. Ms Wilson advised that copies of the
ACPC handbook were available although they were not given out to individual
social workers. Further, Ms Wilson said that in January 1999 she “personally
spent time in Tottenham and at a large group meeting ... went over each of
the relevant plans, documents and procedures which were available to staff,
confirmed their existence, accessibility and staff familiarity with them and in
relation to procedures and their obligations in law. Managers and social workers
concerned in the Inquiry were all members of staff at this time and participated
in preparation and review of the services policies and procedures”. Ms Wilson
said that she was satisfied that the guidelines were available: “I was assured
that staff knew they were available. I had feedback through the child protection
adviser on reinforcement of access to those guidelines.” Ms Wilson said she
was very surprised to hear that Ms Kozinos had never even seen a copy of the
ACPC guidelines because Ms Wilson had personally seen it on the shelf in that
office. While Ms Wilson may well have had grounds for being impressed by the
availability of the ACPC guidelines, it is less clear that she had any grounds for
being impressed as to their use.
Case Recording Practice Guidelines
• Both Ms Kozinos and Ms Mairs said they had limited familiarity with the Case
Recording Practice Guidelines, dated January 1998, and that they were not
followed because they “did not have the appropriate resource to enable us to
follow it.” The truth of that statement was all too visible in Victoria’s case and
more generally as to merit repeated criticism in Social Services Inspectorate (SSI)
inspections and the Joint Review of 1999. But senior managers had a different
slant on the problem and one that, if correct, needs to be addressed across the
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social work profession as a whole. Ms Wilson observed, “We had some staff who,
although qualified as social workers, did not always appear to achieve that level
of literacy on paper.” Ms Richardson commented that there was “resistance from
some staff in Haringey about using the written word at all”.
Supervision policy of Haringey Social Services
• More astonishing still was the admission by Ms Kozinos that they did not follow
the supervision policy of Haringey Social Services. Specifically, she claimed that
the supervision policy was regarded as having been superseded by the custom
and practice in Haringey of not reading the case files. The tragic consequence
of this was that nobody in Haringey – not even Ms Arthurworrey – ever read
Victoria’s case file in its entirety.
Ms Mairs said that while there was a written policy that managers should read
files, it was simply not practicable to read every file unless there were concerns
about the competence of the social worker. There was a lack of resources to
do this and no system in place to facilitate it. Ms Mairs agreed that proper
supervision necessitated the reading of case files, if not routinely then at least
periodically, and she accepted that it was a rather hopeless system if managers
did not look at the files to test the way in which social workers were going about
their work.
Mr Duncan knew that managers were not systematically reviewing files, but he
claimed he did not know that Ms Mairs was not reading them at the crucial
points of supervision. Ms Mairs disputed this, stating that Mr Duncan was aware
that managers were not reading files before supervision because it was discussed
at team management meetings.
Ms Wilson acknowledged that a manager could not participate fully in
supervision unless they had read the file: “I think files were an intricate part
of good supervision management.” Once again, Ms Wilson was surprised to
learn that Ms Mairs’s team did not read files or adhere to the supervision policy
during 1999. Ms Wilson stated she knew as a certainty that other parts of north
Tottenham used the policy and did not accept that was the general practice in
the NTDO. I am left questioning just how she could be so certain in the face of
the evidence from Duty Investigation and Assessment Team (DIAT) witnesses and
the clear failings in practice in Victoria’s case. Therefore, I make the following
recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that the work of staff working directly
with children is regularly supervised. This must include the supervisor reading,
reviewing and signing the case file at regular intervals.
Child protection advisers
6.60 If local guidance was not routinely being followed in 1999 – and I have no doubt
that had it been, the standard of some of the work done in Victoria’s case would
have been raised substantially – the child protection advisers (CPAs) ought to
have provided a necessary and effective safety net. As part of the child protection,
quality and review section of children and families’ services, they reported direct to
Ms Graham and worked independently of the children and families’ teams. Petra
Kitchman was one of two CPAs that covered the NTDO and had a room in that
office, which she used for two days each week.
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6.61 Typically, social workers or team managers would invite CPAs to give consultations
and advice. CPAs had no case responsibility and would not offer advice in a case
unless asked to do so, despite Child Protection Guidelines stating that all work in
relation to child protection must be carried out in consultation with CPAs.
6.62 It was Ms Wilson’s “clear expectation” that “access to a child protection adviser
was the right of every social worker who was concerned on a case”. It was also her
expectation that advice offered by a CPA would be followed, though Ms Kitchman
acknowledged that CPAs would not necessarily know whether that was the case
or not. Where there was any conflict over the advice offered, it was for the team
manager and CPA to resolve, and if necessary, refer the matter up through their
respective line managers.
6.63 Ms Arthurworrey’s understanding of the role of CPAs was less clear-cut. She
acknowledged they were not routinely used in all child protection cases and
believed they were only used at the specific direction of team managers. In
Ms Arthurworrey’s experience, a team manager would involve a CPA if there were
issues that could not be resolved in supervision. While Ms Arthurworrey had used
CPAs in the past, she did not make regular use of them and she did not initiate
contact with Ms Kitchman in Victoria’s case. Ms Arthurworrey understood her
manager was responsible for her cases and she felt she “needed to get directions
from her manager so that she could work in a logical way”. This was not a view
shared by Ms Baptiste or Ms Mairs.
6.64 Any confusion as to the role of the CPA appeared to extend to what they did when
they were consulted. Ms Kitchman advised that she did not have a quality control
role in relation to casework, although she acknowledged there was an element of
quality assurance in relation to undertaking audits and chairing case conferences.
Ms Kitchman said that it was not part of her responsibilities to monitor and
evaluate the work of a social worker who approached her for advice or to ensure
that they were dealing with the case properly, unless obvious concerns were noted.
6.65 Ms Wilson disagreed. She said CPAs “were an independent audit of good practice”.
She was quite clear that CPAs had a role in supervising the quality of the work on
those cases with which they become involved. In particular, she considered CPAs
“had an individual responsibility and accountability in relation to cases and that
the service as a whole had a formalised quality assurance role in relation to good
practice”. CPAs had a “responsibility to determine what was good practice on the
case in giving advice. [Ms Wilson] would not expect them to dip in and out unless
they were satisfied that the way they had left the position was one of safety”.
6.66 Ms Mairs believed there were no politics in using a CPA. Yet Ms Wilson observed
that there was opposition to CPA involvement among a number of team managers.
CPAs and team managers worked at the same operational level, but Ms Wilson was
philosophical about this, stating, “It was something that we recognised as being
inherent in the role and that needed to be strongly managed.” Those tensions are
“built into the role if you have an inspector, but that does not mean you should
not have it and that it is not a very important aspect of monitoring practice”.
According to Ms Wilson, the fact that some team managers were undermining
CPAs and that this was causing tension was not a continuous problem. There were
individual issues that arose where team managers took a different perspective from
a CPA, which was resolved in 95 per cent of the cases, but which needed to be
confronted in a small minority of cases.
6.67 If the CPAs’ role within Haringey Social Services was less than clearly defined or
understood, the position was considerably worse in relation to outside agencies.
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6.68 Ms Kitchman was also the link worker with the North Middlesex Hospital. Besides
a general duty to liaise with other agencies, there were no established procedures
or written documentation setting out what Ms Kitchman’s role in relation to the
North Middlesex Hospital was to be. As a result, Ms Kitchman thought her role
as a link worker to the North Middlesex Hospital was rather tenuous, but believed
in practice it amounted to attending liaison meetings at the North Middlesex
Hospital with Dr Rossiter, Enfield Social Services and the North Middlesex Hospital
social work team manager once every two months. Ms Kitchman saw her
relationship with Dr Rossiter as involving liaison over specific cases, for example,
at planning meetings.
6.69 Dr Rossiter said she saw Ms Kitchman as the appropriate person in social services
with whom she should liaise and to whom she should report concerns. However,
Ms Kitchman said she did not see herself as the sole point of contact, nor did she
believe that referrals from external agencies should be made to CPAs, in effect
bypassing the district offices.
6.70 Ms Mairs thought differently. She advised that CPAs were there as consultants to
the public. If agencies wanted to make a referral, they could bypass the district
and go straight to the CPAs, but it was important that the CPAs inform the district
of that. If a CPA received information on a case that was already in a social work
team, Ms Mairs would expect the CPA to discuss it with the social worker and the
team manager.
6.71 Ms Green, another CPA, viewed her role as both intra and inter-departmental.
Ms Green believed CPAs offered a resource to everybody, including the general
public. Anybody could phone up about a child protection concern, including other
agencies. Outside agencies, for example paediatricians, would contact the CPAs for
advice on child protection issues or because they were concerned a case they had
referred to social services was not progressing. If external agencies were frustrated
with trying to work things out with social services, CPAs were a safety net and
were seen as a centralised team of people who would intervene, hear the case, and
make a decision about the best way forward. Sadly no such constructive action was
forthcoming when Dr Rossiter sought to involve Ms Kitchman in Victoria’s case, nor
was it ever likely to be if managers were relying on the flawed and misunderstood
guidelines and protocols operating between CPAs and DIAT social workers
and CPAs and the North Middlesex Hospital. Therefore, I make the following
recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that the roles and responsibilities of child
protection advisers (and those employed in similar posts) are clearly understood
by all those working within children’s services.
Management information
6.72 Haringey’s management information system provided managers with very limited
help with keeping them up to date with what was going on in their teams in 1999.
Its client index system, originally created as a management tool, was later adapted
for team managers and service managers to manage caseloads but had yet to
achieve its purpose by the time Victoria arrived in Haringey.
6.73 Mr Duncan said that in 1999 the information on the system was often inaccurate.
But he accepted that was the fault of the people putting information into the
system rather than with the system itself. His business plan for the NTDO,
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dated February 1999, stated, “Among other things, inaccurate statistics make
performance targets hard to set and reach, and plans hard to develop.” Dinos
Kousoulou, deputy director of housing and social services, who was responsible for
the management information system across the directorate, said that he was not
aware of this at the time. However, the Joint Review into Haringey in 1999 noted,
“The authority is aware that its current client index system is not able to support
its service planning and business planning arrangements.” Mr Kousoulou could not
explain this inconsistency:
“Certainly if there were these levels of problems then yes I should have
been made aware, and if it was to do with the system itself, the IT
system rather than the information that was meant to be put into it,
then clearly that was my responsibility ... It was for managers like Dave
Duncan to make sure that front-line staff used the system effectively
that was there. If it was a problem with the actual technology then that
should have been brought to my attention.”
6.74 Ms Mairs was frustrated with the system and told the Inquiry that she did not rely
on the client index system because it was always difficult getting accurate records
from it and she had always used a manual system. According to her, there were
monthly printouts informing managers what cases the workers had, but she said
9 out of 10 times these were not the cases that were allocated to them, or cases
that were closed were still on the system. She thought there were various reasons
why the system was not working in terms of the input: “It is a problem that
Haringey has had for years and still has.” In response, Mr Kousoulou said he was
surprised and concerned that Ms Mairs had abandoned the client index system
altogether during 1999 and kept some manual system of her own.
6.75 Ms Wilson said she thought the system was improving in 1999 and said, “It was
coming into its own as it were in the autumn.” Despite Ms Mairs’s independent
stand, Ms Wilson said she took the view that the client index system was no
longer an optional extra: “I took a very firm and clear line that whatever the good
bits or the bad bits about the system, it was the one we must use and we must
get it as accurate as possible.” Ms Richardson thought that, by the time she left
Haringey, the client index system was still in a non-user friendly state but it could
provide most of the information they had needed up to that point. Mr Kousoulou
accepted, however, that the improvements that were put in place at the end of
1999 did not resolve all the difficulties, and that by April/May 2000 Haringey still
had a system that was producing inaccurate results and was unable to support
service planning.
Unallocated cases
6.76 One performance measure intrinsic to basic, safe, childcare practice and which,
if accurate, would have provided Haringey with an instant gauge of the pressures
facing its DIATs in 1999 related to its unallocated children’s cases.
6.77 In May 1999, Mr Duncan reported that in the NTDO there were 61 unallocated
cases and in the Hornsey office there were 48, making a total of 109 unallocated
cases for which Haringey had responsibility at the time. The Joint Review from
its field work in early 1999 found little evidence of unallocated cases in both
district offices, although there were reports of managers holding responsibility
for unallocated cases. Ms Wilson stated that it was policy for team managers to
assume responsibility for unallocated cases as and when the occasion demanded it,
and to delegate work on those cases to social workers where it was appropriate in
light of their workloads.
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6.78 The state of play on unallocated cases in May 1999 apparently was not known
about at the top of office, nor were members apparently kept informed. Gina
Adamou was lead member of social services at the time and she thought that the
children’s service was in good shape. However, Councillor Adamou said she had
not seen Mr Duncan’s report and she was not informed of this situation: “In May
1999 I just came in after a lapse of two years as a lead member of social services
and, no, I could honestly say that I was not told at the time of this [nor did I see]
this Report, but there are reports that never come to members.”
6.79 Chief executive, Mr Singh, said that the information around unallocated cases was
something that was routinely collected through the performance management
framework. Had there been a problem he would have picked it up. It was Mr Singh’s
understanding that unallocated cases was not an issue at that time, further casting
doubt on the value of the performance management framework he relied on.
Finances
6.80 Remedying an unreliable and inaccurate management information system
was clearly an essential prerequisite to sound business planning for Haringey,
particularly in the face of persistent and severe financial pressures. In 1999, these
were directly linked to its decision to write off over a 10-year period a sizeable debt
expended on the redevelopment of Alexandra Palace, high levels of homelessness
and numbers of asylum seekers coupled with pressure from the Government to
protect and increase education funding.
6.81 In fact, education had all but taken centre political stage in Haringey in 1999,
following a devastating OFSTED review of Haringey’s education services, which
“completely condemned” the local education authority and suggested the whole
of the local education authority function should be externalised.
6.82 As a result, and bowing to Government pressure, by the year 2000/2001
councillors agreed to ‘passport’ the entire education standard spending assessment
(SSA) figure to its education services. It is not for me to judge the merits of
Haringey’s financial deliberations between its spending departments except to
observe that children’s services fared badly by comparison. For the years
1997/1998 to 2001/2002, Haringey council spent substantially less than the
sum allocated in the SSA for children’s social services. In 1998/1999 the gap was
approximately £10m, declining thereafter not because of any significant increase
in Haringey’s spending on children’s services, but because of changes in the
way the Government estimated children’s services SSA across the board. This
led to a reduction in Haringey’s own children’s services assessment figure of just
under £8m. The cut was sufficient to prompt Haringey to make complaints to
Government ministers about its effect.
6.83 In the evidence of its senior managers, and in their closing submissions, Haringey
council was at pains to point out that in the years 1997 to 2000 it did not consider
the SSA as a valid assessment of an authority’s need to spend, nor that it was a
Government instruction to spend at that level. The SSA, it was said, is no more
than a formula used by Government to distribute the total national spend on the
basis of relative need (allowing for differences in population profiles), which can
then be topped up by local authorities from council tax. Its limitations have been
recognised by Government, not least the fact that it cannot take account of all the
pressures facing a local authority. For example, the SSA formula took no account of
the £7m a year Haringey had to spend on its statutory duty to homeless families.
Accordingly, the fact that Haringey council spent considerably less than its SSA
for the period 1997 to 2000 does not, in the council’s view, indicate what priority
Haringey council accorded children’s services nor does it reveal how well resourced
Haringey’s children’s services were compared with its needs.
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6.84 I disagree. While the SSA may not be capable of encompassing all the cost
pressures facing a local authority at any one time, it is unlikely to have substantially
underestimated these, and certainly not to the extent of £10m for services to
children and families. Arguably elements of the SSA should represent no more than
the starting points in council budget deliberations, and any departures from these
should be justified on the basis of local intelligence about population needs. In my
view, any alternative approach to determining children’s services budgets has to be
at least as good as that offered by the SSA.
6.85 Haringey council claims it had such an alternative approach. The process involved
the council’s senior social services officers providing information to elected
members about local need and local service requirements and ensuring members
fully understood the council’s statutory responsibilities. To do this, officers held
discussions and had extensive contact with service users, other stakeholders in the
borough locally, and other agencies, for example, the health service. In Haringey’s
view, this “local knowledge and discretion” provided a more sophisticated view of
need and was therefore a better method than simply following the product of a
national formula.
6.86 It would seem that neither the Joint Review of 1999 nor the SSI inspection of
children’s services in June 2000 agreed. The SSI found that the children and
families’ services were “poorly resourced in comparison to its equivalent group of
councils ... We concluded that the service was underfunded.” The SSI commented,
“Unless the [children and families’] service is appropriately resourced a difficult
situation can only get worse.” The Joint Review had also recognised the funding
of children and families’ services as an issue.
6.87 The 1999/2000 budgetary process was also affected by the publication, in the
summer of 1998, of the first Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which set the
national local government spending totals for the period 1999/2000 to 2001/2002.
6.88 At the time, Haringey council had one of the highest council tax rates in London.
In the face of an election manifesto pledge in May 1998 to keep the rate of
increases in council tax below the rate of inflation, Haringey council had all but
ruled out council tax increases as an extra source of revenue. In any event, the
capping regime in place at the time imposed its own level of restraint.
6.89 Instead, Haringey council set a three-year savings target of £26m. In setting savings
targets for individual service areas, Haringey council allocated a ‘high, medium,
low’ prioritisation to services. The children’s service received a high-priority rating,
meaning it should be protected as far as possible.
6.90 According to leader of the council, George Meehan, elected members relied on
social services officers to advise them on what the need was and the amount of
money to spend. The Inquiry heard conflicting evidence as to whether senior
social services officers advised members that Haringey’s statutory obligations to
children would not be capable of being fulfilled within the budgets set. Councillor
Craig Turton recalled that councillors were “consistently advised by senior
Haringey Social Services staff” that “The financial allocation made to children’s
services and to child protection was barely adequate, and unless significant year
on year increases were made to the budget, the quality of services provided
would inevitably suffer a significant deterioration.” However, Councillor Turton
acknowledged that these concerns were not recorded in minutes of meetings.
6.91 Haringey council rejected the suggestion that senior officers informed members
that the proposed level of spending meant that the council’s statutory duties
towards children could not be met or were at dangerous levels. Ms Richardson
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confirmed that she “attempted to get ... the highest level of protection possible”
in the 1999/2000 budget for children’s services. According to Ms Richardson, the
amount of saving in the whole of children’s services in proportionate terms was
better than the percentage taken out of other services and “the most vulnerable
parts of this service we gave the maximum amount of protection to, internally”.
She stated that while priority was given, she did not feel happy because services
were stretched. However, “The reality was that the service was treated better than
other services.”
6.92 Mr Singh told the Inquiry that while there were expressions of concern about
the general tightness of budgets, none of the three directors of social services in
post during his tenure advised him that the budgets were insufficient to enable
Haringey council to discharge its statutory responsibility in the delivery of children’s
services. Mr Singh told the Inquiry that if this risk had been drawn to his attention,
there would have been some interventions. Likewise, Councillor Meehan advised
that if the director had said children’s services needed more money, he has no
doubt that the council would have provided more money.
6.93 Based on the evidence before me, I accept Haringey council’s contention that there
was no clear and explicit advice from its senior managers to spend more money on
children’s services in order to avoid putting at risk Haringey’s proper discharge of
its statutory duties and avert potential tragedy.
6.94 I do not, however, accept its conclusion that “There is not a shred of evidence that
the alleged lack of funding of the children’s services had any impact on the way in
which Victoria’s case was handled ... There was no facility to which she might have
been referred to which she was not referred because of lack of funds.” Victoria
died because those responsible for her care adopted poor practice standards. These
were allowed to persist in the absence of effective supervision and monitoring.
Corners were cut and resources were fully stretched. There is evidence in plenty
to support this. An easing of the financial pressures facing Haringey’s children’s
services could only have had a positive impact on the environment in which
Ms Arthurworrey was working in 1999.
Restructuring
6.95 One of the ways Haringey Social Services attempted to ease its financial
pressures in 1999 was to restructure its children and families’ service. It is to this
restructuring exercise that I now turn. It is not the role of this Inquiry to make
judgements as to whether Haringey council should have restructured, or when or
what form any such restructuring should have taken. It is purely concerned with
answering two questions:
• Did the restructuring exercise undertaken by Haringey in 1999 have any adverse
impact on the delivery of front-line children’s services and, in particular, services
to Victoria?
• Could and should those adverse consequences have been foreseen by Haringey’s
senior management team?
6.96 The overall effect of Haringey’s restructuring in 1999 was to produce larger teams
with a more streamlined management structure. One of the main changes to
emerge in children’s services was the reduction in the number of team managers
from 12 to six, and the promotion of six out of seven senior practitioners to new
practice manager posts with supervisory responsibilities.
6.97 After restructuring, the two NTDO initial assessment teams merged into a
single DIAT with Ms Mairs taking up the post of team manager on 8 November
1999. Ms Kozinos and Mr Almeida became two of the three practice managers,
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supervising their own social workers. On 5 November 1999, Ms Baptiste ceased
having a management role.
6.98 In effect, there were two separate restructuring exercises: the children and
families restructure, and the redirecting of the work of the housing and social
services department restructure, which embraced the whole of the housing and
social services department. The latter was influenced by a government agenda to
modernise local government. However, Mr Lewington, a UNISON representative,
stated that there was no clear indication of how the children and families
restructure dovetailed with ‘Redirecting the Work of the Department’, or how
the two separate consultation processes connected with each other.
6.99 ‘Children and families’ was the only front-line service area that underwent any
process of restructuring during 1999. Mr Lewington suggested that the thrust
behind restructuring the children and families’ services appeared to be to
rationalise some of the structures more at second and third tier management level.
When he received the consultation document, he felt the restructuring proposal
was principally aimed at making savings.
6.100 Ms Bradley’s perception was that there was an unstated aim to get rid of certain
managers whom the council considered were incompetent and wanted to
get rid of but whom had not been dealt with directly. Mr Lewington agreed
that it became apparent that there was a “clear strategy to weed out those
managers regarded as under performing ... To have all these issues underlying a
restructuring exercise, particularly having a hidden agenda, was also bound to
make this restructure problematic.” Mr Duncan did not believe at the time that
the restructuring was in part an attempt to get rid of some managers in whom
Haringey had lost confidence. However, he told the Inquiry that in hindsight
he recognised that was achieved as a by-product of restructuring the whole of
children’s services.
6.101 Ms Wilson confirmed that the main reasons for restructuring were the modernising
agenda of the Government, the need to have a devolved management structure,
and the meeting of savings target. In terms of getting rid of managers in
whom the council had lost confidence, Ms Wilson acknowledged there were
long-standing concerns regarding some front-line management practices, including
areas of poor performance. Ms Wilson said, “We had a layer of weak managers
who were not making headway in the new agenda.”
6.102 In a letter to Ms Wilson dated 26 July 1999, Mr Lewington referred to
“restructuring fatigue”. Mr Lewington wrote this letter as a result of consultations
he had with staff following the announcement of the restructuring proposals.
Mr Lewington indicated that restructuring was a common occurrence in Haringey:
“Many staff are just very tired of these exercises which have been a
regular feature of life in this department in recent years. For Children
and Families Teams the most recent was last year when they reorganised
their front-line duty systems ... People do become stale and exhausted
by constant, often ill-thought-out reorganisation. I have often thought
about this department that the management approach has tended to
be that when there is a problem, rather than address it directly, the
response is to have another restructuring.”
6.103 Mr Singh agreed that “restructuring can be used for solving ills which in fact
should be dealt with through other processes and through other forms of action”
because it gives the appearance of activity which may or may not bring with it
changes in performance.
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6.104 Similarly, Councillor Turton stated, “It seemed to be a sort of annual state of
affairs that rather than actually look at a problem in-depth and allow staff to get
on and do a job, we would have a cosmetic restructuring state of affairs, which
would usually happen from about fourth or first tier officers.” Further, Councillor
Turton said, “I think it was too often the case that reorganisations are done rather
than definitive action ... rather than actually addressing fundamental challenges
facing social services.” Philip Peatfield, an independent chair of child protection
conferences and children looked after reviews, said there was restructuring of some
sort or another virtually every year during the mid to late 1990s.
6.105 In response, Ms Richardson stated that, in her experience, “Haringey was a place
where myths and rumours were more productive perhaps or non-productive than
may be in other places. As far as I can see it was total myth, but it was firmly
held from the top to the bottom of the organisation.” Senior management and
members’ perceptions were that there had not been any major restructuring since
the early 1990s.
6.106 In terms of the consultation process, a notice of impending redundancies was
sent to the trade unions at the end of 1998, advising that the restructuring of the
team manager posts was scheduled to take place over the course of 1999/2000.
In January 1999, Mr Lewington first had discussions with Ms Wilson. In their
meeting Ms Wilson did not discuss what the restructuring might involve but
agreed to produce a consultation document within a month. The document was
not produced until mid June 1999.
6.107 What was to be a three or four month process took about seven or eight months
to effect. The stability and continuity provided by the senior practitioners might
have been considered crucial during this period. At the outset, senior management
assured staff that the senior practitioners were not going to be affected by the
restructuring. However, on 25 June 1999, staff learned for the first time that this
process was going to extend to senior practitioners, who were going to have to
reapply for their jobs as well.
6.108 Ms Wilson disagreed that staff were not properly consulted. Ms Wilson said there
was a very wide process of consultation and dissemination of information via the
commissioning managers and the third tier managers, together with supporting
material, department-wide meetings, change management seminars, team
briefings, and news sheets. In addition, Ms Wilson informed the Inquiry that she
regularly met with the trade union representatives, more or less every month.
However, in a memorandum to Ms Richardson (copied to Ms Wilson) dated
24 June 1999, the staff in the NTDO wrote, “We would very much welcome an
opportunity to discuss these proposals with you directly and therefore be given
the opportunity for a true consultation rather than receive information which has
already been decided upon.” Further, on 7 July 1999 the senior practitioners and
team managers wrote to Ms Wilson saying, “Our lack of clarity ... has been borne
out of the conflicting information which we have been receiving. All decisions
appear to be made and given to us on an ad hoc basis [and] the lack of clarity is
beginning to have an impact on the staff morale and service users.”
6.109 On 5 November 1999, Mr Lewington wrote to Ms Richardson saying, “I have to
inform you that the senior practitioners are quite exasperated with the present
situation, as am I. They are now unwilling to do anything further to assist the
restructuring.” Mr Lewington went on to say that he wanted “unequivocal
clarification in writing” and he continued, “I have to say that I am increasingly of
the view that many of these difficulties could be resolved by some clear planning
and straightforward communication.”
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6.110 Ms Wilson accepted there were some issues that were much more difficult to
resolve and that the goal posts changed throughout the negotiation. However, she
did not accept that there was a delay in the process: “I am not trying to pretend it
was lovely and it all worked smoothly ... in any process of restructuring it is about
accommodation and agreement.”
6.111 It is clear from the evidence of a number of witnesses that the restructuring process
added considerably to the strain under which staff were working. Mr Almeida said
that the NTDO was a stressful place for all social workers and their supervisors.
Restructuring in 1999 and the historical restructuring added to people feeling worn
down. According to Mr Lewington, the proposal for restructuring “generated a
considerable amount of confusion, anger and distress in most quarters”.
6.112 In July 1999, the senior practitioners and team managers in the NTDO wrote to
Ms Richardson, “to express our dismay and distress at the proposals that are being
made to restructure this department”. Further, they said that the proposals were
“potentially dangerous and detrimental to the people to whom we offer a service”
and that the proposals were causing “a great deal of distress to staff across the
district”. A holding reply was sent on behalf of Ms Richardson, but it appears there
was no substantive response to the memorandum.
6.113 Team managers were concerned because they had to apply for their own jobs in
competition with colleagues and were being interviewed for a reduced number of
team manager positions. For the six months between March 1999 and the end of
September 1999, team managers did not know if they would have a job and social
workers did not know who their long-term team managers were to be. Again,
senior management and members were unaware of the low morale generated as
a result of the restructuring. Mr Lewington stated that the consultation process
was compressed, meaningless and seemingly inconsequential, thereby creating
confusion and anxiety among staff. If Haringey had started the consultation early
in the year with a view to creating these changes by September, this would have
allowed a reasonably lengthy period to deal with staff concerns and to clarify the
process with people. According to Mr Lewington, that did not happen, which
contributed substantially to the difficulty of the process.
6.114 There was a feeling from NTDO staff that the low morale was having a knock-on
effect on the service to children, and that children might be put in danger, as
expressed in a memorandum of 7 July 1999 from the senior practitioners and team
managers. The following is an extract from the memorandum:
“Sadly the workers in this district office have experienced at least two
incidences where children have died. The inquiries that have been
held subsequent to these deaths have pointed towards issues where
improvements could be made in both practice and procedures. We
recall very clearly one recommendation that was made from one of
these inquiries which stated that any change in the structure of the
department should be well organised and should not occur during the
summer months. It was envisaged that this would cause least disruption
to staff, would prevent low morale and would provide a supportive and
safe working environment for practitioners, ensuring that mistakes are
not made.”
6.115 Mr Duncan stated he would have not put it like that at the time but agreed
with it in hindsight. Mr Lewington said that he never received a response from
management to the concerns raised in the memorandum.
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6.116 I heard evidence that the restructuring had a negative effect on staff members in
the NTDO. There was a high turnover of staff during this period and Haringey lost
many of its experienced and permanent staff. Recruitment was difficult because of
service conditions, in particular poor remuneration, and the fact that there was a
national shortage of social workers. Ms Mairs said that towards the end of 1999
experienced staff left and people became very unhappy. It was very stressful and
morale was low. People were under pressure to get work done with inadequate
numbers of staff. Haringey Social Services had to use agency or newly qualified
staff, who were not as experienced as they ought to have been for the caseload.
6.117 Mr Lewington said he thought the restructuring was the final straw for a lot of
people: “There was a big exodus of staff around that time, which began in the
latter part of 1999 and continued into 2000. Haringey had a real staffing crisis,
particularly in the North Tottenham Office.”
6.118 Ms Kozinos also stated that there was a high turnover of staff due to the
restructuring and that morale was quite low. Ms Kozinos said it was a very uncertain
and unsettling time. The restructuring exercise for the DIAT began in May 1999 and
was not fully implemented until about February 2000. The demands of the work
never changed but the structure did and what was in place afterwards was less
resourced than what was in place previously, but it was the same work demands.
6.119 Ms Mairs told the Inquiry that she did not know why Haringey underwent
restructuring. She knew what she was told the purpose was, but in terms of the
reality at the time, she cannot see how things improved in terms of service delivery
or work morale: “The restructuring just brought chaos.” Mr Almeida said that the
NTDO was a stressful place for all social workers and their supervisors. Mr Duncan
confirmed that he took a fairly dim view of the way in which the restructuring was
handled by senior management. He advised that the restructuring process was
flawed from the outset, although he thought it was acceptable at the time.
6.120 Mr Singh said in evidence that he was unaware there were repeated expressions
of serious unhappiness and worries about the direction in which the restructuring
proposals were taking the department. Lead member Councillor Adamou never
heard any concerns from the trade unions about the restructuring process. But
according to Councillor Adamou, there is never going to be universal approval
for any restructuring plan and the level of discontent that she picked up from staff
was at an acceptable level. Likewise, Councillor Meehan was unaware that there
was a particular problem with morale arising out of the restructuring process in
mid 1999.
6.121 Ms Richardson accepted the detail about the differences of opinion from staff in
the NTDO, but stated, “In terms of the project as a whole, people were almost
enthusiastic about it.” Ms Richardson did not see the view of NTDO staff as
representative of everyone. She noted that the Joint Review team in 1999 was
impressed with the willingness of NTDO staff to change. Ms Richardson stated that
staff did not raise any informal or formal protest to the restructure of children’s
services. Indeed, her view was that at the end of the day, the only people who
stood to lose in this process were two team managers – and who sought voluntary
redundancy rather than accept alternative employment.
6.122 Haringey council submitted: “The fact that most of the problems which the staff
now attribute to this restructuring and the stresses which it caused them were not
raised at the time, ought to raise doubts in your minds as to whether the picture
they are now seeking to paint actually corresponds with the reality.” Haringey
council stated that the fact that the trade unions did not raise concerns about the
restructuring in circumstances where they might have been expected to do so is
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132
significant. However, there is evidence to show staff, both collectively and through
UNISON, brought concerns to the attention of senior management. Haringey in
its own chronology of the reorganisation sets out the various correspondence from
staff and Mr Lewington to Ms Wilson.
6.123 Ms Richardson stated that there was more than one side to the picture that was
being painted in the evidence. Ms Richardson said she was sure the restructuring
process had an effect on the way Victoria’s case was handled, but she does not
think restructuring on its own was the critical issue.
6.124 Against the backdrop of restructuring, there is plenty of evidence to suggest there
was a lack of supervision available in the second half of 1999 because managers
were preoccupied with preparing for their interviews. Managers were not totally
focused on their duties because they were worried about keeping their jobs and
the interviewing process itself.
6.125 Ms Arthurworrey stated that the restructuring created a sense of uncertainty and
her morale was very low at that time. Managers had to prepare a presentation
for their interviews and this preparation took place during work hours, when
otherwise they would have been available to social workers. The atmosphere in
the office while this restructuring process was going on was chaotic, busy and very
unsettling. There appeared to be no managers available and they “were seeing
different faces in the office”.
6.126 Ms Baptiste, was one of those who was preparing for an interview, and she was
less available than she might otherwise have been. Ms Baptiste prepared for her
interview during working hours and in her spare time. Ms Baptiste said that there
was not any formal time given by her seniors, nor any formal support that had
been identified for staff to have that time. Ms Baptiste agreed that maybe staff
should have been doing this preparation in their own time rather than during
Haringey’s time. With hindsight she accepted it made her less available to those for
whom she was responsible. Mr Duncan confirmed there was a lot of revision to do
for the interviews but no one approached him to say they needed time to prepare
for the interviews or to ask if it could be done during work hours.
6.127 The apparent endorsement of Haringey’s restructuring by the Joint Review in early
1999 to which I shall return at paragraph 6.145, helps little, not least because
it was early days in the restructuring exercise. As lead reviewer Dennis Simpson
reminded the Inquiry, the reviewers knew none of the detail of the restructuring
as this had not yet been worked out beyond the top management changes. The
imperative was for implementation to an explicit timetable, for it to be consultative
with staff and for unnecessary delays to be avoided. The Joint Review team was
undoubtedly impressed by what they perceived as the clear sense of direction
and vision of the senior management team, which would be fundamental to
the delivery of a restructuring with minimum disruption for staff and users alike.
What the Joint Review team could not have foreseen was that the driving force
behind the restructuring exercise (Ms Richardson) would leave Haringey in March
2000, barely one month after its completion in children’s services and before any
monitoring and evaluation of its effects could have been undertaken.
6.128 In fact, Ms Richardson was director of social services with Haringey for just under
two years in total. Mr Duncan described Ms Richardson’s departure as a: “captain
deserting a sinking ship”. Mr Duncan advised the Inquiry that, “for somebody to
be the architect of such a major restructuring, throw all the cards up in the air
and then run away before they all fall down” just made morale worse when it was
already very low.
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133
6.129 Having heard a considerable amount of evidence on this issue, I am quite
satisfied that Haringey’s restructuring exercise during 1999, and the problems
in its implementation, did occupy the attention of those children’s services
managers and senior practitioners affected by the process to such an extent
that, in Mr Duncan’s words, “it may have caused them to take their eye off the
ball”. This was particularly apparent in the availability of managers to effectively
supervise front-line practitioners at a time when real difficulties in recruitment and
retention of staff were beginning to emerge and caseloads were undesirably high.
More specifically, given the weaknesses already known about in Ms Baptiste’s
management capability, I am sure that the restructuring process did have an effect
on the way Victoria’s case was handled which ought to have been foreseen and
compensated for as the delays, uncertainties and staff anxieties in the NTDO were
making themselves known.
Recruitment and retention
6.130 Restructuring also contributed to the problems of staff recruitment and retention
in Haringey. Ms Arthurworrey recalled:
“During 1999 there was extremely low morale in the social services
department. The DIATs had continual problems in recruiting and
retaining experienced social workers. Social workers were continually
coming and going, which resulted in the high use of locums, temporary
and agency staff ... There were a number of permanent posts which
were vacant due to the problems with recruitment. It was a chaotic
work environment in which relatively inexperienced social workers were
carrying high caseloads.”
6.131 The minutes of the NTDO management team meeting held on 14 July 1999 noted
that the number of vacancies in NTDO was having a major impact on services in
terms of the cost of agency fees, the inconsistency of the service offered, and the
instability in the staff group. Ms Wilson stated that they always had difficulties
– and hence, presumably, these difficulties were predictable – before summer
because staff tended to leave at that time of year. Ms Wilson did not think at that
time that there were long-term staffing problems. However, towards the end of
1999 a significant number of experienced practitioners left Haringey and there was
an impending staffing crisis.
6.132 Ms Baptiste said that during 1999 her team was short of probably one or two
social workers, and one of the difficulties she faced as a manager was the number
of inexperienced social workers in her team. Ms Mairs said that difficulties
in recruiting led to the need to use agency staff and staff who were not as
experienced as they ought to have been for the caseload. Ms Kozinos said this
put extra pressure on managers who had to supervise them because it resulted in
extra guidance, extra training and additional time invested in these people. As a
consequence, services were delayed and work often had to be duplicated. There
was less stability for team members as well as for service users. In Ms Robertson’s
view, this affected the quality of the Haringey’s initial assessment team service in
the second half of 1999, although she hoped that the team tried to do the best it
could for service users. In the absence of effective and regular supervision in which
case files were read as a matter of routine, this could have amounted to little more
than an aspiration.
6.133 Mr Lewington’s impression was that the atmosphere in the NTDO was bad, there
was inadequate support and supervision, no clear direction from management, and
“people just did not feel safe”. In addition, pay levels in Haringey had fallen well
behind other boroughs.
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134
6.134 Mr Duncan held the view that people left because of restructuring, changes to
pay and conditions, and more prospective cuts to the service making working
conditions more difficult. According to Mr Duncan, staff leaving “was a
consequence that senior management just simply had not foreseen”. Ms Wilson
said that senior management could not have anticipated the unstable staffing
situation at the inception of the restructuring. Yet while front-line managers were
clearly concerned at the impact of staffing shortages on service delivery throughout
1999, senior management did not see the problems of staff turnover and agency
staffing as particularly acute until the end of 1999.
6.135 In a leader’s briefing written by Ms Wilson in January 2000, she reported, “23
social work staff have left children’s services since the beginning of December and
more resignations are expected.” The vacancies were mainly in the front-line teams
and in residential work where pressure and stress was highest. In exit interviews
offered at the time, two social workers gave restructuring as the reason for leaving
the department. Seven expressed resentment at potential terms and conditions
changes and expressed the fear of further financial instability as the borough
sought to make savings.
6.136 This ‘resentment’ was to make itself felt in an industrial dispute involving UNISON
members, which culminated in strike action in December 1999. At the heart of
the dispute were discussions about proposals to implement council wide the single
status agreement about terms and conditions.
6.137 In Ms Wilson’s opinion, the timing of the council’s decision was most unfortunate
because staff were in the process of emerging from a very difficult restructuring
process only to be faced with a plan to make them work “longer hours for less
money”. For an authority whose position in the salary league table across London
was third from bottom, this would do little to contain a growing social worker
recruitment and retention problem.
6.138 Mr Duncan stated, “It was a very strange decision by the council at that time to
try to change the terms and conditions of staff because ... the impact in terms
of morale was huge. And even if the council had secured the cuts in terms and
conditions they wanted, it would not have made that much difference financially
to them, so it was really a lose-lose situation for the council.” While Mr Singh
thought if they had achieved savings of £1m plus it would have been “a success
story”, Andrew Travers, head of corporate finance, conceded that their discussions
about terms and conditions would not have “resulted in significant savings
being achieved”.
6.139 In the event, the council never made any decision to proceed with the changes
to terms and conditions. However, by then the damage had been done. Staff
had reacted to the uncertainty around the proposals. It was enough to lead
Mr Kousoulou, acting director of social services following Ms Richardson’s
departure, to describe in a paper to the Policy and Strategy Committee in May
2000, that the difficulties children’s services had faced in recruiting staff since
the summer of 1999 had “become a haemorrhage from November to December
directly linked to the industrial action after which increased numbers of staff
tendered their resignation and others noted their intention to seek employment
in other authorities”.
6.140 In its handling of this issue it is difficult to argue any other conclusion than that
Haringey was the author of many of its own misfortunes. It must remain Haringey’s
right to consider all the means at its disposal for meeting financial pressures.
However, to embark on a course of action with the inevitable uncertainty that the
prospect of change brings, without first weighing up fully all the likely benefits and
6 Haringey Social Services
135
costs, was nothing short of irresponsible. It seems clear to me that either no such
exercise was done on this occasion, or equally concerning, Haringey council was so
out of touch that it entirely misread the impact discussions on changes to terms and
conditions would have in particular on its children and families’ social work staff.
The Joint Review
6.141 Haringey underwent a Joint Review by the Audit Commission and the Social
Services Inspectorate (SSI) in the first part of 1999. Although the fieldwork for the
review was completed in February 1999 and the first feedback to managers and
lead members was in April, the report of the Joint Review was not finally published
until November of that year. By this time Haringey had assumed case responsibility
for Victoria for some five months. The only relevance of the Joint Review to this
Inquiry is the extent to which it painted a clear and accurate picture of the state
of children’s services in the months preceding Victoria’s arrival in Haringey.
6.142 Lead reviewer Mr Simpson explained that the primary purpose of the Joint Review
was to take a strategic overview of the whole of Haringey social service functions,
to provide an objective assessment of how well the people of Haringey were being
served, and to contribute to any further improvements in those services. Joint
Reviews, he said, are to be distinguished from SSI inspections, which typically provide
a detailed investigation of one particular service for one particular care group.
6.143 Haringey’s Joint Review concluded that the “users of social services are generally
well served”. In terms of children’s services, the reviewers formed the impression
“of a working environment that was both challenging and rewarding for staff”.
The report found, “Overall, this is a service with a strong commitment to good
practice, but also one that recognises that there are some inconsistencies that need
to be addressed before further improvements can take place.” It went on to state,
“No single issue emerged during the Review that caused reviewers to have concern
about the practice of child protection.”
6.144 Of Haringey’s senior management, the Joint Review report found:
“There are clear signs of both management and strategic grip. The
Senior Management Team gives obvious leadership, led by a chief officer
[presumably Mary Richardson] with a clear sense of purpose and who has
quickly gained the respect of her staff since her appointment.”
“The previous history of Haringey is a lack of strategic direction, failure
to deal with difficult management issues and solutions found at the
‘eleventh hour’. This position has gradually changed as greater political
stability has been achieved, supported by senior officers seeking to give
the service a clearer sense of purpose and direction, reinforced by the
recently appointed Director and supported by the Chief Executive.”
6.145 Andrew Webster, the director of Joint Reviews at the time the report was
published, was quoted as follows:
“This review suggests that Haringey has every reason to be optimistic
about managing the change programme it has set in place. The council
has made, and is continuing to make, positive changes in order to
improve the delivery of services. However, while some examples of
excellent practice are evident, greater consistency is needed in the direct
provision of services. The authority is nevertheless aware of this and
generally has strategies in place to take corrective action.”
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136
6.146 Haringey’s own Joint Review press release was entitled “Praise for Haringey’s Social
Services”. It stated that the report puts Haringey among the leading social services
in the country, and that the residents of Haringey were receiving a good service
from the council’s social services department.
Reaction to the Joint Review
6.147 Not surprisingly, senior management and members were pleased with the report
and were reassured by this positive overview. While they saw there were pockets
of criticism and areas that needed development, overall the report concluded
that Haringey Social Services were heading in the right direction. Ms Richardson
said that the reviewers “were finding what we had told them was the problem,
that was not news to us”. Ms Richardson thought that it was an overstatement
to say that many of the positive conclusions reached by the reviewers were based
on future promises rather than present actions. However, she accepted that in
its assessment the review took into consideration Haringey council’s collective
ability to take the processes forward – a collective ability that was in fact to all but
disappear within 13 months of the report’s publication, as the chief executive,
director of social services and assistant director of children’s services all moved on
to presumably better jobs.
6.148 Councillor Adamou, lead member for social services from 17 May 1999 to 15 May
2000, cited the positive report from the Joint Review as the reason she thought
children’s services were running well. Against a background of council-wide cuts,
she agreed that this Joint Review seemed, to Haringey, to be as good as it could
get. Councillor Adamou said she was aware that the department had been working
towards the Joint Review for a year. Internal audits were taking place in Haringey
in order to assess performance. “My view was that preparation for the joint
inspection and report had been lengthy and thorough,” said Councillor Adamou.
Accordingly, she said she knew before the report was released that its conclusions
were generally favourable and that where they were not so, steps were being taken
to remedy defects. She said that she heard nothing from the senior officers, in
particular Ms Wilson and Ms Richardson, which indicated a different picture within
social services to the one painted by the Joint Review. Likewise, Councillor Meehan,
leader from May 1999, stated that his view of children’s services at the end of
1999 was as set out by the Joint Review.
6.149 Others took a very different view. Mr Lewington, a UNISON representative, advised
the Inquiry that the Joint Review “still sticks in my mind because it gave Haringey
something of a glowing report”. According to Mr Lewington, “People clearly
were expecting some fairly significant criticism as a result of the Joint Review.
They were quite surprised when instead the Joint Review said things were just
fine.” Mr Lewington stated that he thought “people felt the process had been
managed in such a way that they would come up with a good report”. Likewise,
Mr Peatfield, an independent chair of case conferences and case reviews, said
that staff were amazed when the Joint Review gave Haringey a glowing report.
Mr Peatfield said he thought the report was “inconsistent with the service to
families and children that one felt was being delivered, which was patchy and at
times not satisfactory, and one knew the staff were struggling, one knew there
were unallocated cases so it really appeared to be one of these sort of dislocations
that did not make any sense”. He continued, “I think workers were anxious that
the department was presenting a picture of managing its task which did not feel
to them to be real in terms of their struggle in performing the task.”
An alternative view
6.150 In fact, as the evidence I have already referred to in this section makes clear, by
November 1999, when the Joint Review was published, children’s services were
already beginning to become derailed. Senior managers who knew or ought to
6 Haringey Social Services
137
have known the position did nothing to enlighten the Review team or, it seems,
members in the weeks leading up to the formal council feedback sessions in
late 1999. As a result, and as events were subsequently to demonstrate all too
graphically, the Joint Review’s “lasting impression of a service not likely to be
blown off course as new service configurations are put in place and management
changes are implemented” could not have been more misplaced.
6.151 Two months after Victoria’s death in February 2000, an internal review of district
cases highlighted serious practice failings verging on the acute and dangerous
in the Hornsey office. These included procedures routinely not being followed,
an absence of timescales, investigations not being recorded, little evidence of
multi-agency planning particularly in family support cases, and cases left to drift.
6.152 Seven months after the Joint Review report came out, there was a detailed
inspection of Haringey’s children’s services by the SSI that was highly critical.
I have already referred to its conclusions on Haringey’s resourcing of its service.
In addition, the SSI found “a service to be seriously understaffed at both
practitioner and managerial level”. It found:
“North Tottenham had suffered particularly badly with 47 per cent
vacancies overall and 33 per cent of management posts vacant. Although
some two-thirds of social worker posts were covered by agency staff
this had adversely affected the service. Social workers reported that
supervision and support had been compromised when restructuring had
initially been implemented ... The situation had improved but there was
still a serious shortfall in front-line management availability. This was
bound to adversely affect decision making and quality control.
“The high level of management vacancies coupled with the relative
inexperience of many new practice managers was putting enormous
strain on the few experienced team managers and the commissioning
manager.
“Morale in the two district teams was reported to be poor and there was
a risk that an already difficult staffing situation could spiral downwards.
We also had concerns about the quality of some of the practice that
we observed.
“On the other hand we found a significant number of managers and
staff who were committed to the service and capable with reasonable
resources of seeing the service through its current difficulties.”
6.153 The deterioration in Haringey’s children and families’ service was to culminate in
the authority being placed on special measures by the Department of Health on
12 January 2001.
6.154 Inevitably this sequence of events raises a number of questions as to the factors
that might account for the change in Haringey’s children’s services between the
perceived ‘positive’ report of the Joint Review, and the more critical SSI inspection
seven months later.
Was the Joint Review wrong?
6.155 Haringey Social Services have repeatedly said that they were entitled to rely on the
Joint Review as being an accurate reflection of the state of their children’s services
in early to mid 1999, but that over the course of the next year or so the service
deteriorated, in some areas substantially. They pointed to Victoria’s death and huge
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138
staff losses during that period, including the director leaving and the effect this had
on morale.
6.156 Mr Singh said he depended on external reviews to tell him what was actually
happening and “It is perfectly reasonable for me to expect a Joint Review
conducted by two reputable bodies, SSI and Audit Commission, to actually be
reliable and that gave myself and indeed members of the authority considerable
comfort in a very difficult environment that we were operating in.”
6.157 Mr Singh went on to state that despite the subsequent poor SSI report, “you
cannot simply ignore the positive stuff which came out of the Joint Review as if
that also has no bearing on the matter.” He continued:
“Yes, there was a clear condemnation arising out of the children’s
inspection, but literally a year prior to that there was a glowing response
on social services generally. Now that just cannot be disregarded as if it
did not happen. That was also a statement about the quality of services
which Haringey was providing in the social care area.”
Mr Singh said that he did not rely solely on the Joint Review Report as a source of
information.
6.158 An alternative explanation could be that the Joint Review simply got it wrong
in 1999 and the reality was worse than as portrayed in their report. It was an
explanation that John Bolton, head of the Joint Review team, certainly canvassed.
Five days after Kouao and Manning were convicted of Victoria’s murder and
Haringey were placed on special measures, he was quoted in an interview reported
for Community Care magazine as saying:
“It is possible that we may have made a mistake and that is a cause for
enormous regret. We just don’t know ... At the same time, this is a huge
tragedy, and we hope that we did not contribute to any complacency in
the department.”
Reviewing the Joint Review
6.159 In January 2001, unbeknown to Haringey, the Audit Commission and SSI decided
to review the processes that had been used by the Haringey Joint Review in
order to determine whether there were areas for improvement and to “assist
in the governance of both organisations”. The authors of the new internal
review, David Prince (the auditor’s director of operations) and Jennifer Gray
(a childcare specialist in the SSI), were quite clear that their task was to “follow
in the footsteps” of the Joint Review team and examine how their judgements
were reached relative to the evidence they had collected. It was not their role to
re-perform the Joint Review’s work or second-guess the conclusions of the Joint
Review team.
6.160 Mr Prince described it as “a special light-touch quality control review” that focused
on the methodology and not the findings of the Joint Review. Special because it
had never been done before, light-touch in the sense that it was to be quick and
focused on improvements, and quality control to see if anything could be learned
from it.
6.161 Nonetheless, whatever their initial brief, both the report of the internal review
and the witness statements, particularly of Ms Gray, an inspector with specialist
knowledge of childcare practice, called into question some of the initial Joint
Review findings and raised potentially concerning aspects of Haringey’s children’s
service, which in Ms Gray’s view were not adequately expressed in the Joint Review
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139
report. It should be noted they were asked to look only at the children’s services,
which were only a part of the original Joint Review exercise and report.
6.162 The relevance of this new internal review evidence to the Inquiry (and which was
to form the subject matter of the re-opened Phase One hearings) was three-fold:
• First, what additional light did the internal review throw on the state of children’s
social services in Haringey in early 1999?
• Secondly, what did it suggest Haringey knew or ought to have known about the
state of those services – in particular, were Haringey entitled to rely on the Joint
Review as an accurate picture of their children’s services?
• Thirdly, should the Joint Review have been framed differently and, had it been
written differently, would Haringey have changed the way it dealt with cases
like Victoria’s?
6.163 Mr Prince sought, at the end of his oral evidence, to distance himself from the
conclusions of the internal review – a review approved by him and accepted in
full by both the SSI and Audit Commission as the sponsoring departments. He did
this by asking the Inquiry to disregard any judgements contained in the internal
review about the state of Haringey’s children’s services. This was surprising and
in no way reduced the need for this Inquiry to test the validity of the internal
review’s conclusions.
6.164 In his written and oral evidence, lead joint reviewer Mr Simpson went some way
towards accepting the criticism that the Joint Review should have more clearly
expressed concerns about practice. At several points in his statement Mr Simpson
indicated that, were he writing the report now, he would have placed more
emphasis on the need for more consistency in the provision of services, along with
the need to improve some services which had fallen below an acceptable standard.
6.165 He also said that the principal deficiency with the Joint Review was that insufficient
attention was drawn at the start and the finish of the report to the practice
deficiencies. Nonetheless, these were identifiable on a close reading of the
body of the report as a whole. Indeed, he felt that the Joint Review report was
“encouraging of management, but not to the detriment of dealing with poor
monitoring data, poor practice, the need to improve practice guidance to front-line
staff, improve case recording, make supervision and performance appraisal more
comprehensive, deal with significant budget problems and cope with increased
demand for children’s services. Hardly a report which shirked from identifying
issues related to practice and direct service provision”.
6.166 That the Management Action Plan drawn up by Haringey in response to the Joint
Review contained 40 action points designed to address deficiencies in practice in
children’s services was illustrative, according to both Mr Simpson and Haringey
Counsel, not only of the fact that the Joint Review had raised these practice
deficiencies (and therefore the review could not be said to be overly positive),
but that Haringey knew about them and were going to respond to them.
6.167 The most detailed assessment of the state of children’s services in early 1999
from Haringey’s perspective came from the evidence of Ms Wilson. She, in
common with Ms Richardson, had no doubt that there was considerable room for
improvement in their children’s services at the time. There was, she says, “Still a lot
of work to be done.”
6.168 Of the extracts from the Joint Reviewers’ notebooks on which she commented in
her evidence, those concerning the lack of infrastructure, the delays in transferring
cases to long-term teams, the pressures faced by the north Tottenham DIATs
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140
and the closure of family support cases, were all identified as broadly consistent
with her understanding of the state of the service at the time. The findings of the
Joint Review, she said, did not come as a surprise to her and reflected much of
what Haringey already knew, as identified in the Position Statement prepared in
November 1998. Yet despite in Mr Simpson’s words the “sack full of work remaining
to be done”, she submitted that Haringey’s children’s services in early 1999 were
successfully managing their limited resources, and fulfilling their statutory obligations
to children and families in the borough contrary to any alternative indication that
may have been given by the authors of the internal review.
6.169 Having considered this matter carefully, I come to the view that the internal
review, and the evidence of its authors, did little to undermine the conclusions of
the original Joint Review Report. As a consequence, the Joint Review, read in its
entirety, continues to be the best available evidence as to the state of Haringey’s
children’s services in early 1999. More significantly, I accept Mr Simpson’s view
that the Joint Review was not as complimentary of the authority as portrayed.
While a better balanced report would have emphasised more clearly the service
and practice deficiencies in the summary and conclusions, these messages and the
actions needed to address them were there in the detail of the report and should
have mirrored what Haringey’s own management information system was telling
them. To that extent, and that extent only, Haringey’s senior management and
members could justifiably rely on the Joint Review.
6.170 Despite the encouraging headlines, there were substantial detailed criticisms of
various aspects of the services in the Joint Review Report. In my view, Haringey
did no more than pay lip service to the detail of the report, choosing instead to
play to the positive headlines of the Joint Review as was so clearly demonstrated
by the evidence of the chief executive and lead members, and by their own press
statement. That Haringey listed the concerns raised by the review team in their
management action follow-up plan, confirms that they were aware of these issues.
The urgency with which those actions were followed through, however, was totally
absent. A good illustration of this, and one of particular relevance to Victoria’s
case, was the potential ‘burn out’ of staff in north Tottenham to which Haringey’s
attention was drawn by the Joint Review team as early as April 1999. According
to Ms Wilson, this was addressed by a series of ‘interim’ measures and was still
being addressed according to Haringey’s management action plan in September
2000, some seven months after Victoria’s death. Other concerns raised by the Joint
Review were dealt with no more speedily.
6.171 In short, it is my view that those senior managers and lead members could and
should have known about the serious deficiencies in Haringey’s children’s services in
early 1999. Furthermore, the gap between the reality for the front-line practitioners
in the NTDO children and families’ service and the positive impressions of the Joint
Review team, were left unchallenged by senior officers. The result was a lack of
any real political will and sustained managerial drive to bring about the necessary
improvements in the service.
Victoria in Haringey
Referral
6.172 Haringey Social Services first learned of Victoria’s admission to the North Middlesex
Hospital on Saturday 24 July 1999 – the day she was admitted.
6.173 That evening, it was Luciana Frederick’s turn to single-handedly cover the
out-of-hours duty for the whole of Haringey Social Services. She started her
12-hour shift at 6.30pm and some time between 8pm and 9pm, according to
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her report form, she answered a telephone call from Dr Simone Forlee. In fact,
the social services duty call log shows that a telephone message from Dr Forlee
was taken at 8.42pm and was passed to Ms Frederick as the duty social worker an
hour later.
6.174 Ms Frederick does not remember the telephone conversation, but she believes
that the report form which she completed at the time – the only record of the
telephone conversation that exists – is a concise summary of the information
Dr Forlee gave her.
6.175 Ms Frederick noted:
“– child admitted to hospital – concerns about injury caused by hot water poured
onto face causing facial burns;
– it appeared to be an accident, however, mother may need support;
– advice given – doctor agreed to discuss case with the hospital social worker the
following day;
– NFA [no further action].”
6.176 Dr Forlee disagreed with Ms Frederick’s summary in one material respect. She
did not recollect describing Victoria’s injury as appearing to be an accident and
believed she told Ms Frederick that she had admitted a child about whom she
had concerns.
6.177 We cannot be certain what passed between the two because of the lack of
recorded information – indeed in the case of the hospital there was none
whatsoever – or whether Ms Frederick simply misunderstood what Dr Forlee was
saying. That Dr Forlee had telephoned social services out of hours suggested a
degree of concern about Victoria’s injuries. This was understandable. Ms Frederick
told the Inquiry that she made “concise notes” but admitted it would have
been helpful if she had made a full recording specifying Dr Forlee’s concerns.
Ms Frederick accepted that more detail could have been put in her recording of
the conversation, but stated, “The relevant detail is there.”
6.178 Both Dr Forlee and Ms Frederick agreed that because Victoria was “safe in hospital”
and there appeared to be no immediate risk of her being removed, there was no
need that evening for any further investigative action, including seeing Victoria.
Dr Forlee was also told to contact the hospital social work team “the following day”.
Since the referral came in late on Saturday night and there was no hospital social
work team working on Sunday, that meant in reality a delay until Monday morning.
Ms Frederick admitted that the following day was “probably not appropriate”.
6.179 Working from home, Ms Frederick was in no position to do any checks to see if
Victoria was known to social services or on the child protection register. She stated
that she assumed – though she did not pursue this with Dr Forlee – that these
checks would have been done by the hospital, which had access to the names of
children on the child protection register and by the hospital social work team, as
part of any follow-up.
6.180 Ms Frederick subsequently faxed the report form to the out-of-hours office for
filing. She said that if there had been a clear indication of child protection concerns
– especially if there had been no other professional involved – she would have
made the referral herself direct to the duty team at the NTDO and undertaken
whatever was necessary that evening to secure the child’s safety. Ms Frederick
stated that she had no doubts about what she should do if child protection
concerns had been raised.
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6.181 As a result of the decision to take no further action and because Victoria’s injury
“appeared to be an accident”, the out-of-hours referral report was consigned to a
filing cabinet. No copy was forwarded to the hospital social work team to put them
on alert, nor to the local district duty, investigation and assessment team who may
have held information about the child and family. Also, there was no system in
place to ensure that Dr Forlee made contact with the hospital social work team as
advised or that, once in the out-of-hours office filing cabinet, this referral could be
automatically linked to any future referral. Ms Frederick accepted that if Dr Forlee
had not been on duty on Monday or had forgotten to make the referral to the
hospital social worker, the information from Saturday evening may never have got
to the hospital social work team or Haringey Social Services. Therefore, I make the
following recommendation:
Recommendation
The chief executive of each local authority with social services responsibilities must
ensure that specialist services are available to respond to the needs of children and
families 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The safeguarding of children should
not be part of the responsibilities of general out-of-office-hours teams.
Contacting the North Middlesex Hospital
6.182 Karen Johns, the hospital social worker, telephoned Caroline Rodgers, the duty
social worker at Haringey Social Services, at about 4.30pm. Having accepted the
referral, responsibility for Victoria’s case transferred to Haringey Social Services
at that stage. She recorded key details about Victoria’s admission to the North
Middlesex Hospital as follows:
• mum brought Anna to the A&E at about 5.25pm on Sat 24th July;
• Anna had burns to head and face;
• mum says Anna has scabies that are being treated by the Central Middlesex
Hospital;
• mum heard Anna scream at about 12 noon. She found that Anna had poured
hot water over her head (from the tap) to stop the itching on her head;
• next day the nurse who had bathed Anna on Rainbow ward saw old marks on
Anna‘s body;
• until then staff did not suspect physical abuse but they now feel sure the marks
are non-accidental;
• Dr Forlee suggests that the marks look like they were done by a belt buckle;
• Anna seems slightly nervous of mum and “seems on edge when mum visits”.
Ward staff described how she “jumps to attention” when mum appears;
• Anna also wets herself when mum is there;
• on admission Anna appeared unkempt, dirty dress and no underwear. Mum has
brought no clean clothes since Anna’s admission.
6.183 Ms Rodgers’s good sense in following up the referral with a request for full
information from the Central Middlesex Hospital is quite clear. She could no longer
recall whether she spoke to Dr Schwartz, the consultant in charge of Victoria’s case
at the Central Middlesex Hospital, or someone else, though her normal practice
would have been to go direct to the hospital social worker or possibly to staff in
the accident and emergency department.
6.184 Two days later, the Central Middlesex Hospital faxed back several pages of relevant
documentation. There is some doubt as to how many pages were faxed across but
it is accepted that at the very least the documents seen by Haringey Social Services
included a general trauma form dated 14 July 1999, a paediatric assessment
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record, ongoing communication sheets, a body map and a ‘medical report on a
child thought to have suffered abuse’.
6.185 However, it is unlikely that Ms Rodgers read any of this material because she said
she found it illegible and “could not read it”. Regrettably, she made no attempt
to ask the Central Middlesex Hospital for help in clarifying its contents. If she
had, she would have learned that Victoria had been brought to the hospital by
her childminder’s daughter, that Kouao was desperate to leave Victoria with the
childminder “for good”, and that Victoria was not attending school. The medical
report identified that there were scars of various sizes and ages all over the body
from two days to possibly months old. There were also fresh scars on the face,
infected cuts on the fingers and bloodshot eyes. Victoria was said to have cut
herself with a razor blade in the past, that she wet herself and that when she
arrived at the hospital she was unkempt and had a pungent smell.
6.186 By the time the NTDO received the Central Middlesex Hospital fax – and judging
by the date stamp this could have been as late as 2 August 1999 – Ms Jacob, the
team manager on duty on 27 and 28 July, had already, though late in the day,
arranged a strategy meeting in Victoria’s case.
6.187 Having read the details set out in the referral form, Ms Jacob considered that “this
could probably have been a child protection case” which needed to be explored
further. As was standard practice, she then completed and signed off an action
plan on 27 July which included:
• logging the case onto the computer – this was to be done by the duty
administrative clerk;
• referring the case to the police child protection team;
• arranging the strategy meeting;
• completing checks with the GP and Central Middlesex Hospital and school,
if open.
6.188 Ms Jacob completed the second and third of these herself the following morning.
The expectation was that others in the duty team would finish the tasks, in
particular that Ms Rodgers would continue her checks of the Central Middlesex
Hospital, as she had already made a start on this. Health and education checks
were done as a matter of routine – these showed no record of either a GP or a
school for Victoria – but no similar checks would have been done of housing unless
this had been identified as a problem.
6.189 According to Ms Jacob, once the case was logged, the file would be returned and
placed in the specific basket labelled “urgent action”. Duty workers were expected
to deal with these as a matter of priority and could check with the duty manager if
actions still needed to be completed.
The July strategy meeting
6.190 Ms Jacob said in evidence that the decision to call a strategy meeting was reached
jointly with the police and the meeting was arranged for 2.30pm on Wednesday
28 July 1999. She was aware that another strategy meeting had already been fixed
for 2pm at the NTDO, which the police were expected to attend. She therefore
arranged this meeting to follow on directly at the social services office – on the
face of it a sensible and convenient arrangement, at least for the police. However,
Haringey’s local child protection guidelines (known as the Purple Book), clearly
stated that “in the event of the child being in hospital the [strategy] meeting must
be held in the hospital”.
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6.191 There is no record of any challenge to Ms Jacob’s decision to hold the strategy
meeting at the social services office by the police, Ms Rodgers or Ms Johns,
though all would, or should, have been familiar with the contents of the Purple
Book. However, Ms Johns said that she did question the choice of location on the
grounds that the doctors would be unlikely to attend, but that Ms Jacob said, after
checking with her manager, that it would not be possible to change the meeting
venue. Ms Jacob did not recall this conversation.
6.192 As it happens, the procedures drawn up by Ms Mairs for the day-to-day running
of the DIAT in north Tottenham, already prescribed, by agreement with the police,
that strategy meetings would take place on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons
and Friday mornings. According to Ms Jacob, the duty team was never fully staffed
and rationalising the times when meetings were held was seen as a sensible means
of managing the duty system with the resources available. She says there was
a presumption that strategy meetings would be held in the office for the same
reason but argues that the DIAT procedures did not preclude such meetings taking
place in the hospital if necessary, and some did.
6.193 The Purple Book also makes clear that if there is to be any divergence from the
procedures, this needs to be endorsed by the team manager and recorded on
the file. There is nothing on the case file to suggest that on this occasion an
endorsement to hold the strategy meeting outside the hospital was ever sought
from, or given by, a manager.
Attendees
6.194 Invited to the strategy meeting on 28 July 1999 were Ms Johns, the initial referrer,
and the police from the Haringey Child Protection Team. Ms Jacob said, ideally, she
would have wanted the medical staff to attend too, but she cannot recall whether
they were invited or indeed whether she asked Ms Johns to do that on her behalf.
Ms Johns is clear that had she been asked to issue invitations to the medical staff
she would have done so. She did not know who invited Dr Rossiter to the strategy
meeting, but she implied in her evidence that it was Haringey.
6.195 In fact, four people attended: Ms Kozinos, a senior practitioner in the DIAT A,
who chaired the meeting, Ms Johns from the North Middlesex Hospital social
work team, PC Karen Jones from Haringey police Child Protection Team, and
Ms Rodgers. None of the nursing or medical staff at the North Middlesex Hospital
who had had daily care of Victoria were present, and none of those who were
there had seen Victoria, let alone spoken to her, or to Kouao.
6.196 Ms Jacob told the Inquiry that it was her expectation that Ms Johns would
represent the hospital and that she would pass on any information that the medical
staff wished to share and would bring with her to the meeting the relevant medical
reports. She saw nothing unsatisfactory about this arrangement.
Running the meeting
6.197 Ms Kozinos said she was asked to chair the strategy meeting at short notice.
She was not on duty that week and would not have expected to chair strategy
meetings in new, unallocated cases, and she went into the meeting without first
reading the referral completed by Ms Rodgers. Apparently, this was common
practice. Ms Kozinos said, “We normally go into strategy meetings cold unless
we were the person who took the referral and had knowledge of it on duty.”
Ms Kozinos expected Ms Rodgers to update those present with any current
concerns. These were then recorded, together with the meeting’s decisions and
recommendations, on a paper strategy meeting record.
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6.198 Ms Kozinos was not aware of the substance of Victoria’s referral and so could not
have realised that the location of the strategy meeting was inappropriate. Once
the meeting started, she did not take steps to adjourn the meeting to the hospital
so that the medical staff could more easily attend. She told the Inquiry, “I felt we
needed to proceed – we had sufficient information and it needed urgent action.
There are suggestions of physical abuse, neglect which I felt needed investigating.”
6.199 When pressed, Ms Kozinos confirmed that difficulties in getting police to attend
strategy meetings had become an issue because, for a variety of reasons, posts
in the police child protection team were not being covered. The stacking up of
strategy meetings was therefore not unknown.
6.200 Strategy meetings were supposed to be chaired by team managers or child
protection advisers. Yet Ms Kozinos told the Inquiry it was common practice at
the time for senior practitioners to chair strategy meetings. It is not clear whether
what had become common practice in north Tottenham – and was endorsed by
north Tottenham’s DIAT procedures – was indeed common practice across both
district offices. In her evidence to the Inquiry, Ms Wilson, the assistant director
for children’s services, said this was not her understanding of the position before
November 1999, as it was only then that agreement was reached as to the role of
the new practice managers, who were to replace the senior practitioners.
6.201 There is some doubt as to exactly what information was available to the strategy
meeting on 28 July 1999. It now seems certain that the faxed material from
the Central Middlesex Hospital arrived too late. Ms Johns said, and in this she is
supported by PC Jones, that she brought along three copies of documents from
the North Middlesex Hospital. These included child protection forms, accident and
emergency notes and a body map. Ms Rodgers also recalled seeing the body map
and Ms Johns giving them copies. However, Ms Kozinos thought Ms Johns had not
brought any medical reports with her but could no longer recall what indeed she
had brought. By the time Ms Arthurworrey, the social worker allocated to Victoria’s
case, first received the file on 2 August 1999, she claimed that no such North
Middlesex Hospital documentation was included. However, the evidence I shall
refer to later suggests otherwise.
Concerns and recommendations
6.202 The sense of the meeting at the end, at least from the social services perspective,
was that the cause of Victoria’s scalding injuries was uncertain and that this was a
child protection case that needed to be investigated thoroughly.
6.203 The strategy meeting recorded the concerns as:
“Mum – Marie-Therese Kouao brought Anna to North Middlesex Hospital
on 24th July at 5.25 saying that the child had poured hot water over her
head. Child has scabies and is very itchy and mum said that hot water
was supposed to stop itching. Child admitted to Rainbow ward. Nurse
noticed old marks on body – Dr Forlee suggests that they look like old
belt buckle marks. Skeletal survey carried out – no results as yet. Delay
in mother taking child to hospital. Also concerns re neglect, child very
unkempt – mother was not.”
6.204 It also agreed the following 18 recommendations:
“i) Dr Forlee examining paediatrician expressing concerns re previous NAI
(shaped like belt buckle). Obtain medical report re their concerns. Also need
to state how old injuries are.
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ii) Obtain skeletal reports for further information.
iii) Mother to be informed of referral to social services.
iv) Obtain report from hospital social worker re concerns of neglect.
v) Hospital social worker to inform social services when child ready for discharge.
vi) Staff nurses/hospital to monitor contact with mother and child and report
back any concerns.
vii) Once we have medical reports arrange joint visit with PCPT and explain fully
our child protection procedures to mother.
viii) Need to obtain much more information re scabies – how is this obtained?
Is it linked to issues of neglect?
ix) Check with Central Middlesex Hospital for further information.
x) Social services need to carry out a full investigation and assessment.
xi) Social services need to complete checks re schooling and GP.
xii) Hospital social worker to inquire re hospital photographs – can this be given
to social services and police.
xiii) Arrange interpreter when completing assessment.
xiv) Interview of mother needs to address – a) recent incident, b) old injuries, and
c) neglect issues.
xv) Allocate to DIAT.
xvi) Child to remain in hospital. If mum attempts to take her, hospital to contact us.
xvii) Complete checks in France – international services.
xviii) PCPT to complete immigration checks.”
6.205 By the end of the strategy meeting, and in the absence of a clear, written,
diagnosis of non-accidental injury by a doctor, no decision was made to proceed
to a child protection case conference at that stage. No explicit directions were
recorded as to who would carry out the 18 tasks agreed, no timescales were
settled, neither was a review date set to monitor progress. Ms Kozinos said that
it was understood by all present that tasks not allocated to other agencies would
be done by the allocated case worker from the NTDO, though no such person
had yet been identified. It was also not the practice in Haringey at the time
to hold a review of strategy meetings. The expectation was that decisions and
recommendations would be reviewed in supervision between the responsible team
manager and allocated social worker – an expectation that was to prove misplaced.
6.206 Ms Kozinos had no further contact with Victoria’s case until November 1999.
Allocation of Victoria’s case
6.207 On 30 July 1999, Ms Baptiste, the manager for the B investigation and assessment
team based at Haringey’s NTDO, allocated the case to Ms Arthurworrey, a social
worker in her team. In deciding who to allocate the case to, she said she believed
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147
Ms Arthurworrey had space for several more cases but said nothing about her
assessment, if any, of Ms Arthurworrey’s capacity and experience to tackle such
a case.
6.208 In fact, by the time Ms Arthurworrey picked up Victoria’s case, she had had
19 months’ post-qualification experience and half her caseload was composed of
child protection cases. Yet despite this, she had yet to complete a joint section
47 child protection inquiry with the police or a section 47 inquiry about a child
in hospital.
6.209 August was also to prove one of Ms Arthurworrey’s busiest months. She had a
workload of 19 cases, including Victoria’s – seven more than the maximum to
be held by staff in the investigation and assessment team according to the local
procedures handbook. Ms Arthurworrey said that most of these cases were “active”
and she “was on the go all day long with no time to reflect”.
6.210 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry that she was not on duty the day the case was
allocated to her but found the papers on her desk on 2 August 1999. The case
file contained:
• the referral of 27 July as recorded by Ms Rodgers;
• the strategy meeting notes;
• a faxed message from Dr Schwartz to Ms Rodgers, dated 28 July requesting that
Ms Rodgers contact her urgently;
• a fax from Ms Rodgers to the medical records library;
• a first contact sheet showing no records of a GP or school.
6.211 Although not at the strategy meeting, Ms Arthurworrey did not think she needed
to speak to either Ms Rodgers or Ms Kozinos to clarify the decisions they had
reached. Nor did she pursue with Ms Rodgers whether she had in fact contacted
Dr Schwartz – Ms Rodgers told us she was not aware of ever having seen the fax
– or what response if any had been received from the medical records library.
6.212 However, she did speak to her manager, Ms Baptiste, who told her that this was
“a case about a child who was in hospital with scabies” and that she should
implement the strategy meeting decisions. No date was set to review her progress
in completing these tasks, nor did Ms Arthurworrey think it was her job to suggest
such a review.
6.213 Ms Arthurworrey said she understood from the outset that she was dealing with
a section 47 investigation. She also knew from the papers that Victoria was ‘safe’
in hospital at the time of the referral the previous week and that the hospital had
been asked to notify social services when Victoria was ready for discharge or if
Kouao attempted to remove her prematurely.
6.214 In her case file contact sheets, Ms Arthurworrey sets out 11 of the 18 strategy
meeting recommendations for completion. These included obtaining a medical
report from Dr Forlee, which covered the hospital’s concerns regarding previous
non-accidental injuries, as well as a report from the hospital of its concerns of any
neglect. Both of these, Ms Arthurworrey told us, were necessary before visiting
Victoria, “because social services rely on evidence from the hospital into the causes
of a child’s injuries and we need to know what we are dealing with”.
6.215 Ms Arthurworrey makes no mention in the contact sheets of at least four strategy
meeting decisions that, on the face of it, she needed to complete. These were to:
• obtain skeletal reports for further information;
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148
• check with the Central Middlesex Hospital for further information;
• obtain more information about scabies; and, most importantly,
• carry out a full investigation and assessment.
6.216 While I accept Ms Arthurworrey’s evidence that she was clear when she was
allocated the case that she was dealing with a section 47 investigation and that she
had to complete the tasks outlined in the strategy meeting, I am far from satisfied
with the way she then went about this, and the way Haringey as an organisation
allowed her to do so.
6.217 I heard no evidence of what I would term a section 47 inquiry ever being carried
out by Haringey Social Services. I deal with the failure of the police to conduct
a criminal investigation later in section 14. At the very least, after the strategy
meeting, Ms Arthurworrey should have spoken to Ms Kozinos, its chair, to go
through the recommendations in detail. I am also surprised that she chose not to
speak to Ms Rodgers, especially in light of the ‘urgent’ message from Dr Schwartz
that was on the file. I believe that this initial ‘inaction’ by Ms Arthurworrey was
based on her assumption that Victoria was ‘safe’ in hospital.
6.218 On 3 August 1999, Ms Johns sent Ms Arthurworrey a note by fax. In it Ms Johns
said that she had been informed by the nurse in charge of Rainbow ward (Nurse
Isobel Quinn) that Victoria was ready for discharge, and that the ward would like
that to happen as soon as possible. The fax also made clear that Victoria’s scabies
had been successfully treated.
‘Fit for discharge’?
6.219 At the time, Ms Arthurworrey says she understood the phrase ‘fit for discharge’ to
mean that the hospital no longer had any concerns about Victoria in the general
sense. By contrast, several hospital staff in their evidence to the Inquiry said that ‘fit
for discharge’ meant that Victoria was medically fit to leave and they assumed the
social workers would make the necessary inquiries of her home and family before
that actually happened.
6.220 In response to Ms Johns’s fax, Ms Arthurworrey telephoned Nurse Quinn. It appears
to have been a fairly lengthy call. Among other things, Ms Arthurworrey said that
she was told by Nurse Quinn (and recorded in her contact sheet for 3 August 1999)
about Victoria’s behaviour in Kouao’s presence (“she appeared to come straight to
attention”), that the hospital accepted the explanation that Victoria had sustained
the burns by pouring hot water over her own head “from a kettle” to relieve the
itching caused by scabies, that there were concerns about a discrepancy between
the timing of the incident and Victoria’s arrival at hospital, that the hospital had
noticed old injuries on Victoria’s body, which appeared to be non-accidental, and
therefore the hospital had concerns about these as well as Kouao’s response to the
accident. In evidence Ms Arthurworrey also said that Nurse Quinn mentioned that
Dr Rossiter had carried out a ward round, possibly on 1 August, and had noticed
signs of deliberate emotional harm – a ‘master-servant’ relationship between Victoria
and Kouao.
6.221 Nurse Quinn’s recollection of the telephone conversation is somewhat different in
one material respect. Like Dr Forlee, she denied ever saying that the hospital was
satisfied with Kouao’s explanation for the burns. Rather she claimed to have said
precisely the opposite, in other words, that there were remaining concerns about
how Victoria received the scalding injuries.
6.222 Nurse Quinn recorded in the critical incident log that she had spoken to
Ms Arthurworrey, that Ms Arthurworrey needed to make a home visit before
Victoria could go home, and that she had requested Nurse Quinn fax through
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any concerns the hospital had. Given that on 1 August 1999 Dr Rossiter had
already come to the view that Victoria’s scalding injuries were self inflicted, it
seems highly unlikely that Nurse Quinn, as the nurse in charge of Rainbow ward,
did communicate to social services two days later a different hospital view to that
of the consultant paediatrician responsible for Victoria. I therefore conclude that,
in early August, social services were left with the impression that the hospital had
accepted Kouao’s explanation for the scalding injuries.
6.223 Nurse Quinn also sent across a fax which Ms Arthurworrey believed would
address all the hospital’s concerns and meet two of the strategy meeting
recommendations, namely to obtain a medical report from Dr Forlee and to
obtain further information from the hospital regarding neglect.
Nurse Quinn’s fax
6.224 Contained in the fax were three of the local child protection forms (CP1, 2 and 3) signed
by Dr Forlee, and a letter from Nurse Quinn summarising ward staff observations
regarding emotional neglect. Ms Arthurworrey accepts that she did not notice that
the date on which the child protection forms had been completed – 24 July 1999
– preceded the strategy meeting and therefore could not possibly be said to meet
the strategy meeting recommendation for an updated medical report.
6.225 Moreover, the child protection forms, a body ‘diagram’ and accident and
emergency department notes (all on the Haringey file) were, according to
Ms Johns and PC Jones, already available from the strategy meeting. In addition,
the Haringey file contained a copy of the North Middlesex Hospital paediatric
assessment form. Ms Arthurworrey maintained that she never saw any of the
medical material until she received the fax from Nurse Quinn. However, she could
not remember how many pages Nurse Quinn sent her. Nurse Quinn told me that
the documentation she sent to Ms Arthurworrey consisted of a cover sheet, her
handwritten note, child protection form CP1, and probably also child protection
forms CP2 and CP3, making a total of six pages in all. If, as seems likely, and
contrary to Ms Arthurworrey’s earlier evidence, she already had in her possession
on 2 August a set of child protection forms, a paediatric assessment form, an
accident and emergency department form and a set of body maps, only Nurse
Quinn’s memo summarising ward staff observations about emotional neglect
would have constituted new medical evidence.
6.226 In addition, there was some doubt as to which version of the CP3 form
Ms Arthurworrey was sent. Judging from the timing on the fax header sheet, it
seems probable that the CP3 form she received was the one confusingly annotated
by Dr Rossiter on 1 August 1999 in which she drew an arrow from the box ticked
by Dr Forlee ‘I wish to await further information before committing myself’ to the
tick box immediately above ‘I consider the incident is likely to be non-accidental’
and added the following words “what is uncertain is the category”.
6.227 Ms Arthurworrey accepted that it is likely she saw this version but did not recall
noticing Dr Rossiter’s endorsement which, although unspecific, mentioning neither
belt buckle marks nor any suggestion of deliberate physical harm, did at least
suggest it was “likely to be non-accidental”.
6.228 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry she believed that Nurse Quinn’s fax summarised
the hospital’s concerns in their entirety and, in that sense, superseded the
information contained in the initial referral. But even if true, and Ms Arthurworrey
had grounds for believing this, by 3 August 1999 she was aware from her
conversation with Nurse Quinn that there were unresolved questions about old
and possibly non-accidental injuries. Although I conclude that anyone reading the
documentation provided by the North Middlesex Hospital would have been very
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hard pressed to find any indication that the hospital suspected deliberate physical
harm, she had been given up-to-date information about the hospital’s concerns
regarding deliberate emotional harm.
6.229 What she did not have were any medical photographs of Victoria. Ms Johns had
already faxed over a memo annotated by Dr Maud Meates, which suggested
that although ordered, none had yet been taken, and that if the police wanted
copies of them they “should follow the usual procedures”. Ms Arthurworrey never
pursued with PC Jones whether she understood, let alone followed, the ‘usual
procedures’ and obtained the photographs.
Obtaining information on medical concerns
6.230 To get a better understanding of the medical concerns, Ms Arthurworrey
telephoned Dr Rossiter. Dr Rossiter remembered a conversation with
Ms Arthurworrey occurring some time that week, but their recollections of what
was said are rather different. Ms Arthurworrey said she made a note at the time of
what was said. Unfortunately, Dr Rossiter kept no such record.
6.231 Ms Arthurworrey agreed that Dr Rossiter told her Victoria may be subject to
emotional harm but said, “I did not know she had grave concerns.” She recorded
in her notes:
“[Dr Rossiter] believes she is displaying evidence of anxious attachment.
Anna appears to seek attention and praise from all the nursing staff
but when mother arrives rushes to her side as if she has been called to
attention. Dr Rossiter described that as a master/servant relationship.”
6.232 She also mentioned to Ms Arthurworrey, as recorded in Ms Aurthurworrey’s
notes, Victoria’s fear of being undressed and of her being frightened of Kouao’s
partner, and that Kouao may have over-treated the scabies. But, according to
Ms Arthurworrey, Dr Rossiter did not suggest that the marks on Victoria’s body
were indicative of physical harm. She was “unclear whether these were caused by
Victoria scratching herself or infection from the scratching”. She also noted two old
– and unexplained – thumb marks on Victoria’s body.
6.233 In describing her telephone conversation with Dr Rossiter, Ms Arthurworrey said:
“It was not really a discussion. It was a very factual conversation. It was
one-way. Dr Rossiter gave me all this information and I wrote it down
at the time ... At the end of the conversation I agreed to update her
following the home visit.”
6.234 Having made no record of their conversation, Dr Rossiter was not able to dispute
Ms Arthurworrey’s note of it. (See paragraphs 10.131 – 10.135.)
6.235 Ms Arthurworrey admitted that she never questioned Dr Rossiter as to whether
there was any indication of physical harm. Nor did she use the opportunity to
systematically explore with Dr Rossiter the possible causes of all the marks found
on Victoria’s body, or resolve any outstanding concerns – particularly in relation
to the belt buckle marks identified by Dr Forlee and the ‘new’ observations of
thumb marks. She said she never asked about the scalding incident because
she understood from Nurse Quinn that the hospital was happy with Kouao’s
explanation. In any event, it was Ms Arthurworrey’s view that if Dr Rossiter, as the
senior paediatric consultant who had examined Victoria, had had any concerns
regarding physical harm she would have communicated those to her directly.
I do not consider this an unreasonable view to take. On the other hand, it was
Ms Arthurworrey’s job to pull together and evaluate all the information available
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to her and, if by some oversight, she had been given no explanation – or no
plausible explanation – for all the marks on Victoria’s body, she should have sought
one directly.
Failure to make a home visit
6.236 Ms Arthurworrey then discussed the case with her supervisor Ms Baptiste and
with PC Jones. Ms Baptiste told her to arrange a home visit before Victoria was
discharged from hospital. Accordingly she arranged for PC Jones and herself to visit
Somerset Gardens on 4 August 1999.
6.237 By this stage Ms Arthurworrey’s concerns about Victoria were beginning to
crystallise around emotional abuse and neglect. In her statement to the Inquiry
she said that the hospital’s “ambivalence” about the marks on Victoria’s body “left
her with no option but to pursue this as an investigation into social issues”. The
“ambivalence” ought to have led to Ms Arthurworrey keeping an open mind about
the possibility of physical harm while she conducted her inquiry.
6.238 It remains unclear from her evidence just how Ms Arthurworrey expected to resolve
this uncertainty or how, given that Victoria was still in hospital and yet to be seen
by any social worker, emotional abuse and neglect could be properly assessed by a
home visit.
6.239 Ms Arthurworrey said that at the time she had understood that Victoria had
contracted scabies from her home address. Her purpose in conducting a home visit
was therefore to check that 267 Somerset Gardens was a safe and fit environment
for Victoria to be discharged to.
6.240 In the event, the home visit never took place before Victoria’s discharge from
hospital. PC Jones rang Ms Arthurworrey on 4 August 1999 to report the outcome
of a conversation she said she had with the North Middlesex Hospital about
scabies. According to Ms Arthurworrey’s notes, she was told by PC Jones that
scabies was highly infectious and that any contact with the family home would
require them to wear protective clothing. PC Jones made it quite clear that she was
not prepared to conduct a home visit.
6.241 Ms Arthurworrey did not question the advice given by PC Jones. She updated
Ms Baptiste who, according to Ms Arthurworrey, advised that the home visit should
be cancelled and Kouao invited to the office for an interview instead. Ms Baptiste
claimed to have told Ms Arthurworrey to do no more than speak to the doctor and
obtain more information about scabies. Unfortunately the case record shows no
evidence to support either version of what was said.
Meeting with Kouao
6.242 Kouao was offered an appointment to attend the NTDO the next day, Thursday
5 August 1999. Ms Arthurworrey also rang the North Middlesex Hospital and
found that Kouao had not visited Victoria since Monday morning.
6.243 PC Jones met Ms Arthurworrey about half an hour before the meeting with
Kouao was scheduled to start. Neither the police nor any social worker had yet
visited Victoria in hospital. In evidence, Ms Arthurworrey relied on Haringey’s child
protection procedures to explain this. She said, “We needed to interview the carer ...
We needed to obtain permission from the carer to interview the child.”
6.244 Ms Arthurworrey saw the purpose of the interview with Kouao to explore the
recent scalding injury, the old markings and the neglect concerns reported by the
hospital as part of her initial assessment. She hoped to use the interview to clear up
any ambivalence regarding deliberate physical harm. Little preparation was needed
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beforehand because, according to Ms Arthurworrey, the topics to be covered were
already set out in the strategy meeting recommendations.
6.245 During the course of the interview, Ms Arthurworrey and PC Jones learned, and
recorded on a paper initial assessment form, the following:
• Kouao and Victoria came to England from France in March 1999, following the
death of Kouao’s husband, to try to start over again.
• While in France, Kouao had been in full-time employment as an information
assistant at the airport.
• Her purpose in coming to England was to learn English.
• Manning was a close family friend who agreed to help her by offering
accommodation to Kouao and Victoria in his studio flat until they had
somewhere of their own to live.
• Conditions in the studio flat were cramped. Manning shared the flat with his
girlfriend (fiancée); however, their relationship had become rather stressed since
Kouao and Victoria moved in.
• A couple of weeks earlier Manning had needed his flat for the weekend so Kouao
and Victoria had booked into a bedsit. The conditions were very poor and it was
after they had checked out that Victoria had started to scratch herself and scabies
was diagnosed at the Central Middlesex Hospital.
6.246 Kouao went on to explain that it was while Victoria was taking a bath she
poured a beaker of hot water from the bath tap over her head to reduce the
skin irritation, which resulted in the burns and her subsequent admission to the
North Middlesex Hospital.
6.247 Although in oral evidence Ms Arthurworrey says she asked Kouao whether she
had ever hit Victoria, there is no reference to this in her record of the interview.
The only neglect issue she addressed was Victoria’s lack of clean clothes while
in hospital. Kouao’s answer to this was that they had entered the country with
few belongings and Victoria had few clothes. In any event the hospital had given
Victoria what she needed.
6.248 Ms Arthurworrey (and PC Jones) made a number of observations during the
interview. Most significantly they noted that although an interpreter was present,
Kouao’s command of English was good and she would often reply in English before
the interpreter had time to do so. Ms Arthurworrey recorded, “Marie-Therese
presented as smart in appearance, proud and a woman who articulated very well.”
However, her grasp of the English language would fail her whenever she was asked
specific child protection questions. Then she appeared not to understand, was
evasive and would turn to the interpreter for support.
6.249 Kouao also made clear that she wanted help with housing, finance and finding
a school for Victoria and she confirmed – as she had to Ealing and Brent Social
Services, the Central Middlesex Hospital and, inadvertently, to the North Middlesex
Hospital before – that Victoria had not attended school since her arrival in England.
Hospital visit
6.250 Ms Arthurworrey raised her concerns about Kouao’s evasiveness with her manager,
Ms Baptiste, who told her to visit Victoria in hospital. Ms Arthurworrey also noted
as a further action that she should do a home visit to assess the home situation.
6.251 The next day, Friday 6 August 1999, Ms Arthurworrey and PC Jones travelled
together to visit Victoria on the Rainbow ward at the North Middlesex Hospital.
They took no interpreter along, despite the fact that Victoria was a seven-year-old
child who had arrived in Britain from the Ivory Coast via Paris only four months
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previously. Ms Arthurworrey says that any doubts she had about Victoria’s ability to
speak in English were put aside by Kouao’s assertion that she spoke good English
and by the hospital who had earlier told Ms Arthurworrey that “Victoria had been
chatting in English most of the time, all of the time”. She also thought that Victoria
might find the presence of three adults, rather than two, intimidating. Therefore,
I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
When communication with a child is necessary for the purposes of safeguarding
and promoting that child’s welfare and the first language of that child is not
English, an interpreter must be used. In cases where the use of an interpreter
is dispensed with, the reasons for so doing must be recorded in the child’s
notes/case file.
6.252 It is important to recall that this was the first meeting between Victoria and anyone
from the police or social services in the 13 days since Victoria had been admitted
to the North Middlesex Hospital. The interview lasted less than 30 minutes and is
summarised in barely a side and a half of handwritten A4 notes on the case file.
6.253 In oral evidence Ms Arthurworrey recalled, ”Victoria presented as shy and
withdrawn and she was reluctant to answer any of the questions that we were
asking her. PC Jones then said a few words to Victoria in French and this seemed
to relax and make her more comfortable.” In her note of the visit she also
commented that Victoria had a very big smile.
6.254 Only two matters were discussed: Victoria’s account of the scalding injury which
seemed to tally with Kouao’s (in PC Jones’s words Victoria made ‘no allegation of
crime’), and when she could go home.
6.255 At no time during the visit did Ms Arthurworrey raise with Victoria the other
marks on her body – though she recorded in her notes that Victoria’s face “had
lots of old dark marks and her hair was very dry and covered with bits of dry
scalp”. Nor did she explore any of the hospital’s concerns about neglect. Although
Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry “I did not know how to raise the issue of master/
servant relationship without sounding offensive,” the fact is she believed she
already had a plausible explanation from Kouao. She was also beginning to form
a view in her mind that the neglect issues needed to be looked at against this
family’s particular social circumstances – namely a family who appeared to have no
fixed abode, who were living temporarily with friends and struggling to find their
feet in a new country.
6.256 However, she did observe that Victoria seemed reluctant to talk about her
home life, but she put this down to the fact that Victoria had recently lost her
father and was in a foreign country, in a strange environment talking to two
complete strangers.
6.257 By the end of the interview, Ms Arthurworrey admitted that she had learned
precious little other than that Victoria had confirmed Kouao’s account of the
incident by graphically playing out the actions of pouring hot water over her head.
6.258 Together, she and PC Jones decided there was no evidence of a crime, no grounds
for seeking an emergency protection order and that any remaining social issues
were a matter for social services alone. As the hospital had told social services that
Victoria was ready for discharge and they would like that to happen as soon as
possible, Ms Arthurworrey recorded in her notes: “Karen (Jones) and I agreed that
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the injuries (in particular the scalding injury) were probably accidental and that
discharge into the mother’s care was appropriate.” This appears to be a decision
that was endorsed by Ms Baptiste who told Ms Arthurworrey, “OK phone mother,
Victoria can go home”. Ms Arthurworrey duly phoned Kouao, then the hospital,
and Victoria went back to Somerset Gardens later that same day.
Referral to Tottenham Child and Family Centre
6.259 Meanwhile on 5 August 1999, the day of the office interview with Kouao,
Ms Arthurworrey spoke to Mr Almeida, a practice manager in the investigation and
assessment B team at the NTDO and duty manager for the day, about the health
and safety issues raised by doing a home visit at Somerset Gardens. She wanted
some advice in the absence of Ms Baptiste but she says she never asked him to
undertake any tasks in relation to Victoria’s case.
6.260 Nonetheless, it was following this brief conversation that Mr Almeida referred Victoria
to the Moira Close Tottenham Child and Family Centre managed by the NSPCC.
6.261 It was an extraordinary referral by any account, because Mr Almeida knew virtually
nothing about the case at the time. He said in evidence that his reasons for making
the referral were twofold – to obtain advice about the precautions Ms Arthurworrey
might take when visiting Somerset Gardens, and secondly to prompt some form
of action by the centre directed at Victoria’s welfare. However, he was unclear as
to what action he expected the centre to take. According to the Tottenham Child
and Family Centre records, they understood the purpose of the referral was to
provide “help with advisory health/hygiene, meeting Anna’s developmental needs
and antipathy with the interaction between mother and child”. They also told
Mr Almeida that it would take up to two months for an assessment to be done.
6.262 Mr Almeida admitted that at the time he made the referral he had not read
the file, was not aware that there had been a strategy meeting at which 18
recommendations had been made, and did not know that there were section 47
inquiries under way. Nor did he know that Kouao was coming into the office later
that day to talk about the various concerns for the very first time. All he did know
was that Victoria was in hospital and that there were ongoing concerns about
scabies and possible issues of neglect.
6.263 Mr Almeida passed on Ms Arthurworrey’s name as the allocated social worker and
assumed that the centre would contact her for more information. Surprisingly, he
made no mention of the referral to Ms Arthurworrey, who says she first learned
of it after Victoria’s death. Although there is a record of the referral signed by
Mr Almeida and dated 5 August 1999 on Victoria’s file, Ms Arthurworrey believes
the contact sheet with the referral details was inserted at a later date. Mr Almeida
was not able to tell the Inquiry when he wrote his record. Therefore, I make the
following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that when children and families are
referred to other agencies for additional services, that referral is only made with
the agreement of the allocated social worker and/or their manager. The purpose
of the referral must be recorded contemporaneously on the case file.
Fax from the Central Middlesex Hospital
6.264 On 12 August 1999, Ms Arthurworrey received the faxed information from the
Central Middlesex Hospital that had been requested by Ms Rodgers – a fax that
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was to fundamentally alter Ms Arthurworrey’s view of Victoria’s case and to provide
a crucial turning point in Haringey’s whole approach to its handling thereafter.
6.265 The date stamp on the fax shows 2 August 1999, despite being sent on 29 July.
I can only assume that because the fax was addressed to Ms Rodgers and she
was no longer on duty on 2 August, it first went to her in the long-term children
and families’ team before being returned to duty and finding its way at a snail’s
pace to Ms Arthurworrey as the allocated social worker. That an important piece
of information should arrive in the childcare office and take 10 days to reach the
allocated social worker in the case is quite unacceptable.
6.266 The effectiveness of the ‘front door’ systems within children’s services is of critical
importance in the protection of children. The ‘loss’ of such an important piece of
information for some 10 days cannot in my view be down to coincidence alone.
6.267 Like Ms Rodgers before her, Ms Arthurworrey found it very difficult to read the
Central Middlesex Hospital material. She read the first page – the handwritten
letter from Dr Charlotte Dempster – and flicked through the rest. She registered
that Victoria had been in police protection briefly. More importantly Victoria had
been assessed by the consultant paediatrician Dr Schwartz and, according to
Dr Dempster’s letter, “It has been decided that her scratch marks are all due to
scabies. Thus it is no longer a child protection issue.” However, had she spoken to
the doctors at the Central Middlesex Hospital she might have obtained a different
picture and one that should have prompted broad new avenues of investigation
that would have involved Ealing and Brent Social Services, and exposed the many
inconsistencies in the stories Kouao told in explaining the injuries to Victoria.
6.268 Ms Arthurworrey said she relied on Dr Dempster’s letter, believing it provided
an overview and summary of the Central Middlesex Hospital’s involvement with
Victoria. It also reinforced the need to address a number of social issues that
Ms Arthurworrey had already been made aware of, namely help with housing
and a school for Victoria.
6.269 She said she felt reassured by the letter because it seemed to clear up any
uncertainty about the old marks on Victoria’s body. She also thought it offered a
possible explanation for Kouao’s avoidance of child protection issues in interview.
Since Victoria had previously been in police protection for a short time, it is likely
that Kouao had already been questioned about child protection concerns by other
agencies and was most likely reluctant to answer these questions again.
6.270 Ms Arthurworrey said she felt annoyed that the Central Middlesex Hospital
information had not been made available to the strategy meeting. She recalled
‘running’ with the fax to Ms Baptiste: “I gave her it, she read the letter, she
flicked through the fax, she smiled and she said, ‘it is obvious that we made the
right decision’.”
6.271 Ms Baptiste remembered discussing the Central Middlesex Hospital fax, but she
told the Inquiry that in August 1999 she was “confused about the chronology of
the concerns” and that she asked Ms Arthurworrey to go back to the doctor and
get a letter to confirm what was being said. Again, no record of this management
decision appears on the case file.
6.272 The failure of both Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Baptiste to:
• read the Central Middlesex Hospital fax fully;
• seek clarification of the hard-to-read contents from the Central Middlesex
Hospital;
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• discuss the implications of its contents with staff from both the Central Middlesex
Hospital and the North Middlesex Hospital;
is poor social work practice in the extreme. Without doing any of the above,
Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Baptiste immediately and wrongly re-framed the case
in their eyes to one of ‘family support’. At that point, any semblance of urgency
was removed.
6.273 Moreover, that the diagnosis provided by the Central Middlesex Hospital could
have resolved all the concerns about old marks on Victoria’s body raised by her
later admission to the North Middlesex Hospital makes absolutely no sense with,
or without, hindsight. It clearly could not account, for instance, for injuries that
may have been sustained between the two admissions. In her evidence to the
Inquiry, Ms Arthurworrey accepted this must be the case.
6.274 She also accepted that Dr Rossiter could not have seen the Central Middlesex
Hospital material before the strategy meeting, otherwise it would have been
included in the information brought to the meeting by Ms Johns. Nor did she
know whether Dr Rossiter had seen it since. Ms Arthurworrey agreed that she
should have copied over the notes to Dr Rossiter for her opinion, especially as
following their telephone conversation a week or so earlier, Ms Arthurworrey had
agreed to get back to Dr Rossiter: “It would have been a perfect time, but it was
something that I overlooked due to my other cases.” In fact it was not until mid
October, some two months later, that Dr Rossiter was finally sent the Central
Middlesex Hospital notes.
Dr Rossiter’s concerns
6.275 In the meantime, Dr Rossiter had mentioned Victoria’s case in passing to
Ms Kitchman, a child protection adviser in Haringey Social Services and the
designated link worker for the hospital. They had run into each other following a
meeting at the North Middlesex Hospital on 17 July 1999. Ms Kitchman says she
did not see it as her place to take down the details there and then, nor did she
believe that Dr Rossiter was making a referral, which would normally have gone
through the duty social worker.
6.276 On 13 August 1999, some four days after Dr Rossiter discovered that Victoria had
been discharged, she wrote to Ms Kitchman. If Ms Kitchman had had any doubts
before that Dr Rossiter was seeking her assistance with this case, those doubts must
have been dispelled on receipt of the letter. It read:
“Re Anna Kouao.
This is the child I wanted to speak to you about.
I never managed to speak to a social worker face to face (you have heard
my concerns about this) and my understanding was that there would be
a social assessment prior to an urgent planning meeting and then referral
to our child psychiatrist. Unfortunately the ward staff seem to think that
social workers can discharge patients who are under the care of a doctor
and although I probably would have let the girl go home (she was very
eager to do so) at least the consultant should have been informed.
I have enormous concerns about this child who is now lost to follow-up
somewhere in Haringey. What are you going to do?”
6.277 Perhaps even more unfortunate than the four days it took for that letter to be sent
is the fact that it took a further seven days before it was read by its addressee.
Ms Kitchman says she saw it for the first time on 20 August 1999. Her immediate
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response was to telephone Dr Rossiter and record in her ‘blue book’ the
following details:
“Poured boiling water over her head due to scabies. Inappropriate ...
lesions more than scratch marks. Mum turned up to the ward in
the middle of the night 10 o’clock. Jumped out of bed and stood
to attention. Said if she had another social worker she would leave.
Behaviour on ward: anxious attachment, clinging to mum. Poured
boiling water on herself due to itching.”
6.278 This entry is not dated nor did a copy of the note ever find its way to Victoria’s file.
6.279 Ms Kitchman believes she rang the NTDO on the same day and discovered that
Victoria’s allocated social worker was Ms Arthurworrey. She says she spoke to her
on the telephone – although she now has no independent recollection of the
phone call – and was told that Ms Arthurworrey and PC Jones were jointly carrying
out a section 47 investigation.
6.280 Ms Kitchman relayed this information back to Dr Rossiter by phone and in so doing
believed she had addressed the doctor’s concerns. Most importantly Victoria was
not, as she understood it, “lost to follow-up somewhere in Haringey”. She had an
allocated social worker and a joint investigation was under way which would include
a social work assessment and could result in an urgent planning meeting and a
referral to a child psychiatrist. Ms Kitchman told the Inquiry that she had confidence
in the management of the duty system in north Tottenham at the time – a
confidence that was to prove woefully misplaced – and saw no reason to probe with
Ms Arthurworrey whether each of the concerns Dr Rossiter had raised (and that she
had recorded in the ‘blue book’) were being addressed as part of that assessment.
6.281 Ms Kitchman admitted that despite being asked to respond to the “enormous
concerns” of a highly regarded paediatrician, she did not ask to check the file
for herself. If she had taken the trouble to give even a quick glance at the file
she would have quickly discovered that nothing that Dr Rossiter had expected to
happen had happened.
6.282 In fact it would have been rather surprising if section 47 investigations were still
continuing by 20 August 1999, since the case had already shifted from being child
protection to family support on 12 August, after the receipt of the fax from the
Central Middlesex Hospital with the scabies diagnosis.
6.283 Ms Arthurworrey is confident that she never told Ms Kitchman either in August or
any time afterwards that a joint section 47 investigation was under way. Indeed
she can recall no such conversation at all, and in fact was out of the office on
20 August so could not have taken Ms Kitchman’s call that day.
6.284 Resolving this conflict of evidence has not been helped by Ms Kitchman’s poor
note taking. There is certainly no record of a telephone conversation between
Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Kitchman in Ms Arthurworrey’s contact notes on Victoria’s
case file. Nor did Ms Kitchman note that conversation in her ‘blue book’ as she
would expect to and as she did with Dr Rossiter. Instead, Ms Kitchman produced
in evidence an annotated version of Dr Rossiter’s letter in which she believed she
noted the following words during her conversation with Ms Arthurworrey: “Central
Middlesex, emotionally and physically abused, scabies and Karen Jones CPT.”
6.285 However, she could not confirm the source of her information – at least the first
three pieces of information could equally well have been provided by Dr Rossiter as
Ms Arthurworrey – the date she made these notes or what was their significance.
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6.286 Nor did Ms Kitchman use the opportunity when writing to Ms Wilson in August
2000 to correct some factual inaccuracies in the Part 8 review to confirm that she
had spoken to Ms Arthurworrey in person. Instead she wrote:
“I received this letter [Dr Rossiter’s] on 20th August. I did telephone
North Tottenham District and established that there was an allocated
social worker undertaking inquiries under section 47.”
6.287 It is my judgement on the basis of the evidence before the Inquiry, and having
seen both witnesses, that Ms Kitchman did not discuss Dr Rossiter’s letter of
13 August 1999 with Ms Arthurworrey in August, although she may well have
received information – some of it misleading – from someone else in the NTDO,
which she then fed back to Dr Rossiter.
6.288 I am equally clear that the response Dr Rossiter received to her expression
of concerns was significantly less than she could reasonably have expected,
particularly from someone in the post of child protection adviser. At the very
least I would have expected a face-to-face discussion between Ms Kitchman and
Ms Arthurworrey, recorded on the file which should have been read through,
reviewed and signed by Ms Kitchman. A full record of the exchanges between
herself and Dr Rossiter should also have been entered on the file.
6.289 I am also of the view that it is not unreasonable to have expected Ms Kitchman
to have ensured that Ms Arthurworrey, Ms Baptiste, Dr Rossiter and herself met to
go through the concerns about the case and agree a course of action. These are
the basic steps I would expect any professional to have taken when dealing with
concerns raised by another professional about the way a case is being handled
in the interests of inter-agency trust, co-operation and the safety of children.
Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
When a professional from another agency expresses concern to social services
about their handling of a particular case, the file must be read and reviewed,
the professional concerned must be met and spoken to, and the outcome of this
discussion must be recorded on the case file.
An announced visit
6.290 On 16 August 1999 – some 10 days after Victoria was discharged home
– Ms Arthurworrey visited Kouao, Manning and Victoria at Manning’s flat in
Somerset Gardens. It was an announced visit and an interpreter was present.
6.291 Ms Arthurworrey said in her statement to this Inquiry that with the benefit of
hindsight, she now realises that she was completely “set up” during this visit.
She believes that Kouao and Manning purposely presented a positive image of
Victoria’s home in order to mislead her. Manning told the Inquiry that Victoria
had indeed been coached in how to behave during the course of the visit. He also
agreed that he and Kouao had deliberately set out to persuade Ms Arthurworrey
of certain facts to help to bolster Kouao’s housing claim, namely that he was a
hard-working, respectable young man with a steady job, a home and a fiancée
who was helping Kouao and Victoria out in the short-term until they could find
accommodation of their own.
6.292 Whatever story was told by Victoria’s killers, the task facing Ms Arthurworrey was
clear. Even though the section 47 investigation had been inappropriately closed,
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159
this visit was still part of the ‘full investigation and assessment’ Ms Arthurworrey
was expected to undertake under recommendation 10 from the strategy meeting.
A golden opportunity for a first home visit had already been missed while Victoria
was in hospital, thus increasing the importance of this contact. This visit was
also the first contact between Victoria and any of the agencies charged with
safeguarding and promoting her welfare since her discharge from hospital. I deal
with this in more detail later in this section.
6.293 Ms Arthurworrey observed nothing during the course of her visit that gave
her significant cause for concern. She noted that Victoria appeared happy and
comfortable. There were toys scattered on the floor and Victoria was playing with
a doll. She recalled:
“Victoria opened the door and I was so struck by her presentation.
The last time I had seen Victoria at the North Middlesex Hospital she
presented as a shy, withdrawn child. When I saw her on 16 August she
was as the nurses have described, like a ray of sunshine. She greeted me.
She said ‘Hello Lisa’. She had quite a high-pitched voice. She was dressed
in a red tartan skirt, a red jumper, she had red socks on, black shoes.
She seemed happy and the one thing that I did notice was that her face
was heavily moisturised with cocoa butter. I thought Kouao was applying
cocoa butter to help to reduce the scarring from the scalds and scabies.”
6.294 Ms Arthurworrey saw of Victoria what Kouao had intended her to see. We can
only guess at what more Ms Arthurworrey might have learned had she spoken to
Victoria on her own. But the fact is she did not speak to Victoria at all during that
visit and now “deeply regrets not doing so”.
6.295 Ms Arthurworrey accepted that it was her job to test out all the concerns raised
and the explanations given and not to make any assumptions, but this she
singularly failed to do. Far from keeping an open mind about the possibility of
deliberate harm, the superficiality of her questioning on that day went only to
confirm her view that she was dealing with a family struggling to find their feet
in a new country.
6.296 During the course of the visit, Ms Arthurworrey raised with Kouao just three of the
North Middlesex Hospital’s concerns around neglect:
• Victoria’s bed wetting: Ms Arthurworrey suggested to Kouao that she take
Victoria to the next door medical centre for treatment (but subsequently never
checked out that Kouao had followed her advice).
• The number of bowls of cereal Victoria had eaten during her stay at the North
Middlesex Hospital – Kouao’s response was that Victoria had a large appetite
anyway. Significantly Ms Arthurworrey recorded that Kouao was cooking in the
kitchen at the time of the visit “suggesting Anna was being fed”.
• Why Kouao had brought in no clean clothes or treats for Victoria. Kouao told
Ms Arthurworrey that finances were tight and she could not afford to buy
Victoria treats. She also repeated what she had said in interview on 5 August
– that they had entered the country with few belongings and Victoria had few
clothes. As the hospital had given Victoria some clothes Kouao saw no need to
bring in any more.
6.297 Ms Arthurworrey accepted what she was told:
“At the time I did not know I was dealing with child killers. I thought
Kouao was a respectful adult who was child focused. She had come to
this country to make a better life for her and Victoria.”
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6.298 Ms Arthurworrey’s misreading of the Central Middlesex Hospital fax had almost
certainly given her a completely false sense of security with respect to Kouao. She
admitted, “I was more trusting of Kouao when I went on that visit. I am not a
detective. I had no reason to question what I saw and what I was being told at that
point.” She did not believe that Kouao would harm Victoria in any way.
6.299 Ms Arthurworrey never asked Kouao, let alone Victoria, how she spent the day
– a crucial aspect of any child assessment. She did not notice any signs of anxious
attachment as reported by Dr Rossiter. She had also been told that Victoria was
frightened of Manning but says he was there throughout the visit and Victoria
seemed comfortable in his presence.
6.300 However, she did note a sense of formality between Victoria and the two adults
but nothing to suggest a master-servant relationship or anything else to cause her
concern. She observed Victoria was quiet in the presence of conversing adults and
interpreted this as a sign of proper respect. She believed there can often be a sense
of formality in the relationship between parent and child in Afro-Caribbean families
“because respect and obedience are very important features on the Afro-Caribbean
family script”.
6.301 With the deliberate harm concerns apparently resolved, the discussion between
Ms Arthurworrey and Kouao focused on housing and education and the family’s
long-term plans. Ms Arthurworrey learned that Kouao had made an application to
Haringey housing department on 19 July but had yet to hear anything. Once their
housing needs had been resolved, Kouao would enrol Victoria in school.
6.302 In fact, on the housing application Kouao stated she and Victoria had been living
at 267 Somerset Gardens since 24 March 1999, and the ‘friend’ they were staying
with had asked them to leave. Although Kouao indicated she was threatened
with homelessness, this was not, according to housing registration officer Maria
Alexandrou, a “dire emergency that warranted forwarding to the homeless
section”. Apparently many applicants tick the box indicating they are being asked
to leave their accommodation but in fact stay on in it for some time afterwards.
6.303 Ms Arthurworrey observed for herself that the home conditions were “very good”
although not big enough for three people. She was told that Victoria’s bedwetting
was causing difficulties between Manning and his fiancée who had lived with him
until Kouao and Victoria had moved in on a temporary basis.
6.304 Ms Arthurworrey said she told Kouao at the time that she thought her housing
application would be unsuccessful because, having left her home in France, Kouao
appeared to have made herself intentionally homeless. They discussed possible
contingency plans and Ms Arthurworrey stressed the importance of Kouao finding
a job and perhaps renting in the private sector.
6.305 At the end of the visit, Ms Arthurworrey agreed to chase up Kouao’s housing
application as a matter of urgency. She believed that unless the accommodation
needs were sorted out she could not draw up a care plan for Victoria. She also
promised to send the family a copy of Community Care, which would provide
information on nursing and care-work agencies, as well as sending a separate list
of childminders in the borough.
6.306 Ms Arthurworrey said that she then updated Ms Baptiste, informing her that the
home visit had not raised any further child protection concerns. She claims she was
not advised to do anything else by her manager, although no such endorsement
appears on the case file.
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Kouao’s housing application
6.307 On 25 August 1999, Ms Arthurworrey spoke to Yvonne White, a housing officer in
Haringey’s housing department, who told her that housing applications can take
up to eight weeks to process. She advised Ms Arthurworrey to write to Bambos
Kakouratos, the housing registration manager, if she wanted to try to speed up
the process.
6.308 Ms Arthurworrey wrote the very same day, explaining that a care plan could not
be completed until the housing situation was clarified. This letter was stamped
as received by the Haringey housing team on 26 August 1999, and was placed,
unacknowledged, on the housing file.
6.309 As a result of Ms Arthurworrey’s letter, Kouao’s application was passed to
Ms Alexandrou for immediate assessment. This was in spite of the fact that Kouao’s
application would not normally have been considered under Haringey’s housing
allocation scheme because Kouao had not lived in the borough for six out of the
previous 12 months and was, therefore, technically ineligible to go on the housing
register. Although this was not communicated to Ms Arthurworrey, Mr Kakouratos
said he overlooked the impediment because of the referral from social services.
6.310 Mr Kakouratos said he was quite sure he would have pointed out Ms Arthurworrey’s
letter to Ms Alexandrou because this explained why the assessment had to be done
quickly. However, Ms Alexandrou could not recall discussing the child protection
issue with Mr Kakouratos, or whether she read Ms Arthurworrey’s letter when
making her assessment.
6.311 Ms Alexandrou’s initial assessment of Kouao’s application resulted in it exceeding
the threshold required for the allocation of a two bedroomed property in the
borough. Thus a standard letter was sent to Kouao on 1 September 1999
informing her that her application was being taken forward.
6.312 The procedure for taking forward Kouao’s application was to make a ‘cold call’
visit to Manning’s flat – a duty allocated by Ms Alexandrou to Karen McGregor
(née Brown), a home visitor from Haringey Social Services’ housing department.
Ms Alexandrou could not recall whether she spoke to Ms McGregor about the
child protection aspects of the application before she made her visit. However,
Ms McGregor said she was unaware of any urgency relating to Kouao’s application
and would only be aware of ‘complications’ if a note were written on the front
sheet of the file. However, Ms McGregor admitted she did not always read through
files before making home visits.
6.313 During the course of the home visit, Kouao told Ms McGregor that she had
left her previous accommodation in France of her own accord. Ms McGregor
noted this and as a result, when Kouao’s application was reviewed later, she was
deemed intentionally homeless and therefore ineligible for housing. This was
not communicated to social services. Therefore it was not until Ms Arthurworrey
telephoned the housing office on 9 September 1999 to chase up her letter to
Mr Kakouratos that she was told the negative outcome of Kouao’s application, and
that although the housing department would write to Kouao for more information,
the decision on the application was unlikely to change.
Care plan
6.314 It was at this stage, armed with the knowledge that Kouao’s housing application
would most likely fail, that Ms Arthurworrey drafted a care plan. She expressly
crossed out sections relating to child protection because she did not consider that
any longer to be an issue.
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162
6.315 Although written some time after 9 September 1999 – the care plan is undated
– it was due to start on 16 August and had no end or review date. The plan was
for ongoing family support, in particular to help Kouao to find accommodation
and then to help with schools and a job in that order. The outcome of
Ms Arthurworrey’s ‘assessment’ of Victoria was recorded as follows:
“– initial referral received 27 July 1999. CP concerns. Anna admitted to the North
Midd hospital with markings to her body;
– concerns investigated jointly with the police and deemed as accidental;
– correspondence also received from the central Midd hospital backing up
mother’s scabies story;
– case then moved from CP status to family support;
– mother wanting help with housing, however not eligible for housing – made
herself intentionally homeless in France;
– assessment completed by housing in September, therefore cannot access services
at this stage.”
6.316 It is also in the care plan that Ms Arthurworrey suggested for the first time the
possibility that the family may have to return to France if Kouao should fail to find
suitable housing.
A second letter from Dr Rossiter
6.317 Meanwhile, on 2 September 1999, Dr Rossiter wrote again to Ms Kitchman. She
told her she was pleased to hear that Victoria was still at home, had a social worker
and appeared to be happy, but she made no mention of the ongoing section 47
investigation. With the letter, Dr Rossiter enclosed the discharge summary from
the North Middlesex Hospital dated 13 August 1999. It is a document that repays
careful reading. The fourth paragraph reads as follows:
“Noted to be a very distressed child. Multiple marks on her not just
due to scratching. Thought possibly due to chastisement eg with
looped wire. Child protection forms completed. Photographs taken,
rather belatedly (staffing problems). Discussed in psychosocial ward
round. Child showing anxious attachment, seemed very frightened
when mother visited with her boyfriend, clinging desperately to
mother on the short times that she visited alone. Considered likely to
be abused, probable neglect and emotional abuse, less difficult [sic]
to prove physical abuse. Concerns shared with hospital social worker
who attended a planning meeting at North Tottenham Social Services.
Social worker spoke to Dr Rossiter on the phone who expressed her
very clear views as above. Home visit for risk assessment made by social
services. On their advice child discharged home by ward staff. Very
worrying case ... the child is emotionally disturbed ... temporary
resident, mother has expressed to the staff that if social services are
involved ... she would remove child to France. No GP, not school-time,
difficult to follow up the child further.” (The emphasis in bold is mine.)
6.318 The letter was received in Ms Kitchman’s office on 9 September 1999. As it happened,
she was on annual leave at that time and did not see it until 23 September.
Ms Kitchman told us she did not know whether anyone covered her post while
she was away. She thought that an administration assistant would open her mail
and pass it on to her manager, Ms Graham, but that did not happen. When there
were specific issues to be dealt with then the child protection advisers would
usually make arrangements to cover for each other, but otherwise the likelihood of
a post being dealt with while staff were away on leave seemed largely a matter of
chance. According to Ms Kitchman, “When people’s pigeonholes were quite full
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163
someone might walk past and have a look to see what was in there.” This is highly
unsatisfactory. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that when staff are absent from work,
systems are in place to ensure that post, emails and telephone contacts are
checked and actioned as necessary.
6.319 Thus three weeks had already elapsed by the time Ms Kitchman read Dr Rossiter’s
second letter. She did not attach much urgency to it. It was now one and a half
months after Victoria’s discharge from the North Middlesex Hospital and she did
not see the letter as containing any new information other than the reference
to the ‘possible’ looped wire mark. The fact that Dr Rossiter was now also
saying, contrary to an impression she may have given in August when talking to
Ms Arthurworrey, that the marks on Victoria’s body were not just due to scratching
went unheeded.
6.320 On being taken through the discharge summary, Ms Kitchman stated that she did
not believe that any of the factors identified by Dr Rossiter, either singly or taken
together, put Victoria’s case at the top of the risk scale. She admitted, however,
that she misread the expression “less difficult to prove physical abuse” as meaning
just the opposite. This is in fact what Dr Rossiter had intended, but nonetheless it
was a dangerous assumption to make and it needed checking out.
Ms Arthurworrey’s and Ms Kitchman’s response
6.321 Ms Kitchman waited until her next visit to the NTDO on 28 September 1999 to try
to speak to Ms Arthurworrey. In the event, it was not until 1 October – a month
after Dr Rossiter wrote the letter – that she discussed the letter with her. At the
time, Ms Arthurworrey says she was rather preoccupied in preparing for her first
set of care proceedings. Both agree that the conversation was brief – Ms Kitchman
estimated maybe 15 to 20 minutes – and that it was not a formal consultation.
Ms Kitchman recalled: “Lisa seemed quite keen to get me off her case basically.
She was in a hurry and I managed to sit down and talk to her about the case and
I thought I would have to be really, really concerned to push the matter further.”
6.322 Their accounts of what was said and done during this discussion differ at virtually
every turn.
6.323 According to Ms Kitchman, she showed Ms Arthurworrey the discharge summary.
They went through it together and Ms Kitchman annotated it as they were
talking. She also said in oral evidence, and reiterated in a memo to Ms Wilson
dated 16 October 2000, that she is “pretty sure” she photocopied the annotated
discharge summary and gave it back to Ms Arthurworrey. Ms Arthurworrey pointed
out to her the fax from the Central Middlesex Hospital which Ms Kitchman also
took away to photocopy. She then told Ms Athurworrey that she would respond to
Dr Rossiter’s letter.
6.324 Ms Kitchman’s annotation of the discharge summary is barely legible. She
deciphered one of the annotations for the Inquiry as “Central Middlesex have
investigated” against the reference to the looped wire and also noted “mum has
not got a boyfriend”.
6.325 Ms Kitchman said she, too, had difficulty reading the Central Middlesex Hospital
fax but, like her colleagues before, she did nothing about obtaining a more
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164
readable version. She cannot recall whether she saw all 20 pages of the fax – she
said what Dr Rossiter received is what she would have seen and sent. However,
she does remember seeing Dr Dempster’s summary letter, and that Brent Social
Services and the police had completed section 47 investigations and concluded
that the injuries were accidental.
6.326 Ms Arthurworrey also told her in October that she was undertaking a section 47
investigation and completing a social work assessment. Yet the fact that even
according to Ms Kitchman’s version of events, this investigation must have been
ongoing since early August caused her no particular concerns. She was aware there
were still concerns about neglect and emotional harm, which she thought could
take slightly longer to assess.
6.327 In evidence, Ms Kitchman accepted that such a delay in assessing Victoria’s case
was not justified and she admitted that she should have pursued this and probed
as to the reasons why. She did not do this.
6.328 Ms Arthurworrey told a very different story. She said that Ms Kitchman had a brief
chat with her about Victoria’s case on 1 October 1999 and told her that Dr Rossiter
had expressed some concerns about the case and wanted to know what was
happening. It was at this point that Ms Arthurworrey remembered that she had not
updated Dr Rossiter with regard to the earlier section 47 investigation.
6.329 As she was busy preparing another case for care proceedings she said she
gave Ms Kitchman Victoria’s file to take away, pointing out in particular the
correspondence from the Central Middlesex Hospital:
“I felt that this was a crucial link and I knew that I had not read it,
read the fax from page to page, but Dr Rossiter needed to see these
notes because she had been ambivalent around the old markings on
Victoria’s body.”
6.330 Ms Arthurworrey said she expected Ms Kitchman to “sit down and read the file
and respond back to Dr Rossiter”.
6.331 She denied saying to Ms Kitchman in October that she was undertaking a section
47 investigation – that had been completed by 16 August at the latest. She also
denied that Ms Kitchman showed her the North Middlesex Hospital discharge
summary – in fact she said she did not see this until 28 February 2000, three
days after Victoria’s death. She said that if she had seen this summary, “I would
have run to my manager because it would have meant that the first section 47
investigation I had completed was completely flawed ... this discharge summary
was giving me new, different, concerning information.”
6.332 Instead Ms Arthurworrey said she was shown the first Dr Rossiter letter dated
13 August 1999. She said she did not raise with Ms Kitchman why it had taken so
long to talk to her about it because she was very busy at the time and did not take
any specific notice of the date.
6.333 On reading the letter, Ms Arthurworrey said she asked Ms Kitchman why would
Dr Rossiter probably have let the girl go home if she had concerns. According to
Ms Arthurworrey, Ms Kitchman’s response was “I do not know and I do not know
why Dr Rossiter is contacting me with this case anyway.” Ms Kitchman conveyed
a similar sentiment when giving her oral evidence. Despite her role as link worker
to the North Middlesex Hospital, Ms Kitchman told us: “Looking at it all now in
hindsight I do not think it was a good move for Mary [Rossiter] to have sent me all
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this information, I think it should have been [sent] directly, and she should have
had some direct contact with the team manager.”
Ms Kitchman’s reply to Dr Rossiter
6.334 Ms Kitchman eventually wrote back to Dr Rossiter on 19 October 1999. Her
letter included copies of the Central Middlesex Hospital notes and recorded
Ms Arthurworrey’s view that Dr Rossiter’s concerns about deliberate physical harm
and the marks made with looped wire had been satisfactorily addressed because
Dr Schwartz, consultant paediatrician at the Central Middlesex Hospital, had found
on an earlier occasion that Victoria had suffered from scabies and did not show
signs of deliberate physical harm. The letter did not include any hint of an apology
for the time taken to reply. On any view it was an extraordinary response.
6.335 She also told Dr Rossiter that:
“– Lisa has undertaken a joint investigation with PC Pauline Ricketts from the police
child protection team in relation to the boiling water incident.
– Lisa has visited the family a number of times and established that the mother
does not have a boyfriend. She has no concerns about Anna’s interaction with
her mother.
– The family’s legal status in this country is not clear and they are undergoing a
habitual residency test. Therefore Anna does not currently have a school place.”
6.336 Ms Kitchman asked Dr Rossiter if the hospital could confirm Kouao’s explanation
for the scalds and whether they could give any more details regarding the
emotional abuse and/or neglect they thought Victoria might be experiencing.
A copy of her letter also went to Ms Arthurworrey for the file.
6.337 In her reply to Dr Rossiter, Ms Kitchman made no suggestion whatsoever that any
of the marks on Victoria’s body could postdate the Central Middlesex Hospital
admission. Nor did she draw Dr Rossiter’s attention to the conflicting medical
diagnoses. She told us in evidence that by sending the Central Middlesex Hospital
material to Dr Rossiter, she was implicitly passing to her the responsibility to
consider the implications. By any stretch of the imagination it is difficult to read her
reply in this light. The only impression one could draw was that here was a social
worker who had looked at the problems, who was content that everything was in
order and was just sending back some documentation for Dr Rossiter’s information.
6.338 In the meantime, Ms Arthurworrey told us that the first time she saw Ms Kitchman’s
letter to Dr Rossiter was the week beginning 15 November 1999, although the
date stamp shows it was received in the NTDO on 2 November. She registered that
there were a number of inaccuracies in the letter, for example, it was PC Jones,
not PC Ricketts, with whom Ms Arthurworrey had undertaken a joint investigation.
More significant was the implication that Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Kitchman had
worked through the concerns raised by the discharge summary together – but she
did nothing to correct these. She did not think it important to do this because the
inaccuracies “date back to what I thought were old events”.
6.339 Even more important, the letter should have brought to Ms Arthurworrey’s
attention the existence of a discharge summary, which she had yet to see. She did
not make that connection at the time but said in evidence: “I had no idea that the
discharge summary would contain information that I did not already know.”
Ms Arthurworrey’s response to the discharge summary
6.340 If indeed Ms Arthurworrey is telling the truth about the discharge summary, then
this would have been the first occasion that she had seen any reference to a
looped wire mark on Victoria’s body. Yet this did not seem to cause her any undue
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166
concern – all the more surprising given that she was reading this information just
days after attending a second strategy meeting to investigate allegations made by
Kouao that Manning had sexually abused Victoria.
6.341 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry:
“I saw the reference to the looped wire mark as another pre-diagnosis
concern. I knew that there had been a number of pre-diagnosis issues,
for example, Dr Rossiter had made mention to thumb marks, there
had been mention of a belt buckle mark ... It did not really bother me
because I knew that Victoria had been seen by two hospitals.”
6.342 It was a view that Ms Arthurworrey had already formed when she spoke to
Ms Baptiste about Ms Kitchman’s visit. Ms Baptiste had no recollection of
Ms Kitchman’s involvement in Victoria’s case while she had case management
responsibility – indeed she said that she thought the case ought to have gone to
a child protection adviser but she did not remember whether she passed on this
advice to Ms Arthurworrey.
6.343 She recalled that they talked at some stage about Dr Rossiter’s concerns. According
to Ms Arthurworrey, Ms Baptiste’s response was: “Oh, Dr Rossiter, she always gets
it wrong, she got it wrong in a child death that I was working on, Baby W1.”
6.344 Ms Baptiste denied that she expressed an opinion of this sort or that she had any
doubts about Dr Rossiter’s professional competence. She believed she implied to
Ms Arthurworrey that she needed to be clear about the information and asked her
to get Dr Rossiter to put her concerns in writing – presumably the very concerns
that Dr Rossiter had put in writing to Ms Kitchman.
6.345 It now seems clear that Ms Arthurworrey did not believe that Dr Rossiter was
raising anything new, albeit that she was writing some two and a half weeks after
Victoria’s discharge. If a looped wire mark had been observed on Victoria’s body,
she expected that the hospital would have mentioned it, either in the medical
report sent by Nurse Quinn, or in the initial referral, or in her conversation with
Dr Rossiter on 3 August 1999, and they did not.
6.346 Ms Arthurworrey said she felt reassured by Ms Kitchman’s letter because she knew
that the Central Middlesex Hospital notes, which she saw as the ‘crucial link’, had
been sent to Dr Rossiter. If the Central Middlesex Hospital fax could explain away
the old marks on Victoria’s body, then presumably it could also explain away the
looped wire mark. If not, then she expected Dr Rossiter or Ms Kitchman would get
back to her. Either way, Ms Arthurworrey thought that the enormous concerns
that Dr Rossiter had expressed were to do with the fact that she had not updated
her on the outcome of the section 47 investigation. Irrespective of Ms Kitchman’s
covering letter, and the inaccuracies she claims it had, she mistakenly believed that
the Central Middlesex Hospital material would fulfil that purpose.
Disagreement of diagnosis
6.347 On 2 November 1999, the same day that a copy of Ms Kitchman’s letter to
Dr Rossiter arrived at the NTDO, Dr Rossiter endorsed her copy of the letter
with the words “we disagreed”. She was referring specifically to the comments
in Ms Kitchman’s letter, which noted that Dr Schwartz at the Central Middlesex
Hospital had confirmed that the marks on Victoria were due to scabies.
6.348 Dr Rossiter, in her statement to the Inquiry, said that she communicated this
to Ms Kitchman but in evidence thought she may have made a mistake about
this and she had no record of any such conversation taking place. Ms Kitchman
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167
denied receiving any such telephone call – she said she would have followed it up
if she did – and there is no record of one in her diary, notebook or in the team
message book.
6.349 It therefore seems unlikely that Dr Rossiter ever made that phone call and
Ms Kitchman therefore received no response to her letter. As a result, Haringey
Social Services were left in the position of having two diagnoses from two
consultant paediatricians, in two different hospitals in relation to two different
incidents. The ambiguity around the old markings were anything but resolved.
Yet despite the concerns Ms Kitchman said she had about this, and despite asking
Dr Rossiter for more information, she did nothing to follow the matter up, nor did
she direct Ms Arthurworrey to do so.
6.350 Like Ms Arthurworrey, she was relying on Dr Rossiter to get back to her if she still
had concerns. She said:
“Knowing Mary as I know her ... she would have, if she had been
really worried, I do believe that she would have phoned me or spoken
to somebody at ACPC or mentioned to me after a case conference or
something. She would have been back in touch with me.”
Disagreement between Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Kitchman
6.351 Ms Arthurworrey’s and Ms Kitchman’s accounts of what was said when they met in
early October differed profoundly in two key respects. First, as previously discussed,
whether or not Ms Arthurworrey told Ms Kitchman that she was engaged in a
section 47 investigation – although had she read the file, Ms Kitchman would have
realised no such investigation was under way.
6.352 Second, whether or not Ms Kitchman showed and discussed with Ms Arthurworrey
the North Middlesex Hospital discharge summary. From all the evidence available,
and having heard the witnesses, it is difficult to draw any satisfactory conclusion
about this. In Ms Kitchman’s letter to Dr Rossiter of 19 October 1999 she wrote,
“Although Lisa had not previously seen the discharge summary...” This implied that
while Ms Arthurworrey had not seen it before, she had by the time Ms Kitchman
came to write her reply. On the other hand, if Ms Kitchman, as she claimed, had
photocopied the summary and annotated it before handing it to Ms Arthurworrey,
then a copy of the annotated version should have been placed on the Haringey
case file. No such copy appears.
6.353 Ms Arthurworrey’s brief record of their conversation on the case file assists little.
Dated 4 October 1999 – although Ms Arthurworrey confirmed to the Inquiry that
the discussion took place on 1 October and Ms Kitchman did not dispute this – it
reads as follows:
“Discussion with Petra – CPA – making inquiries into Anna on behalf
of Dr Rossiter who is concerned for Anna. Outcome: informed Petra of
current visit. She will now contact Dr Rossiter.”
6.354 Ms Kitchman said she made separate notes which she used to draft her response
to Dr Rossiter but unfortunately then threw these away. Apart from the 19 October
letter itself, no other record of the conversation exists.
6.355 Whether or not Ms Arthurworrey had sight of the discharge summary is important
only because it might have affected Haringey’s handling of Victoria’s case from
October 1999. Although Ms Arthurworrey said that if she had seen it, “she would
have run to her manager” and steps would have been taken to “refocus Victoria’s
case”, I have to doubt this in the light of her comments to the Inquiry about
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the looped wire mark and its perceived lack of importance. While Victoria had
been a patient in two hospitals, it would appear that receipt of a medical report
subsequent to that obtained from the Central Middlesex Hospital, which suggested
a rather different cause for Victoria’s injury, was disregarded by Haringey social
workers who preferred instead to rely on the older diagnosis. On that basis I come
to the view that even if Ms Arthurworrey had seen the North Middlesex Hospital
discharge summary in October 1999, it would have had little impact on her
handling of the case.
6.356 Ms Kitchman agreed that the involvement of a child protection adviser in Victoria’s
case was of no benefit. Whereas one might have expected a person in such a post
to have reacted to some of the many basic casework errors in the management of
this case, the sad fact is that Ms Kitchman’s involvement merely served to further
entrench the authority’s woeful misreading of Victoria’s situation.
Ms Arthurworrey’s supervision
6.357 On 20 September 1999, Ms Arthurworrey had her first supervision session with
Ms Baptiste since being allocated Victoria’s case at the beginning of August. Among
the agenda items they discussed was the considerable amount of time off in lieu
(52 hours altogether) that Ms Arthurworrey had accumulated. Ms Baptiste told
us, “It was impossible to prevent – the nature of the work and the pressure of the
working conditions would often require workers to ... work out of the nine to five.”
6.358 Ms Arthurworrey reported to Ms Baptiste a number of cases during the course
of that supervision, including Victoria’s. Ms Baptiste admitted that she did not
read Victoria’s file either before or during supervision. But on the basis of a
5 to 10 minute discussion of the case, and Ms Baptiste’s earlier recall of the
information contained in the Central Middlesex Hospital fax, she agreed with
Ms Arthurworrey that the case had been investigated, and endorsed on the file
that this was a ‘family support’ case. That she, too, could have come to the view
that Dr Schwartz’s diagnosis of Victoria’s injuries at the Central Middlesex Hospital
could account for the marks observed on Victoria two weeks later at the North
Middlesex Hospital is extraordinary – unless she had muddled the chronology of
the two hospital admissions and thought that the Central Middlesex Hospital visit
came after the North Middlesex Hospital admission. This was a mistake Ms Baptiste
admitted to in her oral evidence when she said that she thought that the fax by
which the Central Middlesex Hospital notes were sent to Haringey was from the
North Middlesex Hospital.
6.359 It was just as important to review each of the 18 recommendations from the July
1999 strategy meeting. Ms Kozinos told the Inquiry she expected this would be
done as part of Ms Arthurworrey’s regular supervision with her team manager.
Ms Baptiste said she started to review the recommendations, but Ms Arthurworrey
admits that she never drew them to her manager’s attention. It seems clear that
the recommendations were simply abandoned when the focus of the case switched
from child protection.
6.360 Ms Baptiste’s supervision notes on Victoria’s case, which she says may have been
typical of the quality of her supervision notes at the time, add up to just eight lines
of handwritten material:
“The case identified as family support as CP concerns investigated – NFA.
Are issues of housing (Habitual Residence Test). Lisa has given mum a list
of childminders. Action:
i) awaiting response from housing – Lisa to chase up;
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ii) to continue to offer family support until early October.”
6.361 Although Ms Baptiste said in her evidence that other decisions were taken and
she discussed with Ms Arthurworrey the competing diagnoses of Dr Rossiter and
Dr Schwartz and the details of the care plan, there is nothing recorded on the case
file to support this. It is my view this did not happen.
6.362 That Ms Baptiste placed much reliance on Ms Arthurworrey’s assessment of Victoria
is somewhat surprising. She told the Inquiry that she did not think Ms Arthurworrey
was particularly diligent in providing feedback and she needed to develop her skills
in working with children. She said, “It ... was apparent that she was not always
confident in formulating probing questions ... did not appear to be insightful about
the situation she was going in to ... not sufficiently analytical ... did not make the
right inquiries.” Indeed, Ms Baptiste gave in evidence a very different impression
to that which might have been gleaned from the competency assessment she
completed on Ms Arthurworrey just days before Victoria’s case was allocated to
her. If true, it should have led Ms Baptiste to rigorously probe Ms Arthurworrey’s
assessment of Victoria throughout August and September 1999. The supervision
session on 20 September provided an obvious but missed opportunity to do just
that. I am driven to the conclusion that Ms Baptiste simply failed to apply her mind
to the issue. I deal with the practical implications of Ms Arthurworrey’s supervision
in more detail later in this section of the Report.
A second announced visit
6.363 On 30 September 1999, Ms Alexandrou wrote to Kouao saying that Haringey
housing department believed she had given up secure accommodation in France.
The letter went on to invite Kouao to put forward, in writing, any special factors or
mitigating circumstances to be taken into account before Haringey reached a final
decision on her application.
6.364 On 18 October 1999, Ms Arthurworrey telephoned the housing department yet
again for information of Kouao’s housing application. This telephone call confirmed
that what had been anticipated had in fact occurred. Ms Arthurworrey was told
that Kouao’s application had been unsuccessful because she had made herself
intentionally homeless. Ms Arthurworrey was also told that Kouao had the right
of appeal, but so far no response had been received from her to the housing
department’s letter of 30 September explaining this.
6.365 On 28 October 1999, Ms Arthurworrey paid a second, announced, visit to
Somerset Gardens. Kouao, Manning and Victoria were all present. In evidence,
Ms Arthurworrey described the meeting as “very routine, a very business-type
meeting”. It had a single purpose, according to the case notes, namely to discuss
the options open to the family, given their housing situation.
6.366 Ms Arthurworrey informed Kouao that her housing application had been
unsuccessful, although Kouao had already been informed of this by Haringey
housing department. As the housing department was still waiting for a response
from Kouao to its letter of 30 September, her application was placed in the
housing department’s ‘deferred section’ on 30 November while they waited for
further contact from Kouao that never materialised. In the event, Ms Arthurworrey
discussed with her the possible alternatives. These were threefold:
• to find employment and rent a flat in the private sector;
• to stay as they were;
• to return to France and if there were any financial difficulties here, Haringey
Social Services could offer assistance.
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170
6.367 Kouao told Ms Arthurworrey that she had not been able to find a job and that she
did not consider the first two options viable. She also told her that she had spoken
to friends in France about getting the money together for her and Victoria’s fare
home – the option that Ms Arthurworrey most favoured at the time as best serving
Victoria’s interests.
6.368 Ms Arthurworrey says she stressed the importance of Kouao making a decision
soon because Victoria had not been in school since March and she needed some
stability. She said she would be back in a week’s time to see what arrangements
Kouao had made. In the meantime, Kouao told Ms Arthurworrey that she would
register Victoria at Bruce Grove Primary School, a school round the corner from
Somerset Gardens, until the funds from France came through.
6.369 Other than to say “hello”, Ms Arthurworrey did not speak to Victoria at all during
this meeting. She observed that Victoria was appropriately dressed and seemed
bright and happy: “Victoria did not present as a frightful, fearful child; she
presented as articulate, she presented as confident.”
6.370 Indeed, Manning said in evidence that he could not remember anything being said
or done during the course of the visit which would have indicated that Victoria was
frightened of him or that the two of them did not get on.
6.371 However, Ms Arthurworrey did refer to one instance of Victoria behaving in a
manner which recalled the observation made by some of the staff at the North
Middlesex Hospital that the relationship between Kouao and Victoria was one of
‘master and servant’. At one point during the visit, according to Ms Arthurworrey,
Victoria ran up to Kouao’s side ‘as if being called to attention’. This did not cause
Ms Arthurworrey undue concern because, as she had observed, Victoria “did not
present as a fearful child”.
6.372 The home appeared perfectly normal – Manning confirmed that the flat had been
made especially clean ahead of the visit – and Ms Arthurworrey observed nothing
that would indicate a child being deliberately harmed. She said, “There was no
evidence of soiling. I did not smell bleach. I did not smell urine. There was no
evidence at all.”
6.373 Victoria’s sleeping arrangements were discussed. According to Manning,
Ms Arthurworrey was told that Kouao and Victoria slept on the bed while he had
the sofa bed – although by this stage the truth was very different as Victoria had
already begun to spend every night in the bath.
6.374 However, Ms Arthurworrey did note that Kouao seemed rather agitated throughout
the interview about the outcome of the housing application. She could not
understand why social services could not help in finding her a house. At one stage
Victoria joined in the conversation. According to Ms Arthurworrey, “She pointed her
finger aggressively at me and said, ‘You do not respect me, you do not respect my
mother, why can you not find us a home?’” It was an outburst that Ms Arthurworrey
says she did not expect from a seven-year-old child. She discussed it with Ms Baptiste
subsequently, but according to Ms Arthurworrey, she did no more than smile, say
“oh yes” and walk off.
6.375 During the course of the conversation Ms Arthurworrey made the point that
the council “only accommodated children who were at risk of significant harm”
and that Victoria was not, in the council’s view, at such risk. It is perhaps no
coincidence that the next time Ms Arthurworrey saw Kouao was because of Kouao
making allegations, which, if true, would have meant that Victoria was at very
real risk.
6 Haringey Social Services
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Sexual harm allegations
6.376 Just four days later at about 9.45am on 1 November 1999, Kouao telephoned the
NTDO. It was quite by chance that Ms Arthurworrey answered the call because
she was ‘on duty’ that week and would not normally be answering her ordinary
office phone.
6.377 Kouao was in quite a state. According to Ms Arthurworrey, Kouao was shouting
and screaming in a mixture of French and English: “I could not really understand
what she was saying but I did hear the words ‘Carl Manning’ and I did hear the
words ‘sexual abuse’.”
6.378 Ms Arthurworrey immediately asked Ms Kozinos, the duty senior that day, for
permission to deal with the case – the policy at the time was that duty took priority
over a social worker’s allocated cases – and for advice. On Ms Kozinos’s instructions
she telephoned Kouao and told her to come into the office for an interview. She
also booked an interpreter for 10.45am.
6.379 Kouao attended the north Tottenham office with Victoria and Manning.
Ms Arthurworrey said she first saw them through a glass window in the reception
room. Victoria was sitting with her back to Kouao, swinging her legs and watching
other children play in the Wendy house. Kouao and Manning sat next to her and
appeared to be having a perfectly normal conversation. Ms Arthurworrey told the
Inquiry, “I was extremely shocked by that, given Kouao’s demeanour earlier on.”
6.380 She asked Ms Kozinos to come and have a look. Ms Kozinos told Ms Arthurworrey
to ask Manning to leave. Of the three of them, Manning looked the most
distressed and he told Ms Arthurworrey, “I did not do what they are saying I did,
I do not know why they are saying this.” Such was Manning’s distress at the
situation he now found himself in, that he later wrote in his diary for 5 November
1999 “Judgement day”. He expected, according to what he had been told by
Kouao or Ms Arthurworrey (although he could no longer recall who told him),
that on that day the police would interview him about the allegations. No such
interview ever took place on 5 November 1999 or any time thereafter.
6.381 Ms Kozinos also asked Ms Arthurworrey to take down the details of the allegations.
She did not, according to Ms Arthurworrey, ask her to carry out a risk assessment,
nor did Ms Arthurworrey recall being asked to interview mother and child separately.
The interview
6.382 Once Manning had left, Ms Arthurworrey spoke to Kouao in the presence of
Ms Robertson, another social worker in the north Tottenham DIAT B team. In the
meantime, Victoria went to play in the reception area.
6.383 According to Ms Robertson, it was a difficult interview because Kouao kept going
off on tangents and switching between French and English. Kouao alleged that
Manning had sexually harmed Victoria on three separate occasions.
6.384 The first time was around 20 July 1999. Kouao had spent the day in hospital
after fainting at home. On her return to Somerset Gardens, Victoria told her that
Manning had inserted his finger into her vagina. He then asked her to touch his
penis. Victoria described Manning’s penis to Kouao and said that she had seen
milky liquid coming from the tip. Manning denied the incident when confronted
by Kouao and swore on the Bible that he had not touched Victoria. Kouao decided
to do nothing about it.
6.385 She claimed that the second occasion was in August 1999. All three of them
were at home that day when Victoria came to Kouao in the kitchen. She said that
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
172
Manning had been waving his penis at her. Manning again denied this but this
time Kouao went to her neighbour for some advice. He told her that Manning
could not possibly have done this and again Kouao decided to do nothing about
the allegation.
6.386 The third incident apparently happened on the morning of 1 November 1999.
Victoria complained to Kouao that while she was having a bath, Manning had
walked into the bathroom naked.
6.387 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry that she was “extremely concerned” when she
heard these allegations – not least because Haringey Social Services had been
involved with the family since July and Kouao had made no mention of them
before. She said she told Kouao that she now had considerable doubts about her
ability to protect Victoria.
6.388 Kouao’s response was that she had accepted Manning’s account in relation to
the first two occasions but that morning’s incident had caused her to reconsider.
Regrettably, these events did not prompt Ms Arthurworrey to reflect and reconsider
the conclusions she had come to about Victoria’s case in August. She said, “With
the benefit of hindsight, I believed I had been lulled into a false sense of security
and this section 47 investigation was something quite separate to the first section
47 investigation.”
6.389 Ms Arthurworrey told Kouao that due to the seriousness of the allegations,
the police child protection team would be involved and that Manning would
be arrested.
6.390 Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Robertson then spoke to Victoria alone. Kouao was
insistent that they should do so and Ms Arthurworrey was anxious to see how she
was. In her statement she said she did not want to get a disclosure from Victoria but
she did want to gain her perception of how life was at home. Ms Arthurworrey said:
“I remember she was dressed in a cotton dress, but she had a thick coat
and she was wearing thick tights and she had a pair of wellington boots
on. She was appropriately dressed and I actually remember thinking that
she looked quite cute that day. Although nothing matched, her clothes
were clean ... She appeared happy.”
6.391 Ms Arthurworrey said she spoke to Victoria in English – she recalled her English
as being “very good” but had barely got beyond saying “hello” when Victoria
launched straightaway into a graphic disclosure. Ms Arthurworrey stopped the
interview when Victoria began to mimic Kouao’s gestures in describing one of
the sexual harm allegations.
6.392 There is a note at the foot of the fourth page of the record of that interview which
was made by Ms Arthurworrey. She wrote: “Noted by both Valerie and myself that
Anna’s disclosure sounded rehearsed. Sounded as if she had been coached to say
the things she did.”
6.393 Ms Robertson accepted in evidence that the fact that Victoria’s delivery sounded
rehearsed did not itself mean that the allegations were untrue. She also recognised
at the time that even if the allegations had been fabricated as part of a ploy to get
housing, using the child to make up stories of sexual abuse was in itself harmful
and needed to be investigated. She thought that she had discussed these concerns
with Ms Arthurworrey.
6 Haringey Social Services
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6.394 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry that she stopped her interview with Victoria
because she felt she needed a police officer to be present if these disclosures were
going to be made. She herself had not been memorandum interview trained, and
did not feel she had sufficient experience or the necessary skills to deal with an
interview of this kind.
6.395 As Ms Arthurworrey got up to leave, she said Victoria was visibly upset. She was
worried that she was not being believed. She was told that she would have a
proper chance to explain the incident in more detail next time. Ms Arthurworrey
said, “She shouted out, ‘I am not lying. I must tell you more. It is true.’“
6.396 Ms Arthurworrey asked Ms Kozinos if she would explain to Kouao about Haringey’s
child protection procedures because she did not believe Kouao was taking the
situation sufficiently seriously. According to Ms Arthurworrey:
“Her demeanour seemed to suggest that she did not give a damn ...
She was telling me that Manning should be punished for what he has
done but there was something about her manner, she just was not
understanding the seriousness.”
Arranging a strategy meeting
6.397 While Ms Kozinos was doing this, Ms Arthurworrey reported the matter to
Haringey police Child Protection Team. The referral was taken by Paula Waldron
who allocated the task of investigating it to PC Jones the following morning.
6.398 Ms Arthurworrey also set about arranging a strategy meeting – the first sexual
harm strategy meeting that she was to attend, despite having eight other cases
alleging sexual harm at that time. She said she told Ms Kozinos that she would be
out of the office on a training course for the next three days and the first day that
she would be available to attend a strategy meeting was Friday 5 November 1999.
According to Ms Arthurworrey, Ms Kozinos told her to “go ahead and arrange it
for then”. This was despite clear local child protection guidelines which call for
“a strategy meeting to be convened within 72 hours of receipt of a sexual abuse
referral indicating a high level of suspicion or immediately if the sexual abuse had
occurred within the past 72 hours”. According to Kouao, the most recent incident
of sexual harm had occurred that very morning and this should have necessitated
an immediate strategy meeting.
6.399 In her oral evidence, Ms Arthurworrey said, “If Rose had told me to arrange the
strategy meeting for Tuesday I would have cancelled my training, but she told me
to arrange it for Friday when I came back.”
6.400 Ms Kozinos disagreed. She said that at the time she knew the allegations were about
sexual harm but knew none of the detail – significantly she did not know whether
any penetration had been alleged or the dates of the alleged incident(s) – and she
did not see Victoria. As the duty senior, and in the absence of Ms Baptiste, she gave
advice to Ms Arthurworrey and said she told her to arrange the strategy meeting “as
soon as possible”. She anticipated that this would be done within 72 hours and by
arrangement with Ms Baptiste, who she expected to chair the meeting. She also said
it was Ms Baptiste, who, having returned to the office, asked her as a favour to speak
to Kouao and explain to her the child protection procedures.
6.401 I accept that Ms Kozinos may not have known the detail of Kouao’s allegations
and, specifically, whether the threshold for an immediate strategy meeting to be
called had been crossed. Nonetheless, as the duty senior it was her job to know
and to ensure that the local child protection guidelines were complied with. This
she failed to do. The result was that her anticipation was never translated into
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a clear instruction to Ms Arthurworrey to do as required, namely to convene
a strategy meeting literally as soon as possible – even though it might involve
cancelling Ms Arthurworrey’s training course – and Ms Arthurworrey did not
challenge this.
Finding ‘safer’ accommodation
6.402 On the advice of Ms Kozinos, Ms Arthurworrey told Kouao that she and Victoria
could no longer stay with Manning. Kouao suggested that she stay with her
friends, the Kimbidimas, and she rang and spoke to Chantal Kimbidima to make
the necessary arrangements. Ms Arthurworrey also spoke to Mrs Kimbidima. She
explained to her that allegations of sexual harm had been made and that Kouao
and Victoria would need to stay with her during the course of their investigations,
which she thought would probably take about a month to complete.
6.403 Ms Arthurworrey believed there was no problem with Victoria and Kouao staying
with the Kimbidimas, though she only spoke to Mrs Kimbidima. She made no
checks at all as to the suitability of the accommodation and whether it would,
indeed, provide a ‘safe’ haven for Victoria. Ms Arthurworrey said in evidence that
she had not been advised to do this, and she would have needed advice from
Ms Kozinos because her commitments were to the duty team that day.
6.404 Ms Kozinos, as duty senior, was in charge of the duty float and provided the funds
when requested to pay for Kouao’s taxi fare to the Kimbidimas. She, too, saw no
reason to question the suitability of the Kimbidimas’ house as a temporary home
for Victoria, because she assumed that Ms Arthurworrey would have discussed this
with her team manager before Victoria left the social services office.
6.405 Ms Arthurworrey returned to duty that evening and rang the Kimbidimas to check
that everything was all right. She said she was told that Victoria was there but that
Kouao had returned to Manning’s flat to pick up some of their things. Although
neither Mr or Mrs Kimbidima remember receiving a second call from social
services on 1 November, or any time that week, Mrs Kimbidima confirmed that
Kouao did indeed return to Somerset Gardens that evening and it seems unlikely
that Ms Arthurworrey could have learned this from anyone else other than the
Kimbidimas. What Ms Arthurworrey did not know – and she said she did not learn
until 13 December – was that Victoria also returned to live with Kouao in Manning’s
flat. Significantly, Victoria never spent a single night at the Kimbidimas’ home.
6.406 Mr Kimbidima told the Inquiry there had been some misunderstanding. When
Kouao told him that Manning was harming her daughter on the morning of
1 November and that she could not stay at Somerset Gardens, he agreed to her
leaving her belongings at his home but that was all. He thought he had explained
this to his wife, but according to Mr Kimbidima she misunderstood. Therefore,
when social services rang to ask if Kouao and Victoria could stay there pending
their investigations, Mrs Kimbidima agreed. On his return home, Mr Kimbidima
said he made it clear that Victoria and Kouao could not stay. He tried to find them
a hotel for the night but when that failed he rang Kouao who told him, “Do not
worry, come here anyway. I will explain to you.” Mr Kimbidima took Victoria back
to Somerset Gardens about 11pm that evening.
6.407 What Kouao wanted to explain to Mr Kimbidima was that Victoria had told her in
the taxi back that she had made up the sexual abuse allegations so that Manning
would go to prison and she and Kouao would keep his flat.
Retraction of allegations
6.408 On the very next day, 2 November 1999, Kouao returned with Victoria to the
NTDO to tell the same story to Ms Kozinos and retract the allegations. Ms Kozinos
6 Haringey Social Services
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was the duty senior that day and Kouao asked to see her after learning that
Ms Arthurworrey was out of the office.
6.409 Ms Kozinos observed that Victoria looked reasonably well and wore clean clothing,
although her hair looked slightly unkempt. She said “hello” to Victoria “who
appeared shy but did say ‘hello’ back to me. She gave me a big smile”.
6.410 This was the last time anyone from any of the statutory agencies was to see
Victoria before her final and fatal admission to the North Middlesex Hospital on
25 February 2000.
6.411 Kouao was keen for Ms Kozinos to hear from Victoria that she had been a “silly
girl” and that she had lied about the sexual allegations. Ms Kozinos said she
observed that Kouao was bullying in her manner to Victoria and she therefore
insisted on speaking to Kouao alone first, while Victoria remained in the reception
area under the care of the receptionist. The interview lasted no more than
10 minutes.
6.412 Kouao’s explanations as to why Victoria would make up such stories and why
Kouao had not reported any of the incidents thus far seemed “vague”. However,
she was extremely anxious that Manning should not be arrested or spoken to by
the police and described him as a good friend who had treated her and Victoria
well since their arrival in the UK. Ms Kozinos told Kouao she was not satisfied
with the explanation she had been given and that Haringey’s child protection
procedures would have to run their course. This was notwithstanding Kouao’s story
that she was waiting for funds from France to arrive the following week, and that
as soon as they did she and Victoria planned to return to France. Life had been
problematic for Kouao since their arrival in the UK and she told Ms Kozinos that
she had had enough.
6.413 It seemed to Ms Kozinos that Kouao’s priorities were not about Victoria but to keep
Manning out of prison and to resolve her housing needs. Therefore, she could not
be sure of Kouao’s ability to protect Victoria. According to her notes of the interview,
Ms Kozinos explained to Kouao there would be a strategy meeting with the police
child protection team, a full family assessment would be completed by the allocated
social worker, and the case would go to case conference. This was a course of action
that Ms Kozinos regarded as inevitable at the time because of the concerns raised
by Kouao’s retraction and subsequent explanations. She also told Kouao she would
have to find alternative accommodation and Kouao reassured her that she would go
straight back to the Kimbidimas’ house with Victoria and stay there – an option, of
course, that was never in fact open to her – and that she would not allow Manning
contact with Victoria until the investigation had been completed.
After the interview
6.414 Kouao and Victoria did not leave the NTDO immediately. When Ms Kozinos returned
to the reception area to meet another client, she observed Kouao who appeared to
be “coaxing Victoria and telling her something, which she insisted she needed to tell
us. Her manner was bullying and not very sensitive”.
6.415 After her interview with Kouao, Ms Kozinos did two things – she updated
Ms Baptiste and wrote up her notes of the interview. Ms Baptiste had no
recollection of their conversation. But according to Ms Kozinos, Ms Baptiste
told her that Ms Arthurworrey had thought that Victoria’s answers were totally
rehearsed and that in light of the retraction, Ms Baptiste questioned the rationale
for continuing with the strategy meeting. In fact, she suggested it should
be cancelled. Ms Kozinos quite rightly persuaded her otherwise because she
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recognised that the making of such allegations and their withdrawal in such
circumstances might be significant in terms of Kouao’s relationship with Victoria.
6.416 Ms Kozinos’s notes of her 7 to 10 minute conversation with Kouao are detailed,
covering three handwritten pages, and appear on the SS5 case forms that are
intended for use by Haringey social workers in writing up summaries and interviews
between the department and a child or a child’s carer. The notes are dated
2 November 1999 and are signed by Ms Kozinos with her correct professional title,
senior practitioner, as she was at the time.
6.417 It is Ms Arthurworrey’s contention that no such record of the interview with
Kouao was written up at that time, in November, and was therefore not available
to the strategy meeting on 5 November 1999. She stated in evidence that
she only realised the SS5 form was missing from the file after Victoria’s final
admission to St Mary’s Hospital Paddington on 25 February 2000. According to
Ms Arthurworrey, she pointed this out to Ms Kozinos who filled a form out in front
of her. As the discussion and events surrounding the second strategy meeting on
5 November have some bearing on this particular conflict of evidence, I shall return
to this matter later in this Report.
6.418 The strategy meeting took place in the NTDO as arranged at 11am on Friday
5 November 1999. Ms Arthurworrey returned that day from her training course
and was told by Ms Kozinos that Kouao had come into the office on the Tuesday
and had retracted the allegations, claiming that Victoria had made everything
up. Ms Arthurworrey was not surprised, she said, because she “had found the
whole circumstances of [Kouao’s] disclosure very bizarre”. There was no mention,
either before or during the strategy meeting, according to Ms Arthurworrey, of
Ms Kozinos’s observation that Kouao was bullying towards Victoria, or that Victoria
had left the office in a withdrawn and subdued state – although both observations
appear in Ms Kozinos’s note of the interview with Kouao.
6.419 If Ms Kozinos had indeed written up her note on 2 November, then it should have
been on the file and available to the strategy meeting on 5 November. As she did
not read the file, she was in no position to check this for herself. She believed she
conveyed the contents of the note to the meeting but never referred to it directly,
nor did she arrange to have it photocopied and distributed to those present, not
least because social services would “not normally give things from our file anyway
without permission”.
6.420 In support of her version of events, Ms Kozinos referred to Ms Arthurworrey’s note
on the file of the 5 November strategy meeting. Ms Arthurworrey wrote:
“... informed Marie-Therese had come to the department on Tuesday
2nd November and retracted the allegations. Said Anna had told her she
had made everything up. See SS5 for more details.”
6.421 The reference to the SS5 refers, according to Ms Kozinos, to the retraction, and
must go to show that her note of the interview with Kouao was available at least
by 5 November.
6.422 In questioning, Ms Kozinos was asked to consider two other possibilities. First,
that Ms Arthurworrey herself had not completed her notes for 5 November
until very much later and after Ms Kozinos had completed hers. Second, that
Ms Arthurworrey expected Ms Kozinos to complete her note of the interview on
an SS5 and, although she did not have it to hand at the time, she anticipated
Ms Kozinos would do so at some future date.
6 Haringey Social Services
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6.423 In relation to the first, there has never been any suggestion that Ms Arthurworrey’s
note of 5 November was not completed at the time, and therefore I discount
it as a possibility. In relation to the second, Ms Arthurworrey said in her third
statement, written some considerable time after Ms Kozinos gave her oral evidence
and therefore after the options had been put, that it was this second option that
reflected the truth. She said:
“I made a cross reference to the SS5 forms for more detail about the
retraction because although an SS5 form had not been filled out at the
time, I fully expected Rosemarie Kozinos to complete one in accordance
with the standard practice. I did not follow up Rosemarie Kozinos nor
remind her to fill in an SS5 form.”
6.424 If the second option is to carry any weight, Ms Kozinos said she would have
expected to see a reference in Ms Arthurworrey’s contact note to an expected or
‘outstanding’ SS5. However, the clear and unambiguous statement “see SS5 for
details” implies that the SS5 she wrote already existed. Counsel for Ms Kozinos
also suggested that the detailed and comprehensive notes made by Ms Kozinos
bore the hallmarks of notes made while events were still fresh in her mind.
This argument must carry some weight because Ms Arthurworrey did not say
that she saw Ms Kozinos transcribe the notes made during the interview with
Kouao from her notebook to the SS5 – which is what Ms Kozinos said she did.
Instead, Ms Arthurworrey claimed that when she pointed out the missing note
on 25 February, Ms Kozinos simply “took a pen and paper and wrote up that
interview from memory”. I find I agree with Counsel for Ms Kozinos’s suggestion
that her notes of her interview with Kouao “do not look like the product of a
hurried attempt at a cover up some three months later”.
6.425 I also attach weight to the fact that the allegation by Ms Arthurworrey was first
raised in her statement to the Inquiry – in particular she makes no reference to
it in her statement for the Part 8 review – and the fact that she only provided an
explanation for her cross-reference to the SS5 in her contact note after the options
had been put to Ms Kozinos.
6.426 I accept that Ms Arthurworrey’s allegation in itself probably had little relevance to
the events leading to Victoria’s death – all the more so if Ms Kozinos did indeed
feed back verbally the events of 2 November, although the record of the strategy
meeting does not help in this respect as it is singularly deficient in its recording of
the actual discussion that took place. However, the allegation plainly impacts on
the credibility of both witnesses. It is my view that on this occasion the evidence
of Ms Kozinos is to be preferred, and I accept that she had written her note of the
interview with Kouao on 2 November or very shortly thereafter.
The November strategy meeting
6.427 The 5 November strategy meeting was chaired by Ms Kozinos as a favour to
Ms Baptiste – the second favour of the week. According to Ms Kozinos, she was
asked to chair the meeting “possibly within minutes” of the scheduled start time
– though Ms Baptiste had no recollection of this. She was also told the case was
a family support case, which it clearly no longer was once Kouao had made, and
then retracted, the sexual abuse allegations.
6.428 The meeting was attended by Ms Arthurworrey, PC Jones and PC Ricketts. As was
the practice at the time, Ms Kozinos again did not read the case file before the
strategy meeting began. As a result, she was not aware and did not remember that
she had been involved in Victoria’s case back in July. In fact, she expected to rely
on Ms Arthurworrey and the two police officers to update her. The fact that neither
Ms Arthurworrey nor PC Jones brought to her attention that she had chaired the
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earlier strategy meeting – indeed it was Ms Kozinos who remembered this herself
midway through the discussion – did not cause her to question this expectation.
6.429 She did not, as a result of remembering her earlier involvement, ask to see the
case file – albeit that the file was in the nearby duty room and would have taken
minutes to retrieve – nor did she go through the 18 earlier strategy meeting
recommendations to assess the progress made on each. Instead, she continued
to rely on what the police and Ms Arthurworrey told her, namely:
“The allegations had been fully investigated and that there were no
concerns, that they had also discussed it with a child protection adviser
and they had medical records that showed it was accidental injuries.”
6.430 According to Ms Kozinos “the matter had been closed so to speak but it was open
as a family support case” and she had “no reason to disbelieve either of them or
not to take what they said at face value at the time”.
6.431 The strategy meeting identified the following 15 tasks to be completed:
“i) PCPT to contact immigration re status; S/W to establish which airport the
client came in on;
ii) S/W to complete a check with France if client previously known. Find out
more information re other children;
iii) Some proof that child is hers;
iv) Check on Carl Manning by PCPT–S/W to obtain DOB;
v) Client to give police a statement/or one withdrawing;
vi) Full assessment on child re neglect issues;
vii) Discuss case with legal;
viii) Talk to child on her own with mother’s permission;
ix) Need to explore issues of schooling;
x) Complete check re medical on Anna;
xi) Explore issues of Anna bedwetting/and bereavement of father;
xii) Explore Carl and mother’s relationship;
xiii) Possible joint home visit with PCPT;
xiv) Copies of minutes to PCPT;
xv) Explain child protection procedures to mother and give her copies of leaflets.”
6.432 On the face of it this is a sensible and comprehensive list of tasks. The fact that
some of them appear to replicate the July strategy meeting recommendations
is hardly surprising, given that Victoria’s case file was not to hand, as the
recommendations were being drawn up and there was no discussion of the
progress made with any of the earlier recommendations. As before, no date was
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set by which any of these new tasks were to be completed, nor was there a review
date to check on progress.
6.433 In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that any of the work that this strategy
meeting considered important was ever completed. Although Ms Kozinos
considered that a case conference was “inevitable”, it never took place.
6.434 According to Ms Kozinos, the third strategy meeting recommendation to seek
some proof that the child was Kouao’s, arose from a feeling she had when Kouao
came into the office on 2 November that something was amiss in the interaction
and bonding between Kouao and Victoria. She thought it important enough to
recommend that Ms Arthurworrey verify their relationship by checking Kouao’s
documentation. If this check had been completed on Kouao’s passport alone,
it would almost certainly, according to the police evidence to this Inquiry, have
confirmed their suspicions.
6.435 The strategy meeting record also noted that a memorandum interview would
not be pursued at that stage. No reasons for this decision appear on the record.
Despite the fact that Ms Arthurworrey had already cut short one interview with
Victoria on 1 November because she felt that a proper memorandum interview was
called for, Ms Kozinos said she believed that Victoria needed to be spoken to again
so that the procedures could be explained to her and her views about going ahead
with the memorandum interview could be gauged. According to Ms Kozinos, this
was a joint decision of the strategy meeting and it was their intention that such
an interview would take place shortly after Victoria had been spoken to. It seems
more plausible, however, that the decision not to call a memorandum interview
straightaway was largely influenced by the feeling of the meeting, conveyed by
Ms Arthurworrey, that they simply did not believe the sexual harm allegations were
anything other than a ploy by Kouao to obtain housing. The tone of the strategy
meeting recommendations would seem to support this.
6.436 Although Victoria was not in school at the time, the strategy meeting record
curiously refers to Victoria’s school as Bruce Grove Primary School. Ms Arthurworrey
accepted that the information was contradictory but that she had told the meeting
of Kouao’s intention to register Victoria at the school, and the fact that her
schooling was still an issue is evident from the strategy meeting recommendations.
6.437 That Victoria was still at the Kimbidimas’ house on 5 November 1999 was an
assumption made by both Ms Kozinos and Ms Arthurworrey, although PC Jones
believed that she had been told by social services that Victoria and Kouao had
returned to Manning’s flat. In the meantime, Ms Arthurworrey had just returned
from a training course and had “no idea” as to whether any checks had been
done on Victoria’s whereabouts. She said that Ms Kozinos told her that Victoria
was with the Kimbidimas. Ms Kozinos, on the other hand, told the Inquiry that
she had relied on Kouao’s assurance that she and Victoria would stay with the
Kimbidimas and that both Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Baptiste were satisfied with the
arrangement. Moreover, she was clear that Ms Arthurworrey told her during the
strategy meeting that Victoria was with the Kimbidimas, but she did not remember
asking Ms Arthurworrey how she knew. In fact, no checks were ever made as to
Victoria’s whereabouts up to and including 5 November. As a result, social services
were inadvertently relying on Kouao’s initial intention to stay with the Kimbidimas
as evidence that they were staying there.
6.438 According to Ms Kozinos, the strategy meeting also discussed doing a risk
assessment that very day, though no note of this appears in the strategy meeting
record. The intention was that PC Jones and Ms Arthurworrey would visit Kouao
at the Kimbidimas’ house to assess her capacity to protect Victoria, though
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Ms Kozinos recalled some question as to whether PC Jones could do the visit that
day. In Ms Kozinos’s mind there was no question as to the need to do a home
visit nor its relative urgency as they were approaching the weekend. The use of
the word ‘possible’ in the strategy meeting recommendation referred only to
whether the visit would be joint with the police, not whether it should happen at
all. She now accepted that that instruction was far from clear – indeed, no such risk
assessment was completed on 5 November or any time thereafter.
6.439 Ms Baptiste’s management role for the DIAT B team ceased that very day and
Ms Mairs assumed responsibility for both A and B teams from 8 November
as part of Haringey’s restructuring exercise. But this did not deter Ms Kozinos
from updating Ms Baptiste after the strategy meeting. She had understood that
Ms Baptiste would retain some transitional responsibility through to the new year
and would continue to supervise members of her team. Therefore, Ms Kozinos
assumed it would fall to her to ensure that any risk assessment was carried out
speedily and the strategy meeting recommendations would be met. Yet again,
Ms Baptiste said she did not remember this conversation but cannot dispute
that it occurred or that she may indeed have still had some team management
responsibility at least as of 5 November.
6.440 Ms Arthurworrey accepted that it was her responsibility as the allocated social
worker to ensure that all the tasks identified by the strategy meeting were
completed. The first task she dealt with was to send a fax to the French consulate
welfare department – a task that she should have done in response to the July
strategy meeting recommendations and did not – asking whether the family under
the misspelled name of ‘Kovoa’ but giving their correct last known address in Paris
were known to French social services. Six days later, according to her contact note,
she received a telephone call from the consulate giving her a ‘no trace’ response.
6.441 This was a relatively simple task. The Inquiry can only speculate as to whether
Ms Arthurworrey would have received a different response, and one that might
have cast doubt on the viability of Kouao’s plan to return to France, if she had at
least spelled the family name correctly – a family that she had been working with
for the past three months.
6.442 Ms Arthurworrey’s understanding of some of the other tasks expected of her
was far from clear. She admitted, for example, that she was unsure about what
“complete check regarding medical on Anna” actually meant and she did not
check with Ms Kozinos exactly what she was required to do. Nor did she see the
reference to “a case conference is required” as being definitive. She believed that
her role was to carry out an assessment of Victoria, bring the findings back to her
team manager for discussion, and only then would a decision to convene a case
conference be taken. She told the Inquiry:
“The case conference was not the focal point of discussion in that
strategy meeting. I would have expected that if I were to call a case
conference immediately, I would have expected that to be under item
one of the work to be undertaken.”
6.443 Instead, her intention was to invite Kouao into the office for an interview so
that she could update her on the strategy meeting, make arrangements for an
assessment to take place, and review the placement with the Kimbidimas.
6.444 Despite an express instruction to the contrary, Ms Arthurworrey did not discuss
Victoria’s case with Haringey’s legal department because she felt she did not
have enough information to do so. There had been no mention of initiating
care proceedings or taking out an order in respect of Victoria. According to
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Ms Arthurworrey, “The last time I saw Victoria she presented as happy, she
presented as relaxed. She did not present in my opinion as a child who had been
sexually abused.”
6.445 It was this impression which undoubtedly contributed to virtual inaction by
Ms Arthurworrey and her managers in their handling of Victoria’s case from early
November onwards. In my view, Haringey allowed this case to drift to its tragic
conclusion. Less than four months later, Victoria was dead.
6.446 The next formal opportunity to check on the progress made with Victoria, and in
particular how work on the strategy meeting recommendations was progressing,
came on 15 November 1999 when Ms Arthurworrey had her second supervision
session since being allocated the case. Ms Mairs who had only the previous week
taken on responsibility for both the A and B duty and investigation teams initiated
and took the supervision.
First supervision with Ms Mairs
6.447 In her new management role, Ms Mairs told the Inquiry that she had gained
“maybe seven” additional social workers to supervise, including Ms Arthurworrey,
bringing the total to 16. According to Ms Mairs, there was no handover from
Ms Baptiste at the time because Ms Baptiste was not around. Ms Baptiste accepted
there was no formal handover, as there should have been, but believed she did
speak to Ms Mairs about the social workers she had supervised. She could not,
however, recall whether each of her supervisee’s cases had been discussed, and
in the light of her vague evidence on the subject I find it probable that no such
discussions did in fact take place.
6.448 Thus it was that Ms Mairs came to the supervision session without prior
knowledge from the former team manager about the concerns in Victoria’s case.
Since it was not the practice to read case files before supervision, she further
disadvantaged herself.
6.449 The whole session lasted about one and a half hours, of which about an hour was
spent on casework. At the time, Ms Arthurworrey had 16 cases – five were due to
close, four were waiting to close, four or five were child protection and the rest
were family support. Both agreed that not much more than five minutes were
spent discussing Victoria’s case.
6.450 Like Ms Kozinos, Ms Mairs believed that Ms Baptiste still retained some supervisory
responsibility for her team, so Ms Mairs did not consider that she was initiating
a new supervision contract with Ms Arthurworrey. She told the Inquiry: “I was
looking at it more from the point of view of reviewing the cases [Ms Arthurworrey]
had so she was clear about what actions needed to be done on it and to enable
her to get some support.”
6.451 Ms Mairs accepted that her supervision of Victoria’s case was wholly reliant on
Ms Arthurworrey’s account of her work. The case had been in hand since July
and Ms Arthurworrey had been the social worker throughout. So Ms Mairs said
she expected Ms Arthurworrey to be able to update her – albeit that little more
than five minutes was set aside for discussion – and she never ascertained if
Ms Arthurworrey herself had read everything on the file.
6.452 Not surprisingly, therefore, when Ms Mairs came to give oral evidence concerning
what she believed Ms Arthurworrey told her in supervision, she appeared confused.
She thought Ms Arthurworrey had received a medical report from the North
Middlesex Hospital which made clear that, although an allegation of physical harm
had been made, a doctor’s examination had concluded that the marks were due
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182
to scabies. In fact, that medical report referred to Victoria’s first admission to the
Central Middlesex Hospital.
6.453 Ms Mairs said she had no reason to doubt what Ms Arthurworrey told her or to
check if she could have been mistaken. She appeared to Ms Mairs to be “a very
competent and capable social worker” and she was not aware of any concerns
about her practice.
6.454 Ms Mairs also accepted at face value Ms Baptiste’s decision that the case was
‘family support’ and, because of what she had been told and the fact that the
case had been around since July, she formed the view that the social services
investigation was coming to a close. That she could have believed this just days
after a strategy meeting to consider allegations of sexual harm in Victoria’s case
seems extraordinary, unless Ms Mairs’s version of events is accurate, namely that
Ms Arthurworrey never told her that there had been any allegations of sexual harm,
let alone that Kouao had subsequently retracted those allegations and a strategy
meeting had followed. According to Ms Mairs, her recorded decisions from the
supervision session bear this out and clearly relate only to the July admission to the
North Middlesex Hospital.
6.455 Ms Arthurworrey is adamant that Ms Mairs did know about the sexual harm
allegations and the 5 November strategy meeting. She admitted that during
the supervision she did not draw Ms Mairs’s attention to the relevant section of
the file, but she had Victoria’s file open on her lap and she read from the notes
of the November strategy meeting. Ms Mairs wrote down her action points as
Ms Arthurworrey was talking.
6.456 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry that as this was the first occasion Ms Mairs had
supervised her, and because she had never before discussed Victoria’s case with
her, she brought Ms Mairs up to date from the beginning of her involvement with
the case up to and including the strategy meeting on 5 November 1999.
6.457 Ms Mairs’s supervision decisions merit careful consideration. She recorded the
following:
“– child protection investigation took place; no further concerns;
– refer to EWO – school;
– permission to interview child on her own;
– discussions bed wetting with GP;
– refer to family centre bereavement counselling;
– closing summary;
– complete care plan;
– complete decisions of strategy meeting;
– work to be completed by 17th December 1999.”
6.458 If indeed these decisions related to the July strategy meeting, then an experienced
manager such as Ms Mairs ought to have registered and recorded her concerns
that almost five months had elapsed and the outstanding work was not now going
to be completed before mid December. Moreover, it might have caused her to
question her assumption about the competency of Ms Arthurworrey and the need
to review the case file. No such record of concern exists and Ms Mairs admitted
that she did not remonstrate with Ms Arthurworrey about this. Ms Mairs said she
hoped to be able to discuss the case with Ms Baptiste, Ms Arthurworrey’s previous
manager, but no such opportunity arose.
6.459 Moreover, the second, third, fourth and fifth of Ms Mairs’s decisions closely
mirror recommendations that emerged from the November strategy meeting.
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In particular, the first strategy meeting made no mention of bed wetting or
bereavement counselling – factors which arose for Ms Arthurworrey only after her
visit to Somerset Gardens in August 1999. The onus on Ms Arthurworrey back in
July was simply to complete checks in relation to schooling and not to deal with
the issue by way of a referral to the education welfare officer.
6.460 If the decision to speak to Victoria on her own, as Ms Mairs asserted, relates
to the July referral then it would have meant that a vital element of a child
protection inquiry had yet to happen, nearly five months after the initial referral.
This was clearly a grave and unacceptable lapse in professional practice. Further,
if Ms Arthurworrey had believed that these decisions related to the first strategy
meeting, she would almost certainly have pointed out to Ms Mairs that she had
obtained permission to speak to Victoria and did so on the ward in the North
Middlesex Hospital on 6 August 1999.
6.461 When asked why, if this was a ‘family support’ case, Victoria would need to be
seen alone and not in the company of Kouao, Ms Mairs told the Inquiry that she
associated scabies with neglect and that this was compounded by the bed wetting
and the non-school attendance. She said:
“I considered there may be other things that were going on that wanted
further investigation and I made a decision that it was more appropriate
to see the child on her own to actually do that because ... once you see
a child on their own you do get more from it.”
6.462 Ms Mairs admitted that when she told Ms Arthurworrey “to complete the decisions
of the strategy meeting” she did not know what those decisions were or how
many were outstanding. She said she had the impression they were not “major”.
In fact, she assumed that as the case was more than four months old, all the major
recommendations would have been dealt with. This was an assumption that she was
in no position to verify without first reading the case file, and this she did not do.
6.463 Ms Mairs then directed provisional closure of the case provided that no
further concerns emerged. She also directed that any outstanding work
should be completed by 17 December 1999. Given that Ms Mairs authorised
Ms Arthurworrey to take three days off in lieu and two days annual leave, and that
she would have had to complete a week on duty during the coming month, in
reality Ms Arthurworrey had just two weeks to complete any outstanding tasks.
Ms Mairs considered this to be adequate because she believed Ms Arthurworrey
was finishing off the earlier July tasks.
Did Ms Mairs know about sexual abuse allegations?
6.464 Ms Mairs has persistently denied that she was ever told about the sexual harm
allegations and the 5 November strategy meeting during her only supervision with
Ms Arthurworrey about Victoria. In questioning, she did not accept that she could
have misunderstood what she had been told. She told the Inquiry that if she had
been told she would have written it down, and she would have been far more
concerned about the case, and that the decisions that she made in supervision,
while valid, would not have gone far enough. Nor could she have expected the
work to have been finished by mid December as the case would have had to go to
case conference.
6.465 Having reviewed the evidence, I find it hard to accept the accuracy of Ms Mairs’s
statements in this matter. It seems inconceivable that Ms Arthurworrey would not
have updated Ms Mairs about the November sexual abuse allegations, or told her
about the second strategy meeting, especially as these events had occurred so
recently and Ms Arthurworrey has consistently expressed throughout her evidence
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
184
the need for confirmation and direction from her managers. I accept that no
mention of sexual abuse would have been made if Ms Arthurworrey was simply
reading from the November strategy meeting recommendations because those
words do not appear. However, Ms Arthurworrey would have had no motive for
not mentioning these allegations or that there had been a strategy meeting as
recently as 10 days ago.
6.466 It was clearly Ms Mairs’s job, as supervisor, to know about the key milestones in
the case. Moreover, a number of her supervision decisions mirror almost exactly
the recommendations of the second strategy meeting and the concerns they seek
to address were not an issue for social services back in July. I am therefore forced to
the conclusion that Ms Mairs’s supervision decisions could not have referred to the
July strategy meeting, and that the reason she took no issue with Ms Arthurworrey
about the delay in completing the necessary tasks was because the strategy
meeting they were discussing was the November strategy meeting. It follows,
therefore, that the unrealistic deadline that she set demonstrated her failure to
fully grasp the seriousness of the matters before her, and the opportunity to get a
management grip on the case through supervision was lost yet again.
6.467 Ms Arthurworrey told the Inquiry she was not unduly fazed by the December
deadline. Indeed, until her supervision with Ms Mairs she had not been given
any timetable to complete the work of the November strategy meeting and she
thought the deadline was manageable. She said, “We always worked at a fairly
cracking pace in north Tottenham.” Whether that was true or not, the fact is
that by 17 December 1999, Ms Arthurworrey had done little more than make an
unsuccessful check with the French consulate.
Losing contact with Kouao and Victoria
6.468 She also wrote to Kouao on 19 November 1999 offering her an office appointment
at 2pm on 1 December – a delay she now concedes as being wholly unacceptable.
The purpose of the appointment, according to the letter sent by Ms Arthurworrey,
was to “discuss her circumstances further” and invite Kouao to contact
Ms Arthurworrey should the appointment time prove inconvenient. Hardly, it might
be thought, a letter which conveys any sense whatsoever of urgency or seriousness
with regard to sexual harm allegations and the outcome of a strategy meeting.
6.469 Ms Arthurworrey addressed the letter to Kouao at Somerset Gardens, and not
care of the Kimbidimas, where she said she assumed Kouao and Victoria were
staying. Unbeknown to her at the time, she had sent it to the ‘right’ address.
Ms Arthurworrey explained that she was about to take the time off in lieu agreed
with Ms Mairs and that she wrote the letter in some haste. It was not until Kouao
failed to turn up at the office on 1 December – though it is difficult to infer
from the letter any reason that might have persuaded Kouao to attend – that
Ms Arthurworrey realised her “mistake”.
6.470 She rang Kouao on her mobile phone but there was no reply and she left a
message. In evidence, Ms Arthurworrey claimed to have rung Kouao on several
occasions although her contact notes only record the first such call made on
1 December. Her next recorded contact note showed she telephoned Manning on
13 December. Again there was no response and she left a message for him to call
her back. Perhaps not surprisingly, as he must have still been waiting anxiously for
the police or social services to interview him about the sexual harm allegations,
he did not do so.
6.471 When asked why she had waited so long to ring Manning, Ms Arthurworrey said
that she already formed the impression that Kouao may have moved on, as she
said she intended to do the last time Ms Arthurworrey visited Somerset Gardens
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185
at the end of October 1999. Ms Arthurworrey accepted that it was a dangerous
assumption to make at the time and she should not have done so.
6.472 She also rang the Kimbidimas on 13 December 1999. This, according to
Ms Arthurworrey, was the first time she learned that Kouao and Victoria had
returned to live with Manning but she did not ask, nor was she told, when they
had returned. What is clear is that from 13 December, Ms Arthurworrey ought to
have appreciated that arrangements made for keeping Victoria safe after the sexual
harm allegations made against Manning had broken down.
6.473 Ms Arthurworrey now had no idea of the whereabouts of the family. She told
Ms Kozinos shortly after 1 December that Kouao had failed to turn up for her
appointment and was told to “keep on trying” and that they would discuss it in
supervision. She also attempted to visit Victoria at Somerset Gardens. Her first
two attempts were said to have been in the period between 13 and 23 December
1999, although there is no documentary evidence of either of them.
6.474 It did not occur to Ms Arthurworrey to explore with the legal department the
powers open to her – she did not in any event believe that Kouao was deliberately
trying to conceal Victoria from social services. However, she said that she told
PC Jones on 10 December that she had had no contact with Kouao or Victoria,
although again, no record of the conversation appears on the contact sheets.
6.475 As she could not find Kouao and Victoria, Ms Arthurworrey was effectively
prevented from taking her investigation and assessment of the family any further
forward. The recommendations from the November strategy meeting were,
in effect, left to fall by the wayside.
Supervision with Ms Kozinos
6.476 Ms Arthurworrey was to have had another opportunity to discuss Victoria’s case in
formal supervision, this time with Ms Kozinos, on 14 December. In the event, the
meeting was cancelled because of industrial strike action in which both Ms Kozinos
and Ms Arthurworrey took part. The supervision session was subsequently
rearranged for 23 December.
6.477 Ms Kozinos was to begin her role as practice manager, which carried with it
supervisory responsibilities for social workers, the very next day. Although she had
never before undertaken formal supervision of social workers, except to provide
case direction in the absence of a team manager, she said she felt reasonably
confident about taking on the task. Indeed, Ms Arthurworrey had requested that
Ms Kozinos should be her supervisor following the restructuring of the DIATs.
6.478 According to Ms Kozinos, this introductory supervision with Ms Arthurworrey took
some three hours and covered nine agenda items. Among the decisions agreed
upon was that Ms Arthurworrey would be on annual leave from 25 December
1999 to 17 January 2000, and that she would attend a memorandum interview
training course in April 2000. Ms Kozinos also noted that Ms Baptiste had
completed a performance development review with Ms Arthurworrey but that had
“not been handed over”. She noted on the record: “I will discuss with Carole next
time she is back at work. Need previous supervision and PDR notes. Also need an
official handover.”
6.479 Ms Kozinos also arranged two further supervision sessions with Ms Arthurworrey
for 18 January and 7 February 2000 and a further performance development
review for 10 February. According to Ms Kozinos, none of these took place
– although Ms Arthurworrey claimed that she had a brief informal supervision with
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
186
Ms Kozinos on 18 January in which Victoria’s case was mentioned but there was
no recorded note.
6.480 Judging by the extreme brevity of Ms Kozinos’s action notes of 23 December
1999, discussion of Victoria’s case must have been very short indeed. Ms Kozinos
admitted that as this was an introductory session, little time was devoted to
casework and she estimated that Victoria’s case took no more than five minutes
to discuss.
6.481 Ms Kozinos recorded the following four lines:
“– Family have left area. No further contact.
– Complete spot visit.
– Complete appropriate paper work then NFA.
– Update PCPT – Karen Jones.”
6.482 Ms Arthurworrey’s recollection of the session was, as had been her general
experience of supervision, that it was not a two-way discussion: “It was myself
informing Rose of the situation and then just Rose writing down these actions.
There was no discussion.”
6.483 Equally, as was the practice, Ms Kozinos did not read the case file either before or
during supervision. This is a factor that might have been considered marginally
less relevant on this occasion because Ms Kozinos had chaired both the July and
November strategy meetings herself. She ought, therefore, to have been aware of
the seriousness with which the latter strategy meeting viewed the case, and she
might have been expected to recall the general direction of the strategy meeting
recommendations, if not the detail.
6.484 However, none of this was evident in the manner in which she dealt with
Victoria’s case in supervision. Although it is fair to say that Ms Arthurworrey’s and
Ms Kozinos’s evidence about what was said during this meeting conflict with each
other, given Ms Kozinos’s prior knowledge of the case it is difficult to explain her
readiness to accept at face value what she claimed Ms Arthurworrey told her.
6.485 According to Ms Kozinos, Ms Arthurworrey informed her that she had reported to
Ms Mairs in supervision on 15 November 1999 – just 10 days after the strategy
meeting – that there were no outstanding child protection concerns and that
Ms Mairs had recommended case closure. Implicit in this, presumably, was that
the concerns had been fully investigated. Ms Arthurworrey’s previous managers
had also told her not to take Victoria’s case to case conference, despite a clear
recommendation of the strategy meeting that that was the appropriate course.
Indeed, Ms Kozinos’s view at the time was that a case conference was inevitable
and she had told Kouao the same.
6.486 Ms Kozinos told the Inquiry that she had begun to doubt her own judgement
about the case and wondered whether she had been heavy-handed with Kouao.
She said:
“I doubted myself and put much more faith in what Lisa told me at face
value ... also because of my team manager who I do have faith in, who
was very experienced in my view, having recommended to close it, I did
not question it.”
6.487 Ms Kozinos never asked Ms Arthurworrey about the progress in meeting each
of the November strategy meeting recommendations and, more fundamentally,
she never asked her whether she had seen Victoria – an essential element of
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187
any competent section 47 inquiry – and she regretted not doing so. She simply
assumed that such an interview had taken place, whereas a check of the case
file would have shown that it had not. She would also have seen that virtually
all the 15 tasks identified by the strategy meeting were still outstanding. As to
Victoria’s whereabouts, Ms Kozinos was adamant that Ms Arthurworrey told her
in supervision that the family “had gone ... they have left, gone back to France”.
But she never asked Ms Arthurworrey how she could have known this.
6.488 At the end of the supervision, Ms Kozinos said she was left with the impression that
the majority of Ms Arthurworrey’s cases were low-profile family support cases, that
she had missed certain deadlines in these cases and that she was going through
the process of closing a lot of them. Victoria’s case was one of these.
6.489 Ms Arthurworrey, on the other hand, said she told Ms Kozinos that she had not
completed any of the strategy meeting recommendations and that she had not
had any contact with Victoria since the strategy meeting, despite making a number
of telephone calls. She also denied telling Ms Kozinos that her previous line
managers had recommended case closure. She also told Ms Kozinos that there was
a possibility [my emphasis] that the family may have gone back to France because
that was what had been discussed in October, but she did not know where they
were. Accordingly, Ms Kozinos wrote down the first action note as “‘Family have
left area, no further contact.’”
6.490 Ms Kozinos explained the reference to “no further contact” as meaning there had
been no further contact because the family had returned to France. This, together
with her recollection that Ms Arthurworrey had mentioned making some spot
visits, confirmed that Ms Kozinos was aware that contact with the family had been
lost at some stage.
6.491 Ms Kozinos’s second action point – ”complete spot visit” – was directed to
Manning’s flat. Ms Kozinos denied she had been told that Victoria and Kouao had
returned there at some point – she said that if she had known this her response
would have been very different – and that she had no reason not to accept that
the family had left the Kimbidimas and gone to France. However, she wanted to
double check. She said:
“Part of me, with the feelings I got from the visit with the mum, it must
have been still something that was niggling at me and I suggested just to
be on the safe side, just to be certain, just to make sure, that she has not
returned to Manning’s.”
6.492 Ms Kozinos accepted that a single spot check could hardly prove conclusively that
the family had indeed returned to France. She admitted that she did not think it
through and did not follow her instinct because she was aware of her manager’s
decision – a manager who she respected and believed knew better – to close the
case, and she did not challenge this.
6.493 In fact, Ms Kozinos’s instinct was to prove correct and the consequences for
Victoria might have been very different if those instincts had been properly
acted upon.
6.494 She recalled that Ms Arthurworrey said she would do several more spot visits
because Manning’s flat was on her way to work and it would not inconvenience
her. However, she denied that this must cast doubt on Ms Arthurworrey’s
supposed firm belief that the family had returned to France. Ms Kozinos said,
“[Ms Arthurworrey] seemed certain ... I think she was going to do this just to
reassure me. I think because she said that.”
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Disagreement over supervision content
6.495 Ms Kozinos’s and Ms Arthurworrey’s accounts of what was said in supervision on
23 December 1999 differ markedly in a number of key respects and, in particular,
whether Ms Kozinos was told that:
• all the concerns had been properly investigated or that none of the strategy
recommendations had been completed;
• Victoria had not been seen since the strategy meeting and there had been no
contact with the family;
• Victoria and Kouao had returned to Manning’s flat at some stage previously;
• the family had definitely or possibly returned to France;
• Ms Arthurworrey’s previous line managers had recommended case closure.
6.496 In the absence of any proper record of their discussion, I cannot be certain
exactly what Ms Kozinos was told during this supervision session, or whether
she misunderstood the information given to her by Ms Arthurworrey. However,
having seen and heard both the witnesses, I have come to the conclusion that on
this occasion Ms Kozinos’s interpretation of what she was told and her direction
was almost entirely influenced by her understanding that there had already been
a management decision to close the case. Moreover, it seems probable that
this understanding could only have come from Ms Arthurworrey, for although
Ms Mairs’s instruction to prepare a closing summary was recorded on the previous
supervision summary and action sheet, both agreed that Ms Kozinos did not read
the case file either before or during supervision. As Ms Mairs was a manager highly
regarded by Ms Kozinos, she therefore let slide any remaining concerns she may
have had and did not properly and systematically apply her mind to these.
Failure to find Kouao and Victoria
6.497 Ms Arthurworrey made one more visit to Somerset Gardens on 6 January
2000 in the hope of catching the family at home. On the first two occasions
Ms Arthurworrey did not get beyond the front door of the block of flats. On the
third visit she entered the premises and knocked on the door. She said:
“I remember knocking and I remember thinking it sounds very quiet and
then the light time switch [in the hallway] went off and I knocked again.
There was no response and then I left.”
6.498 She recorded on the contact sheet that the flat was in darkness. In fact, the
likelihood is that Victoria was staying at the flat throughout this period and was,
at the very least, spending the night there. It is true that she, Kouao and Manning
had made three trips to France in late 1999, but it seems likely that she was back
from the last trip by the time of Ms Arthurworrey’s first spot visit. Manning told the
Inquiry that the three of them had made two visits to France, one in early October
and one in mid November, and that Kouao and Victoria went alone to France for
two weeks in late November/early December. It seems likely but not certain that
they were back from that last trip in time for the first attempt by Ms Arthurworrey
to visit them in the 10 days between 13 and 23 December.
6.499 On none of the visits did Ms Arthurworrey obtain a response from inside the flat.
There are two possible explanations for this. Either Victoria had been taken out
by Kouao and Manning, although there is little evidence that at the time she ever
went out, except to church, or Victoria was at home unable to get to the door.
6.500 Apart from a couple more unsuccessful phone calls to Kouao and Manning,
Ms Arthurworrey made just one more attempt at establishing the whereabouts
of Victoria. On 10 January 2000 – more than two months after the November
strategy meeting – she telephoned Bruce Grove Primary School. She knew at the
6 Haringey Social Services
189
end of October that Kouao had intended to register Victoria at the school, so she
rang to see whether Victoria had been registered and was attending. No child of
that name was on the register or ever had been.
6.501 This was clearly no more than a half-hearted step to locate the family before
closing the case. According to Ms Arthurworrey, she had made no checks of the
school before January because she had already formed the view that the reason
Kouao failed to attend her office appointment on 1 December was because she
and Victoria had returned to France. It remained her belief throughout January
and February 2000 that the family had moved out of the area.
File closure
6.502 The third direction given in supervision on 23 December was to “complete
appropriate paper work then NFA [no further action]”. Ms Arthurworrey
understood this to mean that she should prepare her closing summary and
send out a closing letter. Thus it was on 18 February 2000 she wrote to Kouao
at Somerset Gardens. She wrote the following:
“Dear Marie-Therese
I am writing to inform that as you have failed to maintain contact with
this office and your exact whereabouts are unknown, the department will
be closing your file.
If you are experiencing any difficulties, please do not hesitate to contact
our duty team on the above number.
Yours sincerely
Lisa Arthurworrey.”
6.503 Nobody reading this letter, including Kouao, who almost certainly received it,
could have deduced that here was a social services department that had treated at
all seriously allegations of sexual harm made as recently as the previous November.
6.504 In Ms Arthurworrey’s words, the letter was “very basic”. She said she simply did not
know how to write the letter. She had asked Ms Kozinos for advice and assistance
but she was too busy and quite dismissive. Ms Arthurworrey said, “I came away and
I just sat down and thought about it and this is what I came up with.”
6.505 Ms Arthurworrey proceeded to close the case in accordance with local guidelines
and without any further discussion with either her supervisor, Ms Kozinos, or her
team manager, Ms Mairs. She said she prepared a closing summary and recorded
on the last contact sheet “file to be closed”. She also recorded details of the
closing letter that she sent to Kouao and the fact that she had left a message for
PC Jones on 18 January 2000 informing her that Haringey Social Services was
closing Victoria’s file. She believed she handed the file to Ms Kozinos some time
between 18 and 25 February 2000 – although Ms Kozinos suggested that she must
have been given the file for closure by the latest before her next supervision with
Ms Arthurworrey on 21 February, because Victoria’s case no longer appears on the
February supervision record.
6.506 Both the closing summary and the last contact sheet would have been signed by
Ms Kozinos as practice manager. Indeed, Ms Arthurworrey assumed they had been
because she found Victoria’s file in the “close” basket on 25 February. The closing
summary and the last contact sheet would also then have been authorised and
countersigned by Ms Mairs.
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190
6.507 The process for closure was described slightly differently by Ms Mairs, who stated
that only the closing summary would normally be signed off by the practice
manager and then countersigned by the team manager. Yet Ms Arthurworrey
recalled seeing both signatures on the last contact sheet on 25 February – a claim
that cannot be supported by the documentary evidence as both the contact sheet
and closing summary are missing from the file.
6.508 At the final stage in the closure process, Ms Mairs as team manager would have
signed off a local children and families’ assessment action record, marking it for no
further action. This she did. In stark contrast to what she said in her statement to
the Inquiry and in her interview with Mr Monaghan as part of Haringey’s internal
review process, Ms Mairs admitted in oral evidence that she closed Victoria’s case
on the morning of 25 February 2000, the day Victoria died.
Victoria’s final admission to the North Middlesex Hospital and St Mary’s
Hospital Paddington
6.509 At 3.37am on Friday 25 February Mr Robert Philpotts, the out-of-office-hours
social worker for Haringey council, received a telephone call from Dr Pahari at the
North Middlesex Hospital. He was ringing to tell social services that a child known
as ‘Anna’ Kouao had been brought to the hospital in an emergency. She was in
a coma, with an abnormally low temperature, and was breathing slowly with a
slow heart rate. Dr Pahari passed on Kouao’s explanation that Victoria had stopped
eating the day before she became ill and that Kouao had contacted her church
and the church had diagnosed that the child was possessed by an evil spirit. Kouao
denied giving Victoria any drugs or potions, only holy water, and that she and the
church community had prayed for Victoria. When Victoria failed to improve, she
was taken back to the church. From there, Kouao took a minicab to make her way
to the hospital, but as Victoria’s condition appeared to become critical, the taxi
driver stopped at an ambulance station for assistance.
6.510 On examining Victoria, Dr Pahari noticed “several old bruises, scars and ulcers to
her wrists and ankles, streaky bruises across her buttocks as if she had been beaten.
Anna’s face and hands are swollen”.
6.511 Kouao denied she had deliberately harmed Victoria. It was also noted that Victoria
had no GP, did not attend school and that she had been incontinent since July
1999. Dr Pahari told Mr Philpotts that Victoria was critically ill and was being
prepared for transfer to the intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington.
He asked that a duty social worker follow up the case.
6.512 Mr Philpotts typed up a note of what he had been told on an out-of-office-hours
team social work report form, and faxed a copy of it across to the duty team
at 5.07am.
Dr Pahari’s referral
6.513 Mr Almeida was the duty manager in charge that Friday morning. He received
Dr Pahari’s referral from the duty clerk first thing in the morning and attached a
note to the file at 9.30am, setting out the following actions:
“– check register etc;
– previous concerns;
– family composition etc;
– ring hospital clarify nature of referral;
– injury accidental/non-accidental;
– abuse – physical, sexual, neglect;
– discuss with duty senior urgently once the facts have been established.”
6 Haringey Social Services
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6.514 Mr Almeida did not recognise the case at the time, nor did he recall that
Ms Arthurworrey, who by chance was also on duty that day, was the allocated social
worker. Instead he gave the case to Ms Hayes to make some urgent telephone calls
to the North Middlesex Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital Paddington.
6.515 Ms Hayes told the Inquiry, “When I rang North Middlesex they said they had seen
Anna before and she had been there during the summer for scabies [my emphasis].
That is when I realised it was Lisa’s case.”
6.516 Ms Hayes spoke to the consultant, Dr Lesley Alsford. In addition to what Dr Pahari
had already conveyed to social services, Ms Hayes was told that the hospital
suspected that Victoria might have been poisoned and that tests would be carried
out either there or at St Mary’s Hospital. It was thought that cigarette burns might
have accounted for some of the old scars and that the marks on Victoria’s arms and
legs suggested that she had been tied bound. Victoria was unable to straighten her
legs. She had ulcerations on both buttocks and lower legs and her feet were red
and swollen. The child was very malnourished. She had low blood protein and it
was thought she may have been starved. Dr Alsford also told Ms Hayes that Victoria
may have AIDS and that she was of the opinion that the child had been neglected.
6.517 At St Mary’s Hospital, Ms Hayes spoke to Dr Ivan Dillon who told her that Victoria
was in a critical condition and there was a possibility that she would not survive.
The hospital was unsure of the reasons for Victoria’s condition and they were
planning to do a number of tests, including looking at the possibility of HIV/AIDS.
Ms Hayes was told that Kouao was at the hospital and social services should ring
back in the afternoon and speak to Dr Joseph Britto, the consultant on duty, who
might have more information.
6.518 According to Ms Hayes, she then handed over the notes she had made of
her telephone calls to Mr Almeida, who subsequently spoke about the case
to Ms Mairs. In the meantime, Ms Hayes had given a copy of the referral to
Ms Arthurworrey whose case she realised it was.
Immediate reaction to the referral
6.519 Ms Arthurworrey said she went to look for the file and found it in the
administration ‘closed file’ basket. She said she flicked through it at the time
and noticed that both the last contact sheet and closing summary were on the
file. A decision was made to hold a strategy meeting on 28 February 2000 to
be chaired by Ms Mairs. Ms Mairs also listed a number of action points on the
contact sheet which, given Victoria’s critical condition, appear remarkably routine
and demonstrate yet again that she could not have read the details contained in
Dr Pahari’s initial referral or any other case file material. She wrote:
“– strategy meeting 28 February;
– request medical report;
– check school if any concerns;
– check GP if any concerns;
– explain child protection procedures to parent;
– detail risk assessment;
– Invite legal, PCPT, SW;
– Up date Dave Duncan;
– Up date me.”
6.520 In the event, the strategy meeting held on 28 February 2000 was anything but
routine. Ms Arthurworrey said she heard the news from Ms Kozinos and Ms Mairs
that Victoria had died at about 3.45pm on 25 February. The focus of the strategy
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
192
meeting was now no longer a routine child protection case but the death of a child
in unexplained circumstances where deliberate harm was strongly suspected.
After Victoria’s death
6.521 In the meantime, Ms Green had received a telephone call on 25 February 2000
from Dr Rossiter at the North Middlesex Hospital. Dr Rossiter was critical of social
services’ involvement in Victoria’s case so far and she wondered what they had been
doing. She also wanted to alert Ms Green’s team to Victoria’s second admission
to the hospital and her impending transfer to St Mary’s Hospital. Ms Green ran
an index check on Victoria and having established that Ms Arthurworrey was the
allocated social worker she said she contacted her. She also tried unsuccessfully to
contact three line managers, none of whom were in work.
6.522 Ms Green was given the name of an assistant director, outside of the children and
families’ department, who had been named to cover for the absence of the other
three. Between them, based on what Ms Arthurworrey and Dr Rossiter had said
and the information on the client index system, they agreed that no other children
were at risk. On that basis they were content for the strategy meeting to go ahead
as planned for the Monday morning.
6.523 Mr Duncan, the commissioning manager for children’s services for both district
offices, was first alerted to Victoria’s death on the Friday afternoon. He was away
on leave when Ms Kozinos rang to update him. He was telephoned again in
the evening of Sunday 27 February by the out-of-office-hours team to say that
Victoria’s carers had been arrested and the police wanted to see the social services
file. Mr Duncan then sought to contact three people. He left a message for
Ms Wilson, assistant director for children’s services, on her answer-phone asking
her to contact him. He spoke briefly to Ms Graham, commissioning manager
child protection, quality and review, to seek advice regarding disclosure of the file
and to inform her of Victoria’s death. He also spoke to Gerald Lloyd, the principal
solicitor dealing with social services matters in Haringey.
6.524 On the following morning, Monday 28 February 2000, according to Mr Duncan,
Ms Wilson asked for Victoria’s file so that it could be reviewed by senior managers.
Ms Wilson recalled telling someone to secure the file and bring it to her office but
could not remember whether this was over the telephone to Ms Graham or Ms Green.
6.525 Ms Mairs told the Inquiry that she was instructed by Mr Duncan during a meeting
in his room to photocopy Victoria’s file and he confirmed in his statement that a
copy of the file was retained in the district office.
Removal of documents from Victoria’s file
6.526 Exactly what happened during this photocopying session is the subject of several
and diverse accounts. According to Ms Arthurworrey, she followed Ms Mairs to the
photocopy room and saw her pass the file to an administrative assistant to copy.
As Ms Mairs did so, she tore out the last contact sheet saying, “Let us get rid of
this” and Ms Arthurworrey believed she screwed it up but cannot be sure. She was
unable to recall who the administrative assistant was but said she would not have
seen Ms Mairs’s actions as she was doing the photocopying and had her back to
Ms Mairs. Neither the last contact sheet nor the closing summary appear on the file.
6.527 When asked why she did not protest immediately to Ms Mairs, Ms Arthurworrey
said, “Angella Mairs was the headmistress. I was a child who was seen but
could not be heard, and I had seen what happened to those who challenged
Angella Mairs.”
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6.528 It might seem extraordinary that Ms Arthurworrey failed to report what she had
seen, if true, to anyone in authority. She told the Inquiry that she did not know to
whom she could go with this information and feel safe. She had never met either
Ms Wilson, the assistant director who had asked for the file, nor Ms Richardson,
the director of housing and social services, and she did not think of letting either
of them know in writing. Nor did she contact Ms Duncan, the commissioning
manager for the NTDO and Ms Mairs’s immediate line manager. She said:
“I did not feel comfortable in discussing this with Dave Duncan. Primarily
because I knew I was still in Angella’s team and she had made no
attempt to hide the fact that she had removed the last contact sheet,
she just did that.”
6.529 Ms Arthurworrey said her reasons for not making this allegation when interviewed
for the Part 8 review was that she found the interview “very oppressive, the line of
questioning was accusatory and it was blaming”.
6.530 Instead, Ms Arthurworrey chose to tell her friend and colleague Ms Robertson of
the incident the day it happened and Ms Robertson confirmed this in evidence.
Ms Arthurworrey also spoke about it to another colleague a couple of days
later. Ms Robertson told the Inquiry that her conversation with Ms Arthurworrey
was brief – both were shortly due to attend the strategy meeting – but that
Ms Arthurworrey was visibly upset and did not feel she could trust anybody:
“Angella was quite powerful and she was quite assertive in her
personality so I understand why Lisa felt it might not have been acted
upon if it was reported. I can understand her reason.”
6.531 In fact, Ms Arthurworrey thought that it was not until December 2000, when she
responded in writing to Haringey in connection with the draft Part 8 review report,
that she finally made the allegation known to the senior management.
6.532 Ms Green recalled that she was asked by Ms Graham to travel to the NTDO on the
Monday morning to retrieve the file. She set off at about 10am. Asked why this
did not happen immediately after Victoria’s death the previous Friday, she told the
Inquiry that none of her line managers was available to give the instruction and the
senior manager she had spoken to earlier in the afternoon did not suggest that it
was something she should do.
6.533 When Ms Green arrived at the NTDO about half an hour later, Ms Mairs was
expecting her and had already begun photocopying the file. Ms Green was not
surprised by this, she said, because it was normal practice for the district office to
have kept a working copy of the file. She accepted though that on this occasion
where there were no other children of the family at risk the practice was entirely
devoid of purpose.
6.534 Ms Green reckoned that Ms Mairs and the administrator were halfway through the
photocopying by the time she arrived. As the photocopying room was small she
went to wait in the DIAT office where she said she found Ms Arthurworrey. She
waited a further half an hour before returning to the photocopy room. The task
was still not finished and pages of the file were being removed to be photocopied.
According to Ms Green, when she asked to have the file Ms Mairs was dismissive.
She told her she would get it when it was ready.
6.535 Ms Green did not attempt to seize the file. It needed to be recompiled and she
assumed that Ms Mairs had been instructed to copy the file by Mr Duncan, though
she never checked this out. Instead, she sought advice by telephone from her line
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
194
manager, Ms Graham. According to Ms Green, Ms Graham was “incensed” and
told Ms Green: “I am not having it, and I will be contacting managers and you will
be given the file pronto.”
6.536 Ms Green waited another 20 minutes before the file was handed over – the whole
photocopying task having taken, by her reckoning, one hour and 20 minutes.
During this time, Ms Green said Ms Arthurworrey was working in the DIAT office.
She said, “I was not there all of the time because I made a phone call from the
next floor up to my manager. But she was in there a lot of the time.”
6.537 While Ms Green could not account for what Ms Arthurworrey may have observed
prior to her arrival, she was clear, and Ms Arthurworrey confirmed, that nothing
was said to her about Ms Mairs removing pages from the file. If the incident had
happened she would have expected Ms Arthurworrey to report the facts to her and
the opportunity was certainly there for her to do so. Ms Green signed out the file
and took it back to Ms Wilson’s office at about noon.
6.538 Ms Mairs’s version of events that morning differed on a number of counts. She
recalled that both Ms Green and Ms Arthurworrey were present while she was
photocopying the file, although she acknowledged that Ms Green may have
popped out at some time, but not for any lengthy period in her opinion. There
may have been an administrative assistant there, too, but she could not remember.
She thought that Ms Arthurworrey had been taking out sections of the file to
photocopy and then replacing them in the file once they had been photocopied.
The whole process, according to her, lasted no more than 45 minutes.
6.539 Ms Mairs denied categorically removing the contact sheet from the file. She told
the Inquiry: “I did not do that. I have no reason to do that. It does not serve me
any purpose and I would not do that.”
6.540 When asked whether the missing papers would have provided documentary
evidence that she had instructed there to be no further action in Victoria’s case,
Ms Mairs said, “I never denied the fact that I closed the case on 25th and that
I said I did it.”
6.541 While the issue of whether or not Ms Mairs removed the closing summary and last
contact sheet from Victoria’s case file cannot in any way have impeded Haringey’s
handling of her case, the allegation that material evidence was deliberately
removed is extremely serious and a finding either way must impact on the
likely truth of either Ms Arthurworrey’s or Ms Mairs’s evidence to the Inquiry on
other matters.
6.542 In her closing submission, Counsel for Ms Mairs commented that there were
opportunities for others to remove papers from the file and that it was Ms Mairs’s
unchallenged evidence that she did not handle the file between the morning
of Friday 25 February – when Ms Arthurworrey said she last saw the papers in
question – and the morning of Monday 28 February. Ms Arthurworrey’s allegation,
however, is not just that the papers were removed from the file but that she saw
Ms Mairs do so.
6.543 Ms Mairs has also consistently denied that she had any motive for removing the
closing summary and last contact sheet, and that she had always maintained that
she closed Victoria’s file on 25 February, though she said the decision to do so had
been made by Ms Kozinos and Ms Arthurworrey. In fact, this is not the case. In her
statement to the Inquiry, Ms Mairs said that although the file had been passed to
her, at the time of Victoria’s death she had not yet closed the file. Mr Monaghan
in his report similarly observed: “[Ms Mairs] maintains that she had not closed
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the case on 25.2.00. Only the missing documents could verify the status of the
case on 25.2.00.”
6.544 Counsel for Ms Mairs also suggested that it was inherently unlikely that Ms Mairs, a
senior and experienced practitioner, would have behaved in the manner described
by Ms Arthurworrey and in full view of her junior colleagues, knowing “that an
action of this sort would be likely to lead to consequences of the most serious kind”.
6.545 It was Counsel’s submission that Ms Arthurworrey’s account must be seriously
undermined by her failure to report the incident to anyone in authority, either at
the time or at the Part 8 investigation. In Counsel’s words, “She had no compelling
reason for not doing so.” It might also be said in support of Ms Mairs that the
existence on the file of the children and families’ assessment action record, which
she also signed on 25 February for no further action, removed any motive for
Ms Mairs to lie about when she closed the case and hence would have rendered
purposeless the removal of the other documents.
6.546 I am not persuaded by these arguments. That Ms Mairs should have attempted
to convey in her statement to this Inquiry and in interview to Mr Monaghan,
that she had not closed Victoria’s case by the time of her death, when in fact
she had, suggests that she did indeed rashly believe that she could hide the
truth in February 2000 by removing the closing summary and final contact sheet
which bore her signature. It is equally plausible that Ms Mairs simply overlooked
the children and families’ assessment action record when removing the other
documents and, realising that it was still on the file, felt compelled to admit in oral
evidence that she had closed Victoria’s case on 25 February, a fact which she had
previously denied.
6.547 Having seen all the witnesses in connection with this incident, I also attach weight
to the evidence of Ms Robertson who confirmed that Ms Arthurworrey had told
her immediately what had happened and that she seemed to be visibly upset by
the events. That Ms Arthurworrey could and should have immediately reported
the incident to her senior managers and did not – she had ample opportunity
to mention the incident to Ms Green – was clearly a serious mistake. She had no
apparent motive for making up this allegation and it is extremely doubtful that
there would have been any reprisals for taking such action. However, both her and
Ms Robertson’s observations about Ms Mairs’s assertive and powerful personality
would go some way to explaining Ms Arthurworrey’s reluctance in this matter, and
it could also account for Ms Mairs’s belief she could get rid of material evidence
without any attempt to hide her actions and without fear of the consequences.
6.548 Further weight must also be attached to Ms Arthurworrey’s version of events,
in so far as she and Ms Green corroborate each other as to who was involved
in the photocopying, though neither can recall with certainty any details
about the administrative assistant who was present. It also seems clear from
Ms Green’s version that both she and Ms Arthurworrey spent some time in the
DIAT office while waiting for Ms Mairs to complete the photocopying and were
not, as suggested by Ms Mairs, all standing together for most of the time in the
photocopying room.
6.549 Therefore, I am forced to the conclusion that Ms Mairs was responsible for the
removal of the closing summary and last contact sheet from Victoria’s case file.
In the absence of any corroborating testimony, this finding must inevitably cast
some doubt on her evidence to the Inquiry on other matters that relate directly to
Haringey’s handling of Victoria’s case and the events leading up to her death.
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196
Analysis of practice
6.550 It is worthwhile at this point to step back from the chronology of events in
Haringey to analyse in more detail what that chronology shows to have been the
particular deficiencies in the practice of Haringey Social Services in the period with
which I am concerned. The value of such an analysis lies in identifying the steps
necessary to avoid the same problems arising elsewhere.
6.551 Quite apart from the vast amount of documentation that was provided on the
subject, I heard over 20 days of oral evidence concerning the manner in which
Haringey discharged its responsibility to safeguard and promote Victoria’s welfare.
Before commencing a detailed analysis of particular deficiencies in the service
offered to Victoria by Haringey Social Services, it is useful to highlight four simple
facts which do much to explain how it came to be that Victoria’s plight was so
disastrously overlooked for so long.
1 During the 211 days that Victoria’s case was held by an allocated social worker
employed by Haringey Social Services, she was seen by that social worker on only
four separate occasions.
2 On none of those occasions did the social worker spend any more than
30 minutes with Victoria.
3 On none of those occasions did the conversation between the social worker and
Victoria extend much further than “hello, how are you?”
4 The amount of time that the social worker spent discussing Victoria’s case with
those who were responsible for supervising her work amounted to no more than
30 minutes in total.
6.552 One’s instinctive reaction on hearing the details of a case such as Victoria’s, where
the most extreme ill-treatment has gone undetected over a substantial period of
time, is one of disbelief that nobody would seem to have noticed. The incredulity is
increased in those cases in which there has been extensive involvement on the part
of professionals whose job it is to protect vulnerable children.
6.553 Victoria’s case, for the vast majority of the time that she was known to Haringey,
was allocated to a qualified social worker based in an office containing a number
of experienced managers. In view of this, it seems inconceivable that so little was
done to help her. However, if one bears in mind the four facts listed above, it
becomes a little easier to see how important information could have been missed
or ignored.
6.554 However, what these facts do not do is explain why the attention that Victoria’s
case did receive from the staff of Haringey Social Services was so limited and
ineffectual. The answer to that question involves looking more closely at a number
of specific elements of the practice of the staff concerned. That is the purpose of
the section which follows.
6.555 Before turning to consider those particular areas of practice, I wish to make
two points.
6.556 The first is that some of what follows may be thought by some to be self-evident or
to amount to little more than a call for social workers to do the job they have been
trained to do and are paid to carry out. I have some sympathy with this sentiment,
as I was often struck during the course of the evidence to this Inquiry by the basic
nature of the failures illustrated by Victoria’s case.
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197
6.557 I make no apology for labouring these basic points during the analysis that follows.
Victoria’s case, like several others which have prompted Inquiries of this nature,
is one that is characterised by a consistent failure to do basic things properly.
In an environment in which time and resources may well be limited, it is of vital
importance that sight is not lost of the fundamental aspects of sound social
work practice.
6.558 The second point I wish to make at the beginning is that by focusing on specific
elements of the practice of those who had direct dealings with Victoria’s case,
I would not wish to give the impression that I regard those front-line workers as
wholly responsible for the deficiencies revealed.
6.559 It is plainly the case that when any member of staff in any organisation fails
adequately to carry out a basic element of his or her job, then he or she must
shoulder responsibility for that failure. However, where the poor practice concerned
is found to be indicative of generally poor standards across the organisation as
a whole, or where it is contributed to by the front-line staff being inadequately
supported in their roles, then the senior members of that organisation must also
accept their share of the blame.
6.560 The evidence I have heard leads me to the view that the manner in which a
number of senior managers and elected councillors within Haringey discharged
their statutory responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children
living in the borough was an important contributory factor in the mishandling of
Victoria’s case. As such, the failure to adequately protect Victoria should be seen
as a collective failure on the part of those involved with the provision of services
to children and families in Haringey to ensure that adequate systems and practices
were in place at the time, both to ensure that front-line staff carried out their
duties adequately and to detect when they did not.
6.561 Given my views in this regard, I was left unimpressed by the manner in which
a number of senior officers and councillors from Haringey sought to distance
themselves from the poor practice apparent in Victoria’s case. A good illustration
of this attitude was provided by the former chief executive of the council, Gurbux
Singh, who said:
“I have personally thought long and hard about what I could have done
differently, which could have actually led to a situation where the tragedy
of Victoria could not have actually happened. I have thought long and
hard about that. I have thought about the sorts of procedures we could
have put in place beyond that. But I end up thinking I am not sure that
there was a great deal else more that we could have actually done.”
6.562 Mr Singh went on to say that, despite it being absolutely clear that Haringey
had failed adequately to discharge its duty to safeguard and promote Victoria’s
welfare, he was not clear in his own mind where the “line of responsibility” for
that failure lay.
6.563 As I have already made clear, I do not share his uncertainty. As an organisation
charged with the vital task of safeguarding children, Haringey council had a
responsibility to ensure that its front-line staff were providing a proper and safe
service to vulnerable children in the borough. As chief officer of the organisation,
Mr Singh and his senior colleagues had a duty to ensure that such a service
was provided.
6.564 A succession of senior managers and councillors from Haringey gave evidence
before me and expressed their complete surprise at the state of the council’s
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
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front-line services as revealed by the evidence given to this Inquiry by social
workers and their immediate managers. It is the job of the leaders of any
organisation to be aware of conditions on the ‘shop floor’ and the standard of
service provided to its customers. It is their job to identify deficiencies in that
service and put them right. Ignorance cannot, in my view, be a legitimate defence.
Therefore, I make it clear at the outset that the criticisms of practice, below, are
directed not just at the front-line staff concerned but at the senior managers and
councillors whose role it was to ensure that Victoria, together with other vulnerable
children in the borough, received an adequate service.
6.565 I have set out previously in this section a detailed description of the manner in
which Victoria’s case was handled by Haringey Social Services during the seven
months or so that she was known to them. The occasions on which those involved
failed to act in an appropriate and timely manner were numerous and varied.
However, there are a number of particular aspects of Haringey Social Services’
practice, as illustrated by Victoria’s case, which merit more detailed analysis.
They are:
• The manner in which the strategy meetings were conducted.
• The way in which the case was allocated to the social worker.
• The decision to authorise Victoria’s discharge from hospital.
• The manner in which the home visits were carried out.
• The approach taken to Kouao’s credibility.
• The use that was made of Victoria’s case file.
• The supervision received by the social worker.
• The manner in which the case was closed.
• The way in which the allegations of sexual harm were dealt with.
I deal with each in turn.
Strategy meetings
6.566 The 1999 version of Working Together provides the following guidance as to the
circumstances in which it is appropriate to hold a strategy meeting: “Whenever
there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer
significant harm, there should be a strategy discussion involving the social services
department and the police, and other agencies as appropriate (for example,
education and health), in particular any referring agency.” As to the format that
such discussions should take, the guidance avoids being prescriptive, stating
simply, “A strategy discussion may take place at a meeting or by other means
(for example, by telephone).”
6.567 The guidance clearly allows for a degree of flexibility as to the precise form that
strategy discussions should take. In my view, such flexibility is entirely appropriate
because the circumstances in which harm to a child may come to light may be
many and varied. In some cases, formal meetings involving all the involved parties
may be inappropriate in view of the urgency of the situation.
6.568 An inevitable consequence of the flexibility permitted by the national guidance,
however, is that local arrangements and protocols can differ widely. All four sets of
strategy meeting guidelines submitted by the social services departments involved
in Victoria’s case were materially different from each other. In the case of Haringey,
I was told that there was even inconsistency between the local ACPC procedures,
in this respect, and the custom and practice adopted by front-line staff.
6.569 In my view, Victoria’s case demonstrates that the need for flexibility in this area
must be balanced against the danger of confusion arising between the partner
agencies involved as to the proper manner in which to proceed when first faced
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with a case of possible deliberate harm. In other words, while circumstances will
inevitably dictate the precise procedure to be adopted in any given case, minimum
and consistent standards, clearly understood by all the agencies involved, are vital.
6.570 Turning first to the strategy meeting held on 28 July 1999, shortly after Victoria’s
admission to the North Middlesex Hospital, there are a number of respects
in which the perfectly proper decision to have a discussion at this point was
undermined by defects in the procedure adopted. The following are clear examples
of this:
• The meeting should have been held in the North Middlesex Hospital, as required
by the local ACPC procedures. The referral, it will be recalled, had come from
the hospital in the first place and, in the four days that Victoria had spent there,
a significant amount of relevant information had been collected. It should have
been obvious to all concerned that Dr Rossiter’s attendance at the meeting was
absolutely essential. Her commitments at the hospital meant that she did not
have the time to travel to Haringey Social Services offices.
• The meeting was chaired by a senior practitioner, Ms Kozinos, rather than by a
team manager. This, again, was contrary to local ACPC procedures. While the
competency of the chairmanship is, of course, more important than the identity
of the chairman, in my view it is preferable to adopt a clear and consistent
approach in this regard. The effective chairing of a strategy meeting can be
a challenging task. It is best performed by a manager who is experienced in
the work and aware of the responsibilities it carries. Meetings of this nature
are a valuable resource which use up a substantial amount of the limited time
available to busy professionals. The ad hoc allocation of the chairmanship to
whichever manager happens to be free at the time can seriously undermine
their effectiveness.
• The danger of inexperienced or inefficient chairmanship is well illustrated by
Victoria’s case. The 18 action points identified during the course of the meeting
were, for the most part, sound. However, the lack of clarity as to precisely who
was responsible for what, the absence of any timescales for the completion of the
various actions identified, and the failure to circulate copies of the minutes of the
meeting to those with responsibility for taking the strategy forward meant that the
practical impact of those 18 action points was seriously diminished. Again, this is a
defect which adherence to a basic set of procedures could easily have avoided.
• However, of all the deficiencies in the conduct of the strategy meeting, it is the
failure to arrange for a review meeting to monitor the progress of the agreed
strategy which causes me the greatest concern. The ACPC procedures make
reference to the need to “consider” holding such a meeting following a strategy
discussion, but no reference at all is made to the practice in the procedures
drawn up by Ms Mairs for use in the NTDO. In my view, such meetings are
absolutely essential. If one takes Victoria’s case as an example, 18 different
actions were identified as being necessary and were assigned to a variety of
people from a number of different agencies without any specified timescales.
To simply assume that all the tasks would be satisfactorily completed, and that
it was therefore unnecessary to check, was optimistic to say the least.
6.571 That the deficiencies in the manner in which this first strategy meeting was
conducted was not an isolated example of poor practice would seem to be
confirmed by the fact that many of the same faults are apparent in the second
strategy meeting conducted a little over three months later.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
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6.572 In particular, a list of 15 generally sensible action points was produced, which, if
carried out, may have gone a long to way to establishing the danger that Victoria
was in. None of those action points is allocated to a particular individual and none
of them has a specified timescale for completion. In view of this, the repeated
failure to put in place any form of review mechanism is nothing short of disastrous
in the context of Victoria’s case.
6.573 The fact that the two strategy meetings in which her case was discussed were
so ineffective in safeguarding Victoria’s welfare is not explained by any lack of
specialist judgement or expertise on the part of the professionals involved. As
I have made clear above, the lists of recommended action points produced after
each one were detailed, thorough and generally sound. The explanation lies, in my
view, in the basic failure to implement simple procedures that would have ensured
that the strategies agreed upon at the meetings were put into effect.
6.574 The flexibility afforded by the Working Together guidelines would appear to have
led, in the case of Haringey at least, to strategy discussions being organised and
conducted in a haphazard and ad hoc manner, with the inevitable result that
important points were missed.
6.575 Victoria’s case leads me to the view that while professionals must be allowed the
freedom to tailor their response to individual situations as they see fit, and that it
is impossible to lay down a detailed and prescriptive procedure for the conduct
of strategy meetings, the time has come for the introduction of a few basic
minimum standards. By making the recommendation, I aim to ensure that full
value is extracted from strategy meetings and discussions, and that the crucial role
they play in the protection of children is not undermined for want of a few basic
procedures. Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that all strategy meetings and discussions
involve the following three basic steps:
• A list of action points must be drawn up, each with an agreed timescale and
the identity of the person responsible for carrying it out.
• A clear record of the discussion or meeting must be circulated to all those
present and all those with responsibility for an action point.
• A mechanism for reviewing completion of the agreed actions must be specified.
The date upon which the first such review is to take place is to be agreed
and documented.
Case allocation
6.576 The proper and well-thought-out allocation of cases is a central component of
the effective management of a social work team. As with any group of staff, there
will be significant variations among a given group of social workers as to their
respective levels of experience, training and expertise. Perhaps most important
of all, some will have more available time than others by virtue of their current
workloads. All of these factors are relevant to the decision of which social worker
should be allocated a particular case.
6.577 It is clear that effective management of this nature involves a detailed knowledge
on the part of the manager – both of the social workers on his or her team and
the precise state of their current workloads. As was explained to me during the
course of the evidence, the latter requirement cannot be met effectively by simply
6 Haringey Social Services
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maintaining a list of the number of open cases currently held by each social worker
on the team. Bare statistics of this sort can mask the fact that some cases require
far more time and attention than others, and that a particular case, counted as one
for the purposes of such statistics, may involve more than one child in the family.
6.578 It would appear that Victoria’s case was allocated to Ms Arthurworrey by
Ms Baptiste without any consideration of the sort of factors I have previously
described. In the first place, there would seem to have been no assessment
of whether Ms Arthurworrey had the requisite capabilities to handle the case.
Ms Arthurworrey told me that at the time she found Victoria’s case file lying on
her desk, she had never completed a section 47 inquiry, never dealt with a child in
hospital and never taken a case through to case conference. For present purposes,
what concerns me is not whether Ms Arthurworrey was capable of handling
Victoria’s case in a competent manner, but that no assessment of her capabilities
would seem to have been made by her manager before allocating the case to her.
6.579 Nor would there seem to have been any consideration as to whether
Ms Arthurworrey’s workload at the time allowed her to devote enough time to
Victoria’s case. The only system for the monitoring of the workload of individual
social workers in operation in Ms Baptiste’s team at the time was a crude list
of the number of open cases held by each social worker, the more obvious
limitations of which I have just described. Even on the basis of this unreliable
information, Ms Arthurworrey, at the time that she was allocated Victoria’s case,
was holding more cases than virtually all of her colleagues and seven more than
the recommended maximum specified in the office procedures. Again, the issue
for present purposes is not whether Ms Arthurworrey had sufficient time to deal
adequately with Victoria’s case, but rather that no thought would seem to have
been given as to whether or not she did.
6.580 Ensuring that a member of staff has the time and ability to undertake a particular
task before asking them to do so amounts to no more than basic managerial
competence. Therefore, I was greatly surprised to learn not only that this was
not done in Victoria’s case, but that there was no system in place in the office
concerned that suggested it might have been done in respect of other cases.
Ms Arthurworrey’s experience of returning to the office one morning and finding
a new case file sitting on her desk was not, I was concerned to hear, unique.
6.581 With a view to ensuring that such basic lapses in managerial practice are not
repeated elsewhere, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that no case is allocated to a social
worker unless and until his or her manager ensures that he or she has the
necessary training, experience and time to deal with it properly.
6.582 However, proper case allocation does not end with the simple identification of the
right social worker for the job. It requires the manager to ensure that the social
worker understands the work that he or she has been charged with doing. In
practical terms, this would involve the manager and the social worker sitting down
together with the case file and agreeing on the most appropriate manner in which
to take the case forward.
6.583 Nothing of this sort was done in Victoria’s case. The only explanation or guidance
as to how to proceed with the case given to Ms Arthurworrey by Ms Baptiste
would appear to have come in the form of a brief conversation between the two
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
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of them after Ms Arthurworrey had glanced through the file. When asked whether
she found Ms Baptiste’s input on this occasion to be helpful, Ms Arthurworrey
replied, “Ms Baptiste just told me that this was a case about a child who was in
hospital with scabies. No it was not helpful.” Ms Baptiste, she went on to say, did
no more than tell her “to implement the strategy meeting recommendations”.
No indication was given as to when she expected Ms Arthurworrey to have
completed those tasks.
6.584 Apart from the factual inaccuracy concerning the reason why Victoria had been
admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital (which may have influenced the way in
which Ms Arthurworrey approached the case afterwards), there would appear to be
a complete absence of any thought on the part of Ms Baptiste as to how best to
approach Victoria’s case. Consequently, she was unable to offer Ms Arthurworrey
anything in the way of meaningful guidance or assistance in taking the case forward.
6.585 Nor would it seem as though manager and social worker read through Victoria’s
case file at the time of allocation. In addition to gaining a proper understanding
of what needs to be done, and by when, this basic step can help to ensure that
vital information is not missed at the outset of any investigation of the child’s
circumstances. An example of such information in Victoria’s case is provided by
the note on the CP1 form completed by Dr Forlee, which records that Kouao had
previously been in contact with social services, who had apparently suggested that
she and Victoria be separated. This potentially vital piece of information was never
picked up Ms Arthurworrey, despite the inclusion of the document concerned in
Victoria’s case file.
6.586 I appreciate that in many social services departments up and down the country,
the allocation of cases to social workers will routinely follow careful consideration
as to who is best placed to handle the case and a thorough discussion between
social worker and manager as to what needs to be done and by when. Prior to
hearing the evidence to this Inquiry, I would have expected such procedures to
be universal. In an effort to ensure that they become so, I make the following
recommendation:
Recommendation
When allocating a case to a social worker, the manager must ensure that the
social worker is clear as to what has been allocated, what action is required and
how that action will be reviewed and supervised.
6.587 The fact that Victoria had an allocated social worker for the vast majority of the
time that she was known to Haringey Social Services meant that she was, in theory
at least, better served that many other vulnerable children in the borough.
6.588 During the course of the evidence to this Inquiry there were many references to the
problem of open cases which did not have an allocated social worker. By way of
an example, my attention was drawn to a report written by Mr Duncan in January
2001 in which he made the worrying observation that there were 100 unallocated
cases in the NTDO alone.
6.589 The disadvantages inherent in a case being unallocated are obvious. If there is no
particular individual charged with, and responsible for, ensuring that the needs
of the child concerned are met, the likelihood of that child failing to receive
the service he or she needs is increased enormously. While not of direct impact
in Victoria’s case, I heard enough evidence, from Haringey and elsewhere, to
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convince me that the problem of unallocated cases is one that needs urgent
attention. I therefore make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that all cases of children assessed as
needing a service have an allocated social worker. In cases where this proves to
be impossible, arrangements must be made to maintain contact with the child.
The number, nature and reasons for such unallocated cases must be reported to
the social services committee on a monthly basis.
6.590 However, the mere fact of allocation of a case is not enough to ensure that the
child concerned receives the necessary services. The achievement of that objective
requires the social worker concerned regularly to see, speak to and work with
the child and the child’s family. Unless this happens, the fact that the case is
recorded as ‘allocated’ is meaningless. Therefore, in order to ensure that the above
recommendation has the positive impact intended, I make the following additional
recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that only those cases in which a social
worker is actively engaged in work with a child and the child’s family are
deemed to be ‘allocated’.
Discharge from hospital
6.591 The precise sequence of events surrounding Victoria’s discharge from the North
Middlesex Hospital remains unclear. However, there is no doubt that her discharge
was approved by both Ms Arthurworrey and PC Jones following the brief interview
of Victoria they conducted on 6 August 1999.
6.592 In my judgement, the decision that it was appropriate for Victoria to go home was
taken without any proper consideration of whether it was safe for her to do so.
Victoria’s discharge from the North Middlesex Hospital is a key event in the story
of her case. On the morning of 6 August, she was in a safe place and all her basic
needs were being met. By that evening she had been returned to an environment
that would eventually bring about her death a little over six months later.
6.593 Given the importance of the decision, the lack of investigation and analysis
that preceded it is extremely disappointing. In my view, there were at least 10
important steps that were not taken when considering whether Victoria should
have been allowed home. These are:
• No adequate understanding was gained during the course of the interview with
Victoria on 6 August of how she spent her days when she was living with Kouao
and Manning.
• No attempt was made to seek the views of any of the medical staff who had
been involved in Victoria’s care, other than Dr Rossiter and Nurse Quinn.
• Victoria’s notes were not carefully considered, and the concerns expressed in
them were not explored.
• No attempt was made to seek the views of Dr Forlee, the doctor who had made
the initial referral.
• No critical analysis was applied to Kouao’s account of how Victoria had come by
her injuries, and she was not challenged in any meaningful way on the matter.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
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• No visit was made to the home to which it was proposed to return Victoria.
• No effort was made to gain a proper understanding of the nature and causes of
scabies and its links to possible neglect.
• No structured discussion about the case took place between Ms Arthurworrey
and her manager, during which the merits of the decision to discharge were
properly considered.
• No active consideration was given to convening a case conference, or any
other form of multi-agency meeting, in order to explore whether discharge to
Manning’s flat was in Victoria’s best interests.
• No efforts were made to put any community support programme in place
for Victoria. For example, the possibility of enrolling her in a summer play
scheme was not explored, nor were any attempts made to secure community
nursing surveillance.
6.594 In my view, all of the 10 steps should have been taken before deciding that
Victoria could return home with Kouao. They are examples of the sort of rigorous
consideration that must be undertaken before authorising the removal of a child
about whom there have been child protection concerns from a safe place back
to the environment in which the concerns first arose. In an effort to encourage
the application of careful analysis to decisions of this nature, I make the following
recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that no child known to social services
who is an inpatient in a hospital and about whom there are child protection
concerns is allowed to be taken home until it has been established by social
services that the home environment is safe, the concerns of the medical staff
have been fully addressed, and there is a social work plan in place for the
ongoing promotion and safeguarding of that child’s welfare.
Home visits
6.595 Ms Arthurworrey candidly admitted that she was “totally set up” by Kouao and
Manning during the two visits she made to Somerset Gardens. The picture of a
happy and well-cared for Victoria playing contentedly on the floor with a doll was
far removed from the reality of the situation, even at this early stage.
6.596 Although Ms Arthurworrey was by no means the only professional that Kouao
deceived into thinking that she had Victoria’s best interests at heart, she was the
only one who had the opportunity to assess them in their home environment.
Home visits of this nature can be extremely valuable sources of information in
determining how well a child is cared for. That Ms Arthurworrey came away from
both the visits she made to Somerset Gardens without any concern that Victoria
might be in danger owes as much to defects in the approach taken to those visits
as to any deceit on the part of Kouao or Manning.
6.597 In particular, I consider that the following essential components of a successful
home visit were missing on both of the occasions that Ms Arthurworrey went to
Victoria’s home:
• The proper planning of the visit in advance.
• The maintenance by the social worker of an open mind.
• The review of judgements and assumptions made during the course of the visit.
I consider each in turn.
6 Haringey Social Services
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Proper planning
6.598 There would appear to have been a complete absence of any planning or
discussion between Ms Arthurworrey and Ms Baptiste in advance of either of the
home visits. There was no consideration of the types of questions that should be
asked, the background checks that were necessary before undertaking the visit,
the things to look out for in the home, or the manner in which Victoria should be
approached and spoken to. All of these, in my view, are matters that should be
considered in advance of any home visit of this type.
6.599 The absence of any planning or preparation in advance of the visits also meant that
the opportunity was lost to review and, if necessary, challenge the assumptions
that Ms Arthurworrey had made about the case. Before the first visit, it will be
recalled that she had effectively closed the child protection element of the case.
The decision taken with PC Jones at the hospital on 6 August 1999 that Victoria
was not a child at risk of significant harm had been reinforced by her interpretation
of the material she later received from the Central Middlesex Hospital. Had there
been any discussion of the case between Ms Arthurworrey and her manager before
the home visit, the deficiencies in her analysis of the case at this point may have
been exposed. As it was, she simply turned up at the home with a wholly mistaken
view of the sort of case with which she was dealing.
6.600 The same is true of the later visit at the end of October. As the scope of the
discussion between Ms Arthurworrey and Kouao illustrates, the prevailing view
at this stage would seem to have been that the only issue that needed to be
addressed was Kouao’s accommodation difficulties. The child protection referral
concerning Victoria that had been received three months earlier had turned into a
case about an adult with a child who needed better accommodation. Again, had
there been any proper planning of this home visit involving a discussion between
Ms Arthurworrey and her manager, the point may have been made that it was, in
fact, Victoria who was the client in the case. Perhaps then Ms Arthurworrey would
have taken the trouble to talk either to or about her during the course of the visit.
Keeping an open mind
6.601 Turning now to the visits themselves, it was suggested to Ms Arthurworrey during
the course of her evidence that she showed a “lack of inquisitiveness” during the
course of the visits she made in August. Her reply was interesting: “I am a social
worker and I work with the facts as they are presented to me. As I have said to
you, I was more trusting of Kouao when I went on that visit. I am not a detective.
I had no reason to question what I saw and what I was being told at that point.”
6.602 While I accept that social workers are not detectives, I do not consider that they
should simply serve as the passive recipients of information, unquestioningly
accepting all that they are told by the carers of children about whom there are
concerns. The concept of “respectful uncertainty” should lie at the heart of the
relationship between the social worker and the family. It does not require social
workers constantly to interrogate their clients, but it does involve the critical
evaluation of information that they are given. People who abuse their children are
unlikely to inform social workers of the fact. For this reason at least, social workers
must keep an open mind.
6.603 Their managers must also keep an open mind. I have already highlighted the
value of discussion between social worker and manager before a home visit takes
place so as to test assumptions made about the case thus far. I regard it as equally
important for discussion to take place after a visit for the same purpose.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
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Reviewing judgements and assumptions
6.604 By the time that she had returned to the NTDO after the home visit on 16 August
1999, Ms Arthurworrey had formed the view that Kouao was “a respectful adult
who was child focused”. This view had been reached without her questioning
Victoria about her well-being, establishing how she spent her days or following up
any of the concerns expressed by the hospital such as Victoria’s unusually large
appetite. The second home visit would seem to have served only to reinforce
Ms Arthurworrey’s view of Kouao, despite the fact that, once again, no attempt
was made to establish how Victoria spent her days or how she felt about her
current living arrangements.
6.605 These assumptions were never tested in discussion between Ms Arthurworrey and
her manager and so, again, the opportunity was lost to discover the lack of analysis
that had preceded the assumption being made. Even such simple questions as
“How was Victoria?”, “What did she say?”, or “How does she spend her days?”
might have revealed Ms Arthurworrey’s failure to focus on the needs of her client.
In fact, Ms Baptiste would appear to have restricted herself to being the passive
recipient of information given to her by Ms Arthurworrey in the same way that
Ms Arthurworrey had been with respect to Kouao.
6.606 The net effect of these deficiencies in practice is that the valuable opportunities
to gain an insight into Victoria’s situation provided by Ms Arthurworrey’s two
home visits were completely wasted. That the same deficiencies were apparent in
each of the two home visits, and that they were not identified until after Victoria’s
death, would seem to indicate that bad practice of this nature was not unusual
in Haringey at the time. In an effort to ensure that it is not replicated elsewhere,
I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Social workers must not undertake home visits without being clear about the
purpose of the visit, the information to be gathered during the course of it,
and the steps to be taken if no one is at home. No visits should be undertaken
without the social worker concerned checking the information known about
the child by other child protection agencies. All visits must be written up on the
case file.
Working with deceitful people
6.607 One aspect of the manner in which Ms Arthurworrey approached the home
visits crops up on numerous occasions during the course of Haringey’s handling
of Victoria’s case and merits further consideration. I refer to the extent to which
Ms Arthurworrey was prepared to accept at face value that which she was told
by Kouao.
6.608 As recorded earlier, Ms Arthurworrey encouraged me to bear in mind that she
was not “a detective” when considering how inquisitive she should have been
during the course of her home visits. This point was echoed in Haringey’s closing
submissions to the Inquiry, in which I was told that social workers “are not used to
dealing with wholesale deception” of the type perpetrated by Kouao in this case.
6.609 While I accept that both of these points have some validity, I was struck by the
extent to which the information held by Haringey Social Services during the course
of their dealings with Victoria revealed clear inconsistencies in Kouao’s story, of
which the following are some examples:
6 Haringey Social Services
207
• The case file records Kouao’s date of birth as being “18/07/66”, whereas the age
of her eldest child is recorded on the CP1 form as being 24. This would have
meant that Kouao had her first child at the age of nine or 10. This discrepancy
was never explored.
• Kouao’s country of birth varies between Zaire, France and the Ivory Coast
depending upon which document in the case file one looks at. Similar confusion
applied to Victoria. On the record of the 5 November 1999 strategy meeting she
is recorded as being a Zairean Catholic.
• The length of time that Kouao intended to spend in the UK is variously recorded
as a one-year “leave of absence”, “two years to learn English” and “permanent”.
• Various dates between January and March are identified for Victoria and Kouao’s
arrival in the country.
• Several references are made to Manning’s “fiancée” but her identity is never
established.
6.610 Much was made in the evidence of a number of witnesses to the plausibility of
Kouao and how successful she could be at diverting suspicion. In addition to
whatever natural talent she may have had in this respect, she would also seem
to have used the fact that English was not her first language to good effect.
Ms Arthurworrey recalled at one stage that Kouao’s English would sometimes
deteriorate when certain difficult subjects arose, a tendency that was repeated
during the course of her evidence to this Inquiry.
6.611 Nonetheless, it seems to me that a careful review of the available information
would have indicated that there were numerous discrepancies in the information
that Kouao was giving to social services, which needed to be resolved if an
accurate picture of Victoria’s situation was to be established. These discrepancies
were never properly explored.
6.612 Despite the absence of much in the way of investigation and critical analysis of the
available information, it would appear that some of those involved in the case had
their suspicions as to the reliability of Kouao’s version of events. This is illustrated
by the inclusion of the following in the list of 15 action points drawn up at the
5 November strategy meeting: “some proof that the child is hers”.
6.613 This note demonstrates that, over three months after the initial referral had been
made, there were still doubts as to whether Victoria was Kouao’s real daughter.
Unfortunately, there is no record of what prompted those suspicions. There are,
however, plenty of possibilities including the discrepancy in their appearance and
dress, the lack of warmth shown between them, or the infrequency of Kouao’s
visits to the hospital and failure to bring anything for Victoria when she did visit.
Unfortunately, the point is academic in view of the fact that no proof that Victoria
was Kouao’s daughter was ever sought.
6.614 What the point does illustrate, however, is how significant discrepancies in the
account given by the carer can be. If, for example, the suspicion expressed at the
strategy meeting on 5 November had been followed up, the first thing that might
have been done would have been to look at Kouao’s passport which, as the police
later discovered, contained the photograph of a little girl who looked different
to Victoria. Had such a discovery been made, the outcome of this case may have
been different.
6.615 The same might be said in relation to the discrepancies in Kouao’s account of
her background in France. Quite apart from the inconsistencies set out above,
Kouao’s decision to leave a well-paid job in France and come to the UK, where she
was unable to support herself or find satisfactory accommodation was, on the face
of it, curious.
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6.616 At the first strategy meeting on 28 July 1999, the need to carry out checks
concerning Kouao’s and Victoria’s background in France was identified – action
point 17 states: “complete checks in France – International services.” Unfortunately,
the notes of the strategy meeting do not specify what checks were necessary or
how they should be undertaken.
6.617 This may explain why, by the time of the second strategy meeting over three
months later, no such checks had been carried out. Again, the meeting identified
the need to contact the French authorities and the following note was made:
“s/w to complete a check with France if client is previously known. Find out more
information re other children.”
6.618 The investigation carried out by the police after Victoria’s death revealed that a
substantial amount of important information was held by the French authorities
concerning Victoria and Kouao. In addition to the discovery that Kouao owed
French social services a significant amount of money in respect of improperly
claimed benefits, the fact that Victoria had experienced problems with absenteeism
at school and had been subject to a child at risk emergency notification was also
established. A French social worker had also become involved who had noted a
“difficult mother daughter relationship” between Kouao and Victoria.
6.619 The fact that Haringey Social Services proved incapable of discovering this
information while Victoria was alive may be attributable to a lack of awareness on
the part of the staff concerned as to the proper avenues to explore and procedures
to adopt. If that is the case then the situation needs to be addressed. Many social
services departments around the country have to deal on a regular basis with
children who have arrived in this country from abroad. Even in those cases in which
the country of origin of the child concerned is without a developed welfare system,
the child may well have passed through such a country on his or her way to the
UK. The social services departments of those countries are a potentially valuable
source of information. Social workers should be provided with clear guidance and
procedures explaining how best to access such information. It is with this objective
in mind that I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that social work staff are made aware of
how to access effectively information concerning vulnerable children which may
be held in other countries.
Case file management
6.620 During the course of one of his submissions to me, the representative appearing
before the Inquiry on behalf of the NHS witnesses informed me that telling medical
professionals that they should write better notes was like “pushing at an open
door”. In doing so, I expect that he intended to convey something of the wearying
regularity with which this issue arises in the context of investigations of this nature.
Numerous inquiries in the past have called for higher standards of case recording
and the more thorough maintenance of case files by professionals from all agencies
involved in the welfare of children.
6.621 In view of the regularity with which deficiencies in this regard have been identified, it
is disappointing to find them repeated with such regularity throughout Victoria’s case.
One wonders why, if the problem is so universally acknowledged that to identify it
amounts to “pushing at an open door”, it has yet to be properly addressed.
6 Haringey Social Services
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6.622 I have dealt elsewhere in this Report with the importance of recording all relevant
information concerning a child in his or her case file or notes and have made a
general recommendation to this effect directed at all the agencies involved. I do
not propose to repeat those matters here, particularly in view of the fact that my
concerns regarding the management of Victoria’s case file in Haringey are of a
slightly different nature.
6.623 The case file is the single most important tool available to social workers and
their managers when making decisions as to how best to safeguard the welfare
of children under their care. It should clearly and accessibly record the available
information concerning the child and the action that has been taken on the case
to date. Reference to the case file should be made at every stage of the case and
before any significant decision is made.
6.624 My concern regarding the Haringey case file is not that it contained glaring
omissions, but rather that so little use would seem to have been made of it by
those with responsibility for Victoria’s case. As I have mentioned earlier, the case
file would not appear to have been read by Ms Baptiste at the time she allocated
Victoria’s case to Ms Arthurworrey. Nor, it would seem, was any meaningful
reference made to the file during the course of the supervision sessions in which
Victoria’s case was briefly discussed. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is the fact
that the second strategy meeting proceeded in the complete absence of Victoria’s
case file, despite the fact that it was sitting in the next room at the time.
6.625 The lack of reference to the case file at these and other stages in Victoria’s case may
go some way to explaining why so many important steps were missed. It is not
difficult to envisage how, for example, the review during the course of supervision
of the lengthy lists of action points produced after the two strategy meetings would
have revealed that there was much outstanding work to be done. It is extremely
frustrating to think how important a difference such a basic and self-evident element
of good social work practice could have made in Victoria’s case. The information
contained in Victoria’s case file should have been more than sufficient to prompt
effective social work intervention in her case. That it was not read at key points is
indicative of extremely poor practice and a matter much to be regretted.
6.626 It is impossible for me to form any judgement as to how easy it would have been
for a reader of Victoria’s case file to have gleaned from it the relevant information
at various stages along the way. The reason for this is that by the time that it
reached the Inquiry, the case file had been taken apart and copied on several
occasions and was no longer in its original order.
6.627 However, it may be that a contributory factor in the failure of various professionals
involved in Victoria’s case to read the file was that the information was not
presented in a sufficiently convenient and accessible way. If only a limited amount
of time is available for supervision, for example, the manager concerned may feel it
is not worth spending it trying to make sense of a jumble of papers in the file.
6.628 This is one of the reasons why I regard the inclusion in any case file of a clear,
comprehensive and up-to-date chronology as absolutely essential. In addition to
saving valuable time that would otherwise be spent trying to extract the relevant
information from a number of documents, such a chronology would also help to
identify actions ordered on the case which had yet to be completed. The discipline
of preparing the initial chronology at the outset of the case is also valuable given
that it would require the allocated social worker carefully to read the file before
embarking upon the assessment.
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6.629 If it is to be comprehensive, a chronology will, in many cases, have to take account
of the information possessed by other agencies involved and the work they carry
out on the case. As the agency best placed to co-ordinate the collection of the
relevant information, I regard it as the responsibility of social services to maintain
the chronology, seeking the input of other agencies as appropriate. In order to
ensure that social services are clear as to their obligations in this regard, I make the
following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that every child’s case file includes, on
the inside of the front cover, a properly maintained chronology.
Supervision
6.630 There is now a good deal of consensus as to the key features of effective social work
supervision. In particular, it is widely recognised that such supervision should be
well documented and should include the discussion of individual cases. In addition,
supervision provides an opportunity to challenge assumptions and judgements that
have been made regarding particular cases and to agree plans of action. All of these
elements are present in the supervision policies and guidance in use in Haringey
Social Services at the time that they were dealing with Victoria’s case.
6.631 Unfortunately, it is very difficult to see these principles reflected in the supervision
that was offered to Ms Arthurworrey when she was dealing with Victoria’s case.
6.632 The first formal supervision that Ms Arthurworrey received concerning her work
on Victoria’s case took place on 20 September 1999, some two months or so after
the case had first been allocated to her. Although a delay of two months between
allocation and first supervision in a case of this nature is unsatisfactory, it is the
nature of the supervision when it was provided that causes me most concern.
6.633 As I have noted previously, Victoria’s case file was not read by Ms Baptiste either
before, during or after the supervision session. Her failure to do so meant that
her knowledge of the case was entirely dependent upon what she was told by
Ms Arthurworrey. The limitations of such a situation are obvious. If the manager
knows only what she is told by the social worker, it will be virtually impossible for
her to identify action points that had been missed or to challenge constructively the
social worker’s understanding. A prime example of the limitations of this approach
to supervision provided by Victoria’s case is the fact that Ms Baptiste would appear
to have been unaware during this supervision session that the majority of the action
points identified at the July strategy meeting had yet to be completed.
6.634 In addition to the lack of preparation that preceded it, the supervision session itself
was characterised by a complete lack of thoroughness or analysis. The record of the
session written by Ms Baptiste on the case file runs to a total of eight handwritten
lines which, for the first supervision session in a case referred with child protection
concerns, is wholly inadequate.
6.635 The brevity of the record merely reflects the lack of time spent discussing the case
which, according to Ms Arthurworrey, did not extend much beyond five minutes.
Supervision of this length in a case of the complexity and seriousness of Victoria’s
can amount to no more than the rubber-stamping of the decisions and judgements
already made by the social worker. Overall, one is left with the clear impression
that the objective of this first supervision session was simply to get through the
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cases as quickly as possible, with the manager acting as the passive recipient of
whatever information the social worker decided to give her.
6.636 During the seven months or so that she had responsibility for Victoria’s case,
Ms Arthurworrey participated in a total of four supervision sessions in which
it was discussed. The other three would seem to have followed a very similar
pattern to the first session, in that the case file was never read and very little in
the way of meaningful analysis took place. As a result, whatever mistakes or errors
of judgement that Ms Arthurworrey may have made during the course of her
handling of Victoria’s case went undetected by her immediate managers.
6.637 The nature and extent of the supervision that Ms Arthurworrey received in Victoria’s
case would seem, from the evidence I heard, to have been typical of the practice
in the NTDO at the time. Thorough supervision appears to have been one of the
casualties of the inability of some staff to cope with the day-to-day pressures of work
in the team. While it may have been possible to record supervision as occurring,
and to report as much to senior managers, its quality was extremely poor.
6.638 Effective supervision is the cornerstone of safe social work practice. There is no
substitute for it. In particular, the need for such supervision cannot be met by what
were referred to as ‘corridor conversations’ between managers and staff. A number
of such conversations regarding Victoria’s case took place between Ms Baptiste and
Ms Arthurworrey before the first formal supervision session that I have described
earlier. A number of extremely important decisions about Victoria’s case would
seem to have been taken by Ms Baptiste during the course of informal, ad hoc
discussions of this nature, of which the following are examples:
• She agreed to the cancelling of the planned home visit prior to Victoria’s
discharge from hospital.
• She endorsed Ms Arthurworrey’s interpretation of the material received
from the Central Middlesex Hospital that there were no longer any child
protection concerns.
• She accepted Ms Arthurworrey’s interpretation of the information obtained
during the October home visit that there were still no child protection concerns.
• She decided that the concerns expressed by Dr Rossiter, as relayed via
Ms Kitchman, required no further action.
6.639 All of these important decisions were made during the course of informal
discussions and without reference to the case file. They illustrate the amateurish
way in which the supervision of Victoria’s case was approached. The significance
of the inadequacy of the supervision given to Ms Arthurworrey cannot be
overstated. As with so many aspects of Victoria’s case, the faults would have been
remedied by the straightforward observance of basic practice standards. In this
instance, the outcome for Victoria might have been different if her case file had
ever been read by those who were supposed to be supervising Ms Arthurworrey.
The recommendation which addresses this is in paragraph 6.59.
Case closure
6.640 The need to thoroughly read the case file before taking any important decision
on a case is never more vital than when consideration is being given to closing it.
The mechanics of case closure are straightforward – all that is generally considered
necessary is that a manager or senior practitioner endorses the view reached by
the social worker in charge of the case that there is no reason to keep it open any
longer. However, implicit in such a system is the requirement that the manager or
senior practitioner concerned carefully reviews the case to ensure that there is not
further work for social services still to do.
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6.641 Ideally, therefore, a social worker, having carried out all the action identified
as necessary on the case, would present that case to a manager who, having
verified that this was indeed so, would endorse the decision to close the case.
The sequence of events in Victoria’s case was very different.
6.642 The strategy meeting held on 5 November added a further 15 action points to
those that remained outstanding from the earlier strategy meeting in July. By this
stage there were approximately 30 individual steps that had been identified as
necessary in Victoria’s case, but which had yet to be completed. Despite the fact
that all this work remained outstanding, Victoria was never seen again by anyone
from Haringey Social Services after 2 November, when she was brought to the
NTDO to withdraw the allegation of sexual harm.
6.643 Instead, her case was allowed to limp listlessly towards the point at which those
involved would seem simply to have lost interest in doing anything proactive
on it. The chronology of what Ms Arthurworrey did in respect of Victoria’s case
during the four months or so between the November strategy meeting and the
decision to close the case makes for depressing reading. A letter was written, a few
telephone calls were made and three visits were made to the flat, none of which
found anyone at home.
6.644 Therefore, when the case was passed to Ms Mairs for closure, the file should
have revealed that, far from the thorough completion of all identified tasks,
the preceding four months had witnessed nothing but sporadic and ineffectual
attempts to get in contact with the family concerned.
6.645 The last time that this child had been seen she had been making and withdrawing
allegations of sexual harm in a manner identified by all those involved at the time
as suspicious. As a result, a strategy meeting had been called at which 15 action
points had been identified, several of which involved seeing and speaking to
Victoria. As even a brief reading of the case file would have revealed, virtually no
progress had been made on any of those action points.
6.646 Even if the manager concerned was interested only in whether there were sufficient
grounds for safely assuming that Kouao and Victoria had left the borough, the
case file would have revealed that there were important steps that had yet to be
taken. For example, no checks had been made with the health services to ascertain
whether Victoria had received further treatment, no attempt had been made to
speak to any of Manning’s neighbours to establish who was living at the flat, and
no contact had been made with the French authorities in an effort to establish
whether Kouao and Victoria had indeed returned to France.
6.647 The closure of a case should be the result of a job well done, not the result of a
desire to have one less case to worry about. Victoria’s case file shows that there
was much still to be done on her case at the time that it was closed. In those
circumstances there would appear to be two possibilities. Either the case file was
not read before it was signed off for closure, or it was read and the decision to
close it was made in the knowledge that there were concerns that had yet to be
resolved and important steps that had yet to be taken. Both would amount to very
poor practice indeed.
Sexual harm allegation
6.648 Finally, I turn to consider the manner in which Haringey dealt with the allegation
made on 1 November 1999 that Manning had sexually harmed Victoria.
6 Haringey Social Services
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6.649 In many respects, an allegation of specific harm done to a child by a named
individual is easier to deal with from a social services point of view than a more
vague referral of general suspicion. This is not least because of the wealth of
procedures and guidance that have been produced in order to assist social workers
in identifying the correct steps to take. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to
learn that Haringey’s handling of the 1 November allegation was flawed in almost
every material respect.
6.650 The crucial error, in my view, was the failure by social work staff, after they had
been informed of the allegation and had invited Victoria and Kouao to attend
the office, to arrange for a police officer to be present when they arrived. That
police officer could then have assisted social services in interviewing both Kouao
and Victoria at an early stage. The result of this failure was that when Kouao and
Victoria did arrive, they were interviewed in an entirely inadequate manner.
6.651 First, Kouao was spoken to by two social workers – neither of whom had ever been
trained in the conduct of interviews of this nature and neither of whom had, by
that stage, completed a section 47 investigation. No notes of this interview were
taken at the time, although Ms Arthurworrey was able to recall that she told Kouao
that the police would be involved and that Manning would be arrested.
6.652 Secondly, Victoria was spoken to by the same inadequately trained social workers.
Despite her apparent willingness to talk about what had happened to her she
was discouraged from doing so, apparently due to the fact that the social workers
realised by this stage that the police should be involved in that process. Had a
properly trained child protection officer been involved from the outset, Victoria’s
account could have been obtained at the time that she seemed anxious to give it.
The disadvantages of discouraging a child in Victoria’s situation from telling social
workers what has happened to her are obvious.
6.653 Only after they had interviewed both Kouao and Victoria did Haringey Social
Services contact the police. By this time it was after 4pm and PC Jones, to whom
the case was allocated, had gone home for the night. I comment elsewhere in this
Report as to the adequacy of the police’s response at this stage, but for present
purposes it is sufficient to note that had the police been involved from the outset,
this particular difficulty would not have arisen.
6.654 Victoria and Kouao were then allowed to leave the office supposedly to stay with
the Kimbidimas, a family about which virtually nothing was known. No checks
were made as to what the sleeping arrangements would be, how Victoria and
Kouao would be fed and looked after or what, if any, connection the Kimbidimas
had with Manning, the alleged perpetrator of the harm.
6.655 Thereafter, nothing of any value was done apart from scheduling a strategy
meeting for 5 November 1999, some four days after the allegations had first been
made. The timing of the strategy meeting is curious to say the least. While an
immediate strategy meeting prior to the commencement of a joint investigation
may have made sense (as for that matter would a strategy meeting at the end of
the initial investigation when all the parties had been interviewed), I can see no
logical basis for the decision to call the meeting in the middle of an investigation
which had yet to yield any findings.
6.656 To summarise, my view is that when dealing with specific allegations of harm to
children, such as the one with which Haringey were presented on 1 November
1999, there a number of steps which must be taken immediately. I set out a list of
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
214
the immediate action which should have been taken on Victoria’s case and which
provide a practical template for use in such cases:
• During the same day that the allegations were made, both Victoria and Kouao
should have been seen and spoken to at a mutually agreed safe place by a
properly trained police officer and social worker.
• Kouao should have been spoken to first and a detailed note made of what she
had to say at that time.
• Victoria should then have been interviewed with the use of a video camera.
• If, during the course of that interview, Victoria had made allegations about
Manning, he should have been arrested and interviewed by the police. At that
point consideration should have been given to obtaining medical and legal advice.
• Social services should then have taken steps to find safe and secure
accommodation for Kouao and Victoria. This would involve satisfying themselves
that the sleeping arrangements would be adequate and that they would have
sufficient means of supporting themselves. Emergency contact details should
have been provided.
• Social services and the police should then have reviewed the work they had done
and agreed a set of next steps in the investigation.
6.657 All of the steps could and should have been taken on the same day that the
allegation was first reported.
7 Tottenham Child and Family Centre
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7 Tottenham Child and
Family Centre
7.1 In drafting this section of the Report I was greatly helped by the closing
submissions made by Counsel to the Inquiry. They seem to me to summarise
accurately the material evidence, and I have drawn on them heavily in the
paragraphs that follow.
7.2 The Tottenham Child and Family Centre was situated in Moira Close, Tottenham,
and was one of two centres established under a partnership agreement between
Haringey council, Haringey Health Care NHS Trust and the NSPCC.
7.3 The managers of the centres were employees of either the council or the health
authority, but they reported to Catriona Scott who was employed by the NSPCC
and was responsible for the day-to-day management of the centres. According to
Ms Scott, “The main function of the family centres was to provide planned family
services relating to health and welfare.”
The referral
7.4 On 5 August 1999, Victoria’s case was referred to the Tottenham Child and Family
Centre by Barry Almeida, a practice manager at the North Tottenham District Office
of Haringey Social Services. He had no independent recollection of having made the
referral, basing his evidence instead on the handwritten notes he made on the case
file, the relevant part of which reads: “Referred to Moira Close Family Centre. They
have taken referral but say will take up to two months for assessment.”
7.5 Mr Almeida’s note also indicates that the family centre was, in fact, the third
organisation that he had contacted in an effort to persuade someone to visit
Victoria’s accommodation. His first port of call would seem to have been the health
visiting service that, according to the notes, informed him that they would “not
be involved in hygiene assessment of this nature. It would be the school nurse”.
As Mr Almeida correctly recorded in his notes, this posed something of a problem
given the fact that Victoria was not attending school.
7.6 There is nothing to suggest that the point was pushed with the health visiting
service. Instead, Mr Almeida tried the environmental health service. His notes
indicate that the response he got from them was to be told that people are
“allowed to be as squalid as they like in their own home, as long as they do not
cause a public health hazard”. For this reason, it would seem, they also were not
prepared to undertake a visit.
7.7 Having drawn a blank with both the health visiting service and the environmental
health service, Mr Almeida decided to try the family centre. In addition to the
notes he made on Victoria’s case file, the fact that it was indeed Mr Almeida
who made the call would seem to be confirmed both by the written evidence of
Anna Ieronimou, the family centre officer who took the referral, and by the family
centre’s own referral sheet, which names Mr Almeida as the referrer.
Reasons for the referral
7.8 However, what is less clear is what Mr Almeida hoped to achieve by making the
referral. There would seem to be two possibilities. He initially stated in his oral
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
216
evidence that the purpose of his call was to obtain advice from the family centre
as to what precautions Lisa Arthurworrey should take when visiting Victoria’s home
in light of the fact that Victoria had previously been diagnosed with scabies. This
would appear to contradict the impression given by his statement, which was
that he telephoned the family centre because of its ability to carry out parenting
assessments and provide family support.
7.9 The discrepancy is plainly an important one. There is a very significant difference
between social services telephoning another agency in order to obtain advice as
to how to proceed themselves, and seeking to transfer to that other agency some
responsibility for the provision of support services to the family concerned.
7.10 Unfortunately, however, when this discrepancy was put to him, Mr Almeida
was unable to provide me with much assistance. Instead, he introduced a third
possibility by suggesting that his reasons for calling the family centre were in fact a
combination of both. In other words, he was concerned both to obtain advice for
Ms Arthurworrey and to prompt some form of action by the family centre directed
at Victoria’s welfare. However, he was unclear as to what action he expected the
family centre to take.
7.11 The confusion as to exactly why he telephoned the centre is illustrated by
Mr Almeida’s admission during the course of his evidence that he did not really
think about the referral or whether or not it was appropriate at the time. He
accepted that the referral should not have been made until the reasons for it had
been carefully thought through, and that the lack of clarity from him probably led
to the family centre staff being confused as to what exactly they were supposed
to do.
Initial handling of the referral
7.12 Despite the confusion on the part of the referrer as to precisely what he hoped to
achieve, the family centre did pick up the referral and log it on their system.
7.13 The ‘system’ was described by Sylvia Henry, the practice manager, in her evidence.
It would seem to have consisted of the recording of the name of the child and
the basis for the referral on a sheet of paper. The sheet was then placed into the
‘referrals box’, the contents of which were checked every Friday at a managers’
meeting. During the course of that meeting, each new referral was logged in
a book and allocated to a practice manager. The practice manager would then
decide whether to deal with the case him or herself, or to pass it on to a family
centre officer. Once that decision had been made, the name of the manager or
officer to whom the case has been allocated was noted down in the logbook
together with an indication of the action required.
Allocation of the referral
7.14 According to Ernell Watson, a practice manager at the family centre, Victoria’s
case came up for allocation at the managers’ meeting on 13 August 1999. Why
it was not considered at the first meeting after it had been received, namely
Friday 6 August, is unclear. I had originally been led to believe that the reason
no meeting took place that day was due to the family centre hosting a party
for a group of its users. However, it would appear that there was a meeting,
as evidenced by a document that appeared to be the minutes of the 6 August
meeting. Ms Watson amended her statement, in light of this document, to remove
the reference to the cancellation of the 6 August meeting. She was unable to
provide me with any further assistance with the matter, however, due to the fact
that, as the minutes confirm, she was not present at that meeting. I am unable to
form any conclusion, therefore, as to why Victoria’s referral stayed in the family
centre’s referral box until the following week.
7 Tottenham Child and Family Centre
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7.15 On 13 August 1999, Victoria’s referral was allocated to Ms Henry, a qualified social
worker. Ms Henry confirmed in her evidence that, at the time that it was allocated
to her, Victoria’s case was marked as ‘urgent’. There would seem to be little doubt
as to whether or not this was the case in view of the fact that Ms Watson made
the following note on the family centre’s contacts sheet on 13 August 1999: “Case
needs to be actioned ASAP.”
7.16 Ms Henry explained that, on receipt of a new case, the first thing that she
would do would be to determine whether further information was needed from
the referrer or whether she could proceed directly to an initial assessment. In
Victoria’s case she decided that further information from the referrer was needed.
She asserted that it would be her usual practice when dealing with urgent cases
to make such inquiries as may be necessary within a short time. She could not
envisage circumstances where she would have been unable to follow up an urgent
referral during the course of the week following its allocation.
7.17 Up to this point, it seems as though the sequence of events can be followed fairly
easily. Mr Almeida made a referral to the family centre on 5 August. The family
centre had agreed to accept the referral. It was taken by Ms Ieronimou and was
placed in the referrals box pending allocation. At the managers’ meeting on
13 August the referral was taken out of the referrals box and allocated to Sylvia
Henry for urgent action. Ms Henry accepted responsibility for the referral. Having
considered the information available at that stage, she decided (unsurprisingly,
given Mr Almeida’s vagueness as to what he expected the family centre to do)
that more information was required from the referrer. She was aware of the need,
therefore, to contact Mr Almeida at the earliest available opportunity during the
following week.
Ms Henry’s note
7.18 It is at this stage, however, that the evidence becomes slightly opaque. The source
of the difficulty is the next note which appears on the family centre’s contact sheet.
It reads: “T/C Barry Almeida. Family now moved out of the borough and case
closed.” The note is not signed but Ms Henry did not seek to dispute the fact that
she made it. Neither, unfortunately, is it dated. This latter omission is significant.
7.19 Ms Henry stated in evidence that her departure from her usual practice of signing
and dating all entries on the file can only be explained by her being interrupted at
the critical moment. Unfortunately, she seemed to have no recollection of when
her conversation with Mr Almeida, in which she was told that the ‘family’ had
moved out of the borough, took place. Mr Almeida was clear in his evidence that
the only phone call that he made to the family centre was on 5 August 1999 when
he made the initial referral. No written reference to any other telephone call either
to or from the family centre can be found in Haringey’s case file.
7.20 The most curious aspect of Ms Henry’s note, however, is not the fact that it refers
to a telephone call (the existence of which is disputed by the other party), but
that it records information that is plainly incorrect – Kouao and Victoria never did
leave the borough. Therefore, it is surprising that this assertion should have been
made by anyone in Haringey Social Services. It is even more surprising if one were
to accept Ms Henry’s assertion that she would have followed up Victoria’s referral
promptly after it was allocated to her on 13 August. It is conceivable that someone
at the North Tottenham District Office might have formed the view that Victoria
and Kouao had left the borough by December 1999 or January 2000 – this was the
period during which Lisa Arthurworrey was trying unsuccessfully to contact them.
Given that this is the case, it is very hard to see how anyone could have reached
this conclusion at any point during the three months or so after Ms Henry assumed
responsibility for the case. Furthermore, it would have been readily apparent to
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
218
anyone in the North Tottenham District Office who took the time to check, that
Victoria’s case was not closed until 25 February 2000.
Alternative explanations
7.21 In attempting to establish the accurate position in light of these apparent
inconsistencies, Counsel to the Inquiry identified four possible versions of events,
each of which was put to Ms Henry. They were as follows:
• Ms Henry did not follow up Victoria’s referral by calling the North Tottenham
District Office until some time after 1 December 1999, the earliest date on which
it could even have been suspected by Haringey Social Services that Victoria and
Kouao had left the borough. (It was on this date that Kouao failed to attend the
North Tottenham District Office for an appointment, without explanation.) If this
were true, Ms Henry would have done nothing on this urgent case for at least
three and a half months.
• Ms Henry did call the North Tottenham District Office promptly after being
allocated Victoria’s referral and was given entirely false information by
whoever she spoke to at the office. This would mean that despite the fact that
Ms Arthurworrey had visited Kouao and Victoria on 16 August 1999, someone
at the North Tottenham District Office decided to tell Ms Henry that the family
had left the borough and the case was closed.
• The note that Ms Henry made on the family centre’s contact sheet was not
an accurate reflection of what she was told. In other words, she misheard or
misinterpreted what was said and somehow gained the impression that the
family had moved. This explanation provides no assistance with the question of
when the call was made – such a mistake could have been made at any time up
to the date of Victoria’s death.
• The entry made by Ms Henry on the contacts sheet was written in after it
emerged that Victoria had died, in an effort to explain away the fact that nothing
had been done by the family centre in respect of the referral throughout the six
months leading up to Victoria’s death.
7.22 Having given the matter careful consideration, I am unable to add any further
plausible alternatives to Counsel’s list. Which of the four scenarios is to be preferred
is not an easy question to answer.
7.23 Ms Henry was unable to provide much assistance in respect of this issue. She could
not remember the telephone call and she could not say for sure what she was told
and when. This is unfortunate because the matter is a significant one. If it is the
case that Ms Henry was told relatively soon after she assumed responsibility for
Victoria’s referral that Victoria and Kouao had moved and their case was closed,
the fact that no action was taken on Victoria’s case by the family centre may be
easily explained.
7.24 Ms Henry refuted the suggestion that she added the entry after Victoria’s death
in order to attempt to explain her inactivity. She also invited me to reject the
conclusion that she did nothing on the case until some time after 1 December
1999. She agreed that there was a possibility that she did not correctly record
what she was told during the course of the conversation that she allegedly had
with Mr Almeida but invited me to conclude that she did make a call to the North
Tottenham District Office before February 2000, during which Mr Almeida told her
that the family had moved out of the borough and the case had been closed.
7 Tottenham Child and Family Centre
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7.25 In attempting to reach a view on this matter I also took into account the fact that
Victoria’s case was closed on the family centre’s computerised information system
on 15 March 2000. This may be significant as I was told by Ms Henry that cases
tended to be closed on the system within a month or so of them being identified
as requiring no further action by family centre staff.
7.26 The fact that the case was closed on 15 March 2000 may indicate, therefore,
that Ms Henry was not told that Victoria and Kouao had left the borough until
some time in February. Were this to be the case, it might provide an explanation
for why she was told that the family had left the borough, as there had been no
contact between Kouao and anyone at the North Tottenham District Office for
approximately three months. However, it would still not explain why nothing was
done in relation to Victoria’s case until six months after the referral had first been
received by the family centre.
7.27 Having given this matter careful consideration, I am unable to reach a conclusion
in which I have any confidence. No satisfactory account of how and when
Ms Henry’s entry on the contact sheet came to be made has been provided,
and I can do no more than speculate as to the true position.
Case recording
7.28 However, what is clear is that the handling of Victoria’s case by the family centre
provides another example of the importance of adequate record-keeping and
supervision of cases. For reasons that it is unnecessary for me to rehearse, the
importance of recording and monitoring action taken in response to a referral
concerning a vulnerable child cannot be overstated.
7.29 The NSPCC is not one of the agencies covered by the Terms of Reference of this
Inquiry. Nonetheless, it is clear that through the work of the family centre for
which it was responsible, the NSPCC did have some involvement with Victoria’s
case, by virtue of which it may have had an opportunity to have made a material
difference to its outcome. In view of this, I am grateful for the assistance provided
to the Inquiry by the NSPCC.
7.30 That assistance included the making of a closing submission by its director, Mary
Marsh. During the course of that closing submission she addressed the issue of the
adequacy of the manner in which the handling of Victoria’s referral was recorded
and supervised by the family centre. In my view, she put the matter very fairly
when she made the following statement in relation to the handling of Victoria’s
case after its allocation to Ms Henry on 13 August 1999:
“The record thereafter is inadequate and incomplete with no evidence of
immediate action despite the recognition of the urgency in the original
indication. Regrettably, the only evidence we have is the undated note
on the file made by the practice manager, that she was told in a phone
call with Haringey Social Services that the family had moved away, with
no date recorded or recalled.
There are serious issues here about the inadequate maintenance of
records and the supervision and monitoring [of] the progress of cases
and referrals, which we recognise and we accept are our fault in this
case. It should not have been possible for this referral to have been left
without any follow up, apparently for so long.”
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
220
Uniformity of referrals
7.31 Ms Marsh went on to make a further point in this regard with which I also agree.
She explained how a necessary result of the careful and accurate recording of
referrals once they have been received by an organisation such as the family
centre, is that the referrers themselves act in a consistent and regulated manner.
Vague telephone referrals, unconfirmed in writing, such as the one made by
Mr Almeida, make the job of all concerned far more difficult than necessary. I also
heard evidence to suggest that this was merely one of several ways in which
referrals were made to the family centre.
7.32 If the involvement of the family centre in Victoria’s case illustrates anything, it is
that the valuable work of organisations such as this can be seriously undermined
by a lack of basic systems and processes. It is vital that all those involved in the
protection of children adopt a rigorous and professional attitude to their work if
important opportunities to help children in Victoria’s situation are not to be missed.
What should have been done?
7.33 The value of such opportunities was graphically illustrated by the evidence given by
Ms Henry and Ms Watson as to what Ms Henry would have done had she followed
up Victoria’s case in accordance with her usual practice and the family centre’s
established procedures.
7.34 The family centre’s performance indicators required that initial assessments be
completed within six weeks of the receipt of the referral. However, both Ms Henry
and Ms Watson agreed that a shorter period would be appropriate in cases such as
Victoria’s, which had been clearly identified as urgent.
7.35 Therefore, at some point well before the end of September, Ms Henry would
have carried out an initial assessment of Victoria’s situation. I was told that this
would have involved the making of further inquiries of social services as to the
circumstances of the case, together with a home visit carried out by a member
of the family centre’s staff. On the basis of the information obtained during the
course of such a visit, the family centre staff would have considered how best to
support Kouao and Victoria. This may have involved regular home visits or the
enrolment of Victoria in some form of daycare activity.
7.36 The potential impact of such support in the context of Victoria’s case is
self-evident, and it is a matter much to be regretted that she never benefited
from the expert attention of either Ms Henry or any other member of the family
centre staff.
8 Enfield Social Services
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8 Enfield Social Services
The managerial context
8.1 Enfield Social Services had case responsibility for Victoria for just over 24 hours
– from 3.15pm on Monday 26 July 1999, when she was referred to the North
Middlesex Hospital social work team, until 4.30pm on Tuesday 27 July 1999,
when they transferred responsibility for the case to Haringey Social Services.
8.2 That the local authority of Enfield had any involvement with Victoria at all was
largely a matter of history and geography. The North Middlesex Hospital is in
the borough of Enfield, just north of the Haringey border and about 12 minutes’
walk from Haringey’s North Tottenham District Office. Karen Johns, the Enfield
hospital social worker allocated to Victoria’s case, thought that about 75 per cent
of the children admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital came from the borough
of Haringey. Yet in 1999, Haringey employed no social workers at the hospital.
That has since changed.
8.3 At that time, Haringey had an arrangement with Enfield Social Services whereby
Enfield children and families’ social workers would provide basic initial services
for Haringey children admitted to the hospital before the cases were passed to
Haringey. The arrangement was set out inadequately in a two-page minute of a
meeting held between the two agencies in July 1996. It was modified following a
further meeting in September 1996.
8.4 The location of such a key operational protocol in a set of minutes was not ideal,
and I shall return to the content later. The arrangement should have been set out
in greater detail as part of Enfield’s or the hospital’s updated guidelines. At the
time, the hospital social work team was expected to follow procedures set out in
a variety of written documents, some of which were out of date. These included:
• the Enfield Child Protection Guide, published in August 1996, which required that
in child protection cases an inter-agency case conference should be held before a
case is transferred to the responsible area team;
• the protocol setting out the arrangement between Haringey and Enfield, which
although produced at around the same time, envisaged a lesser scale of Enfield
involvement;
• the North Middlesex Hospital child protection guidelines of 1998.
8.5 Also available were the Haringey child protection guidelines, which might be
thought to have more than a passing relevance to Haringey children admitted to
the hospital and referred on to Haringey Social Services. However, according to
Ms Johns, these were not followed. Instead the hospital social workers relied on
the protocol between the two agencies and the brief and less than adequate North
Middlesex Hospital procedures.
8.6 Lesley Moore, the seconded assistant director for children and families from July
2000, did not seek to defend the “poor state of procedures and arrangements”.
She admitted, “Although staff had access to the right people to give them
advice about what should happen and what was in current guidance, it was not
readily available to them in the form of accessible written practice, guidance and
procedure.”
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
222
8.7 I would go further and say that the profusion of guidance in various documents
relating to the different agencies made it very unclear what was expected of
front-line staff. Even worse for Haringey children was the confusion over where
Enfield’s responsibility ended and Haringey’s began. The inadequacy of this
arrangement potentially put the safety of children at risk. Therefore, I make the
following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that staff working with vulnerable
children and families are provided with up-to-date procedures, protocols and
guidance. Such practice guidance must be located in a single-source document.
The work should be monitored so as to ensure procedures are followed.
8.8 Although Ms Johns thought that 60 to 70 per cent of the referrals she dealt with
were Haringey children, she admitted Enfield responded to them differently from
Enfield children. Moreover, when faced with competing pressures in 1999 owing
to staff shortages, she sometimes felt obliged to give priority to an Enfield child
over a Haringey child. Indeed, Enfield’s own management review of Victoria’s case
found that the issue may not have been about the quality of Ms Johns’s practice
but about how Enfield social workers at the North Middlesex Hospital regarded
Haringey cases at the time. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ms Johns said in evidence that
she thought the arrangement with Haringey was “not the best arrangement” and
that Haringey should have employed their own social workers at the hospital.
8.9 These were not the only issues of concern for the North Middlesex Hospital social
work team in the summer of 1999. There were long-standing staff tensions within
the team and there were tensions between the team and the North Middlesex
Hospital medical staff, all of which drifted without resolution, in some instances
for years. Indeed, the evidence pointed to a complete lack of management grip
on any of these issues. As a result, there was a vacuum created by the absence of
responsible, managerial decision-making.
Management and accountability
8.10 None of this was helped by the line management and accountability arrangements
that existed at the time. Since 1997, there had been two specialist social
work divisions within Enfield, one for adults and one for children and families.
The hospital social work team had stayed in the adult division as it consisted
predominantly of social workers dealing with adults. Therefore, the assistant
director for adult services managed all hospital social work.
8.11 The next in command was Lesley Howard, service manager for hospitals and
health liaison from April to August 1999. Ms Howard was responsible for the line
management of both hospital social work team managers at Chase Farm Hospital
and the North Middlesex Hospital. While she was experienced in both adult and
children’s social work, she had limited experience and training in child protection
work. As a result, temporary arrangements were put in place to ensure team
leaders and social workers at the hospital could access support and guidance from
colleagues in the community children and families’ division.
8.12 In July 1999, Lesley Carr was appointed as the new intake and assessment manager
for children and families, reporting directly to the assistant director of the children
and families’ division. Ms Carr was given the specific task of bringing the children
and families’ hospital social workers at both Chase Farm Hospital and the North
Middlesex Hospital within the fold of the children and families’ division. Ms Johns
8 Enfield Social Services
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was one of only four and a half full-time equivalent hospital social workers
specialising in children’s work at the time. By the time Ms Carr left her post in
October 2000, she had still to complete this task. Indeed, it was not until April
2001 that the hospital social workers specialising in children and families were
finally brought under the wing of the children and families’ division.
8.13 As a result, during her time in office Ms Carr assumed no management
responsibility for children’s social work within the two borough hospitals. Her
role was “mainly consultancy in terms of service delivery”. She would advise on
particularly complex childcare cases but only when asked to do so. It was not
her job to routinely check case files or to do random samples of the quality of a
social worker’s work. That was the province of the line managers within the adult
division.
8.14 However, this was not a perception shared by Ms Howard. In terms of her own
children and families’ work, Ms Howard saw her role as being responsible for
management and staffing issues. While ultimately responsible for practice issues,
she was happy for the team leaders to seek support through “the informal channels
that had been put in place”. Thus it seemed that there was nobody above team
manager who routinely and actively monitored the childcare practice of the
hospital social workers.
8.15 I was presented with a number of reasons as to why it took almost two years to
move the children and families’ social workers. Decisions had yet to be made as
to whether the move would be accompanied by a physical move of the social
workers away from the hospital site to Edmonton Social Services office. The
hospitals did not favour such a move because they saw value in retaining easy
face-to-face communication with hospital-based social workers. On the other
hand, the alternative solution was the integration of the referral and assessment
team. This would have given Enfield greater flexibility in allocating its resources,
particularly during periods of staff shortage. Ms Carr told the Inquiry:
“Part of it was to do with disentangling the bureaucracy around the
paying of staff and around the budgets. Part of it was around the fact
that we would be taking these staff on with no managers at all. Part of
it was linked to the retirement of managers and part of it was linked
to not having sufficient managers based in Edmonton and no structure
to actually take on the work, and part of it was very much based on
concerns the hospitals were raising about moving the hospital children’s
social workers out of the hospital, the biggest difficulty being if they
were based, as they were, in the two hospitals, providing cover between
them would have been a very difficult business. There were insufficient
numbers to actually do the job properly and that was really what held up
a lot of things, was trying to ensure we had enough finances to be able
to staff it adequately and run a good service, and it was not something
we could actually change overnight, much as I would liked to have.”
8.16 Two years could hardly be said to be “overnight”. Far more damaging was the
admission that the team was insufficiently staffed and had inadequate children
and families’ team management capacity to do the job properly.
8.17 Ms Carr also suggested the changeover was held up until after budgets could
be restructured in April 2000. She acknowledged that budget restructuring was
purely an accountancy exercise within the same organisation and did not involve
a big transfer of money or a change in conditions of service. However, she had no
answer as to why someone with line management responsibility simply did not
force the transfer quickly.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
224
8.18 By the time Ms Moore arrived in post, the proposal on the table was to pull
the social workers from the hospital and relocate them in the community. She
considered this unacceptable and was therefore partly responsible for putting
the emerging plans on hold. She felt that the management transfer was slowed
because of complex plans to reorganise the whole social services department.
She said, “It was not just a question of throwing the hospital teams up in the air
and deciding where they may land in a better place, but also all the teams right
across the community in adults’ and children’s services.” There were difficulties
with senior management agreeing what that structure should look like, although
Ms Moore thought these were beginning to resolve themselves by October 2000.
At that time, management were “pulled up in [their] tracks by two things”.
First, the director was taken ill very suddenly and was off sick for a substantial
period of time. Second, there was a major financial crisis that occupied senior
management’s attention. Extreme measures were put in place and eligibility criteria
were tightened, with all the associated political issues. According to Ms Moore,
“The whole of senior management’s group time was taken up in dealing with the
practicalities of that and putting straight so that we did not end up without the
money to run a service.”
8.19 With the appointment of an interim director in January 2001, and the worst of
the financial crisis behind them, Enfield’s senior management team revisited the
structural reorganisation. When it finally came, the decision to relocate the hospital
children’s social work teams took three months to implement. This, according
to Ms Moore, was “as fast as we could humanly function from that point on”.
Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that hospital social workers working with
children and families are line managed by the children and families’ section of
their social services department.
Lack of attendance at hospital meetings
8.20 The fact that hospital social workers were managed by the ‘adults’ team within
social services led to a lack of clarity as to who was responsible for ensuring
hospital social workers attended hospital meetings. Had there been effective line
management, this unsatisfactory state of affairs would have been resolved.
8.21 These tensions came to a head over social worker non-attendance at hospital
meetings, particularly the Monday afternoon psychosocial meetings. The weekly
psychosocial meetings were arranged to be held at the North Middlesex Hospital on
Mondays at 2pm. The meetings took, on average, one and a half to two hours and,
according to Ms Carr, looked at every child in the ward. Enfield social workers were
supposed to attend. Indeed, attendance at multi-agency meetings was an intrinsic
and important part of a social worker’s role and this expectation was clearly set out
in the hospital social workers’ job descriptions. The meetings were supposed to be a
valuable forum for the exchange of information between medical staff and hospital
social workers. Ms Carr said that information exchange “helps to give a more
complete picture for the social worker who is doing an assessment”. Ms Carr added:
“It allows a much wider understanding of a range of issues that are
going on and certainly helps the social workers to understand the
medical perspectives, and it also helps the social worker in interpreting
the medical understanding for parents and for supporting other parents
and children while in hospital.”
8 Enfield Social Services
225
8.22 However, by the time Victoria was admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital,
Enfield’s hospital social workers had long since ceased to attend both the
psychosocial meetings and the weekly non-accidental injury forum on Tuesdays.
On instruction from the team managers, Cynthia Lipworth and Pat Dale, the
hospital social workers ceased attending these hospital meetings as long ago as
February 1998. They were not to resume attendance until May 2001, a period of
over three years altogether. Hospital medical staff were less than happy with this.
The evidence of Nurse Beatrice Norman and Dr Mary Rossiter suggested that the
hospital staff placed greater value on these meetings than the social workers did.
8.23 Although the instruction to cease attendance had come from the team managers,
it appears to have been driven by the social workers themselves. Evidence from
Ms Carr, Ms Lipworth and Ms Johns all suggested that when social workers did
attend, they felt deskilled and devalued. They felt their professional expertise
was not appreciated, their opinions were not always heard, time was not always
provided for their feedback, and meetings were not clearly structured. There was
also a concern that the meetings were used to shortcut the formal routes for
referrals of work from medical staff to Enfield Social Services.
8.24 Ms Carr felt the problem “should have been resolved and should have been
resolved at the beginning”, but she also said, “There were a number of what is
probably best to describe as difficulties within personalities of the staff involved ...
[By July 1999] the position had become pretty intractable and it was not going
to be solved overnight.” She did not think forced attendance would necessarily
have aided communication. Instead she said she tried to work with the consultant
paediatricians to formalise the meeting process.
8.25 Ms Carr felt the social and medical staff misunderstood each other’s roles, which
hindered communication. There were problems getting busy people, particularly
Dr Rossiter, to look at the issues closely. Ms Carr scheduled a number of meetings with
Dr Rossiter and Dr Naidoo, a consultant child psychiatrist, but they were “occasionally
cancelled at short notice” because there were other issues on the agenda and these
matters tended to slip down. Ms Carr did have a number of meetings with Dr Rossiter
to look at changing working practice as a whole. While the psychosocial meetings
were part of those discussions, Dr Rossiter was more concerned about other issues and,
according to Ms Carr, those “took up a lot of the discussion time in the early days”.
8.26 When pressed, Ms Lipworth agreed that the non-resolution of social work
attendance at these hospital meetings had become a big issue. She accepted that
it was her responsibility to take the problem up the management chain until it was
resolved. Ms Lipworth had attended one of the meetings herself to confirm the
social workers’ perceptions and she was sure she would have taken the matter up
with her line managers, but she could not recall those discussions.
8.27 Ms Moore also partly blamed the organisational structure. Staff from the children
and families’ division were aware of the issues and had been involved in meetings
to resolve the conflict, but because they had no line management responsibility
they “pushed the issue across to adults [division] who should have been the ones
that made the decision”. Ms Moore emphasised the problems that existed within
the organisation about decision making:
“There were certainly more discussions about issues than there were
decisions about issues ... and some of the issues did not get resolved.
What was needed was a decision. Once I was aware that there was a
problem, a decision was made and the meetings have resumed.”
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
226
Therefore, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Directors of social services must ensure that hospital social workers participate in
all hospital meetings concerned with the safeguarding of children.
Social workers’ workload
8.28 According to Ms Johns, by the time Victoria was admitted to the North Middlesex
Hospital, workloads were “high but not overwhelming”. Others disagreed. With
hindsight Ms Moore thought the workload was very high at the time, with
caseloads exceeding 12 per worker. As a result, she thought there were some cases
“which did not receive speedy enough and adequate enough attention”.
8.29 When the specialist children and families’ staff were overstretched, adult care
workers at the North Middlesex Hospital would provide services to children and
families as back-up, as would the hospital social workers at Chase Farm Hospital
and the community social workers in the Edmonton Centre. However, as Ms Carr
pointed out, back-up staff would then have to adapt to a new environment and
new procedures, which was invariably problematic.
8.30 Ms Johns was an experienced social worker who had been with the Enfield hospital
social work team for nearly five years. She was one of only two and a half full-time
equivalent children and families’ social workers in Ms Lipworth’s 10-strong team
(nine full-time equivalents) at the North Middlesex Hospital. By July 1999, she
worked primarily in antenatal, postnatal and general paediatric social work. She
had recently returned to work after a month’s sick leave from work-related stress
caused, she believed, by strife within the team. Ms Johns described difficulties
caused by absences and sickness of other full-time staff. Ms Johns also stated that
there was “chronic conflict and tension” between staff, including her own line
manager Ms Lipworth. As with much else that required managerial resolution
in the North Middlesex Hospital social work team, this staffing issue was left
unaddressed until June 2000.
8.31 However, Ms Johns was quite clear that these matters in no way influenced her
handling of Victoria’s case, nor did she rely on work pressures at the time or the
availability (or otherwise) of professional advice to explain her actions.
Victoria in Enfield
Referral
8.32 On 26 July 1999, two days after Victoria was admitted to the North Middlesex
Hospital, Nurse Sharon Jones of Rainbow ward referred her to the Enfield hospital
social work team.
8.33 Ruth Warne took down the details of the referral at 3.15pm and completed
an initial contact sheet in the name of ‘Anna Kovao’ and wrote the address as
267 Somerset Gardens, Creighton Road, London N17. She recorded that Victoria
had been admitted on 24 July 1999 with burns. She was suffering from scabies and
had poured water on her head to stop the itching. When nurses bathed her they
noticed marks on her back and arms. Once child protection forms had been filled
out the referral was passed to Ms Johns.
8.34 Had Ms Johns or any of the other hospital social work team attended the weekly
psychosocial meeting earlier in the day they would have learned something of
8 Enfield Social Services
227
the medical team’s concerns about Victoria from Dr Rossiter, the consultant
paediatrician, and Dr Justin Richardson, the paediatric registrar, even before the
referral had been made. The psychosocial notes for that day’s meeting question
whether the scalding injuries were non-accidental and register the long time delay
between the scalding and Victoria’s presentation to the accident and emergency
department. Certainly, Ms Johns or her colleagues would have had the opportunity
to explore those concerns directly and question the extent to which non-accidental
injury was suspected. It is possible they would also have seen the body maps,
which Dr David Reynders, the paediatric senior house officer, said he prepared in
time for the meeting. However, for the reasons already given, Enfield hospital social
workers had ceased attending these meetings some 18 months earlier.
8.35 Instead, Ms Johns telephoned Nurse Jones who merely repeated the details
recorded by Ms Warne on the initial contact sheet. In her action sheet Ms Johns
recorded that following the child protection meeting there was a concern.
However, according to Nurse Jones, the completed child protection forms did
not specify non-accidental injury.
8.36 This was the first of a number of file notes prepared by Ms Johns in Victoria’s
case and I give her credit for the quality of her clear, accurate and comprehensive
casework recording throughout. Indeed, given the lack of any comparable notes
produced at the time by the North Middlesex Hospital, I have placed heavy
reliance on Ms Johns’s notes and her evidence arising from them to provide an
account of the information exchange that took place between the hospital and
social services during the first few days of Victoria’s admission.
8.37 Ms Johns advised that a doctor speak to Kouao to inform her that a referral
was being made to social services and to seek her explanation for the marks
on Victoria’s body. She also advised that the child protection forms should be
reviewed in order to specify whether any of the injuries observed were believed to
be non-accidental. She did not consider it appropriate at this stage to go up to the
ward to see or speak to Victoria. Had Victoria been an Enfield child, Enfield’s child
protection procedures state quite clearly the child should be seen by the social
workers as a “matter of urgency”. However, when asked why the same would not
apply to Victoria, Ms Johns said:
“It would be inappropriate for a social worker to go marching in ... you
could not. You would have to ask parents’ permission to speak to a
child anyway. Talking to a child could prejudice, possibly contaminate
evidence that the police may want later for criminal proceedings.”
8.38 I do not share Ms Johns’s view and these were clearly not concerns that Enfield
considered relevant when drafting their own procedures. I return to this issue of
speaking to Victoria later in paragraph 8.49 and the wider implications later in this
Report.
Contacting Haringey Social Services
8.39 That same afternoon at about 3.45pm, Ms Johns faxed the duty social worker at
Haringey’s North Tottenham District Office a standard request for any information
known about “Anna Kovao”. Although Ms Johns was keen for the doctors at the
North Middlesex Hospital to firm up their view as to whether Victoria’s burns
were accidental or not, she certainly had not ruled out non-accidental injury when
making her first contact with Haringey Social Services.
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8.40 She relayed her reason for the request as follows:
“Child admitted on 24/7/99 with (?) accidental burns to head and face
when she poured hot water over her head to stop itching caused by
scabies. Other marks have been noted on her back and the origin of
these will be checked out.”
8.41 At the time Ms Johns said, “It was the very beginning of a child protection referral
that I saw here.” However, she was uncertain whether she had enough information
to convey to Haringey that this case warranted a child protection investigation.
In short, on 26 July1999 Ms Johns said she did not know whether there were
suspected child protection concerns that would have required her to do an initial
assessment of Victoria in accordance with the agreement between Haringey and
Enfield.
8.42 Nonetheless she marked the fax as urgent and asked for a reply “by the next
day, if possible”. In fact, according to her file note, Ms Johns received a phone
call from Anil Nair at the North Tottenham District Office, although no copy of
Ms Johns’s fax or any record of Haringey’s response appears on the Haringey
case file. According to Ms Johns, she was told that “the client” was not known to
Haringey Social Services. This was clearly a mistake for, albeit unknown to Mr Nair,
Dr Simone Forlee had already contacted the out-of-office-hours Haringey social
work team on 24 July 1999 to talk about Victoria’s case, and to let Haringey know
that she had been admitted to the hospital.
Obtaining a diagnosis of non-accidental injury
8.43 Early the next morning, 27 July 1999, Ms Johns took a call from Nurse Sue
Jennings who was checking up on the action that social services were taking in
relation to Victoria. Ms Johns explained to Nurse Jennings, as she had previously
to Nurse Jones, that social services would not take any further action, which in
Victoria’s case meant making a referral to Haringey, until they had a clear diagnosis
of non-accidental injury and the parents had been informed of social services’
involvement. When questioned, Ms Johns accepted there was in fact no procedural
hurdle that required any such preconditions before she could take action. Nor was
she prevented from doing so because the relevant correct child protection boxes
on the child protection forms had not been ticked. However, it remained her view
the box marked “I wish to await further information before committing myself”
that Dr Forlee had ticked on 24 July was not good enough. She told the Inquiry,
“That should never exist, that box. We can do nothing with that and I have always
had a problem when that box is filled in.”
8.44 After updating her team manager, Ms Lipworth, Ms Johns agreed to send a
memorandum to the sister in charge of Rainbow ward and copied it to Dr Maud
Meates, the admitting consultant, repeating the advice she had given to Nurse
Jennings. She delivered the memo to the ward nurse in charge by hand. In support
of what Ms Johns understood to be the correct procedure, she attached to her
memo a copy of the page in the social work department section of the North
Middlesex Hospital child protection procedures. These require the examining
paediatrician to specify whether the case is one of child protection or not, and
to advise the social worker of who has informed the parent(s) that a referral has
been made to social services. However, Ms Johns accepted the procedures did
not suggest, as implied by her memo, that, in the absence of both of these, social
services could do nothing more.
8.45 In her memo she stated she had made preliminary checks and Victoria was not
known to either the hospital social work team or Haringey Social Services. She also
wrote, on the basis of the box on the child protection form ticked by Dr Forlee,
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229
that she understood ‘non-accidental’ injury had not been suggested in Victoria’s
case. This observation was to prove remarkably at odds with the observations of
Victoria’s condition over the previous three days from the staff on Rainbow ward.
8.46 Ms Johns did not have to wait long for the confirmation of non-accidental
injury that she was looking for, although it was not in relation to the scalding
incident. That same morning, Dr Forlee, the senior house officer who had first
admitted Victoria on 24 July, telephoned Ms Johns. Dr Forlee told her that when
she (Dr Forlee) had completed the child protection forms she had been unsure
whether the facial burns were non-accidental. However, other concerns had
emerged. Ms Johns recorded these as follows:
“– Anna has old scars all over her body. A diagram has been made. The marks
resemble the shape of a belt buckle
– A skeletal survey has been carried out – results are not yet known
– Concerns regarding interaction with mother. Anna wet herself when mother
came even though she had been dry all day (bed wets at night), she seems on
edge when mother visits, she was described by the ward staff as seeming to
‘jump to attention’ when her mother came
– On admission Anna was unkempt in a dirty dress, with no underwear. Mother
was well kempt
– Mother has not brought any clean clothes for Anna since her admission.”
8.47 Once again Ms Johns said she told Dr Forlee that the child protection forms would
need to be amended to reflect these new concerns and that the parents needed
to be told that there would be a referral to social services. Dr Forlee agreed to let
Ms Johns know when this had happened and she (Dr Forlee) thought most likely
it would be the next day.
8.48 By now Ms Johns was clear there were child protection concerns. Ms Johns’s
understanding of the agreement with Haringey was that she would only be
expected to complete an ‘initial assessment’ of Victoria if Haringey could not
respond immediately, and only then by agreement with Haringey.
Failure to speak to Victoria
8.49 Following her phone conversation with Dr Forlee, Ms Johns paid her second visit
to Rainbow ward in connection with Victoria’s case. Victoria was pointed out to
Ms Johns at a distance but Ms Johns did not speak to her, despite what she had
learned from Dr Forlee. This was not an oversight. She told the Inquiry, “I made
a deliberate decision not to see Victoria”. She gave a number of reasons for not
doing so:
“For one, there was no parental permission for any social worker to
see this child. The parent had not even been told of concerns and also
I would not wish to prejudice any investigation given that there was
a possibility that a crime had been committed and this little girl was
injured.”
8.50 She was also aware that English was not Victoria’s mother tongue. In her view,
“no social worker would have interviewed either the mother or the child without
a French-speaking interpreter”. Yet again, Ms Johns’s decision not to speak to
Victoria at the earliest opportunity, and certainly before the referral to Haringey
Social Services, was in my opinion fundamentally wrong in principle and practice.
I shall return to this at some length later.
8.51 Instead she discussed Victoria’s case with Nurse Jennings and read the case notes
which she summarised in the social work file. In addition to Kouao’s explanation for
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
230
the scalding injury and the concerns Dr Forlee had already conveyed by phone that
morning, Ms Johns also recorded the following facts (without pause for question):
• Kouao’s husband had died in June 1994.
• Kouao herself was born in 1966 and yet claimed to have four other children the
eldest of whom was 24 [thus making Kouao nine years old at the time she
gave birth to her eldest child].
• Kouao and Victoria had been in the country four months.
• Kouao had visited Victoria every day but for short periods as she was working.
• Kouao was in the UK on study leave for two years having left behind a job in
France as an airport manager.
8.52 Ms Johns updated her team manager and they agreed that she should make
a formal referral to Haringey Social Services and that Kouao would have
to be interviewed. Ms Johns made the referral by telephone and spoke to
Caroline Rodgers in the North Tottenham District Office at around 4.30pm on
27 July 1999.
8.53 It is vitally important that when a social worker from one local authority transfers
responsibility for a case in this manner that the receiving authority is clear what its
responsibilities are. The Enfield child protection procedures required the manager
in Ms Lipworth’s position to formally agree the transfer of responsibility with the
relevant service manager in Haringey. In Victoria’s case this was not done. There is a
clear danger when cases are transferred without clear and thorough procedures being
followed, that confusion may arise over who is responsible for what. In an effort to
avoid such confusion arising in the future, I make the following recommendation:
Recommendation
Where hospital-based social work staff come into contact with children from
other local authority areas, the directors of social services of their employing
authorities must ensure that they work to a single set of guidance agreed by all
the authorities concerned.
Transferring responsibility to Haringey
8.54 Ms Rodgers’s record of what she was told, namely a summary of Victoria’s
presenting problems on admission and the ward medical team’s subsequent
concerns for her, appears to be a fair reflection of what Ms Johns knew at the
time and was recorded in her own case file notes. Although Ms Johns said she
also agreed with Ms Rodgers to await further contact from Haringey before
interviewing Kouao, she did not expect to do this now that the case had been
formally transferred to Haringey. In fact, Ms Johns expected to do nothing more
at all in Victoria’s case unless it was by prior negotiation, with Haringey as the lead
investigating authority.
8.55 Ms Johns updated both Dr Saji Alexander, the paediatric registrar, and Nurse
Jennings about the referral to Haringey Social Services before learning from Shanthi
Jacob, duty senior manager at North Tottenham District Office, that a strategy
meeting had been arranged for 2.30pm the next day at the social services office,
and not the hospital as required by Haringey’s own child protection procedures.
Strategy meeting
8.56 In her written statement, Ms Johns said that a hospital social worker would not
normally attend Haringey meetings unless a manager thought it essential. When
Ms Jacob’s invitation arrived Ms Lipworth was not on site. Nonetheless Ms Johns
8 Enfield Social Services
231
agreed to go without first seeking permission because she said she “felt particularly
concerned for Victoria’s safety and well-being”. She believed she told Ms Jacob
words to the effect that she would be lucky to get any medics to attend, although
she said it was only later that she learned that Dr Rossiter would not be able to go.
According to Ms Johns, that made it “even more crucial that I attend in order to
pass all the medical forms to Haringey Social Services”.
8.57 Ms Johns said she was not aware it was part of Haringey child protection
procedures that strategy meetings involving Haringey children admitted to hospital
should be held in the hospital. She simply recollected that Dr Rossiter said she had
an agreement with Haringey that it should be so. Ms Johns’s lack of awareness
of an important requirement of the Haringey procedures highlights the need for
a single, clear set of procedures and reinforces the recommendation I made at
paragraph 8.7 above.
8.58 In oral evidence, Ms Johns said she asked Ms Jacob if the strategy meeting venue
could be changed to the hospital but was told by Ms Jacob, after checking with
her manager, that the venue had to stay as planned originally.
8.59 It was Dr Rossiter who told Ms Johns in a telephone conversation that she would
not be able to attend the Haringey strategy meeting. According to Ms Johns’s
note of their conversation they discussed Victoria, and Dr Rossiter queried whether
there were signs of anxious attachment. She told Ms Johns she thought at the very
least there was neglect, probable emotional abuse and possibly physical abuse.
She also mentioned in passing that Kouao visited Victoria late at night and the
photographs that had been ordered had now been taken. In fact the photographs
were not taken until 29 July 1999. I know of no basis for Dr Rossiter’s belief that
the photographs had been taken. She also gave Ms Johns the details of Dr Meates,
the consultant paediatrician with day-to-day responsibility on the ward but not
child protection responsibility. Ms Johns was told that the play therapist on
Rainbow ward, Noelle O’Boyce, had also made some observations but Ms Johns
did not pursue this as part of any ‘initial assessment’, either with Dr Rossiter or
Ms O’Boyce, because Haringey had accepted responsibility for the case. She said,
“All the action was now their action and would have had to be negotiated with
me.” Dr Rossiter could not recall this conversation but she did not have any note
to contradict what Ms Johns recorded as having passed between them.
8.60 Ms Johns believed, though she no longer had any independent recollection of
this, that she and Dr Rossiter would have discussed updating the child protection
forms. It was not unreasonable for Ms Johns to have focused so much attention on
the proper completion of the child protection forms. The child protection forms
she had seen on the ward at that time related only to the scalding injuries for
which Victoria had been admitted. The hospital medical team was yet to confirm
for Ms Johns whether they believed those burns injuries were non-accidental. In
addition, the ward staff had now raised new concerns, conveyed to Ms Johns by
Dr Forlee, on the basis of marks seen on Victoria’s body which appeared to bear
no direct relationship to the scalding incident. Ms Johns had yet to see any new
child protection forms completed in respect of these concerns and this was the
position she found herself in when she attended the strategy meeting at the North
Tottenham District Office on 28 July 1999.
8.61 On her way to the meeting, Ms Johns visited Rainbow ward a third time, to
collect and photocopy the child protection forms, the accident and emergency
card and the body “diagrams”. She did not have the skeletal survey results or
the photographs because they were not yet available. In fact, contrary to the
information she had been given by Dr Rossiter, Ms Johns noted after her visit to the
ward that the whole-body photographs had still to be taken. She did not have any
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
232
of the information from the nurses’ critical incident log because she did not know
of its existence, nor was she aware of the significance of that document.
8.62 If Ms Johns had looked at the log on this occasion, the only additional information
she would have gleaned was that Kouao and a gentleman had visited Victoria at
about 10.30pm, had woken Victoria from her sleep and that Kouao kept pointing
a finger to her. It was also on the critical incident log that Nurse Jennings observed
on 27 July 1999 that ‘Anna’ would like to communicate and that a French link
worker would be a good idea. The important point is that without looking at the
log Ms Johns did not know whether she was missing critical pieces of information.
8.63 Apart from the critical incident log, there were significant pieces of information
contained elsewhere in Victoria’s notes. For example, there was a reference to
Victoria’s earlier admission to the Central Middlesex Hospital in her ward notes
and, on the CP 1 form completed by Dr Forlee, it said that Kouao and Victoria had
previously had dealings with an unspecified social services department. Neither of
these pieces of information were drawn to the attention of Haringey Social Services
in time for the 28 July 1999 strategy meeting.
8.64 While on the ward, Ms Johns said she had been told that Kouao had been
informed of the referral to social services but Kouao had not been asked for any
explanation of the marks on Victoria’s body. Ms Johns did not know why this was
but said she noted it down nonetheless.
8.65 Ms Johns expected the child protection forms to have been amended as she had
asked and as she thought had been agreed, but they were not. However, despite
having no clear, updated medical report from the hospital, she was aware of
Dr Forlee’s concerns and she conveyed these to the strategy meeting. She also
gave each of the participants – Rosemarie Kozinos, Ms Rodgers and PC Karen Jones
– a copy of the hospital documentation she brought with her. As a result, by way
of written material from the hospital, the strategy meeting had an unresolved
view as to whether the scalding incident was non-accidental. They also had a set
of body maps showing a series of marks on Victoria’s body but no direct written
opinion to confirm whether these, too, could possibly be non-accidental injuries.
Action points from the strategy meeting
8.66 Therefore, perhaps not surprisingly, Ms Johns wrote “request medical report
regarding skeletal survey and old injuries (dates etc)” in the case file as the first
action from the strategy meeting. According to her note, the rest of the action
plan was agreed as follows:
“– when medical information is available, undertake joint visit/interview with police
child protection team
– if appropriate, interview Anna
– mother to be informed regarding social services intervention
– check scabies and its relationship to possible neglect
– check school attended
– full child protection investigation.”
8.67 She took from the meeting the following tasks to perform:
“– seek report from the ward staff regarding neglect
– check with Dr Meates whether photographs can be passed to the police
– alert ward to call the police if attempt to remove Anna from the ward is made
– ask the ward staff to monitor mother/daughter interaction
– keep Haringey Social Services informed of any discharge plans.”
8 Enfield Social Services
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8.68 Ms Johns only recorded 12 of the 18 action points that appear in the Haringey case
file. That she was not entitled automatically to receive a copy of the minutes of the
meeting, according to Haringey’s child protection procedures, meant that she was
unable to remedy any discrepancy between the two.
8.69 The expectation was that Ms Johns and the chair of the strategy meeting,
Ms Kozinos, would jointly undertake the first, second and fifth tasks. In her record
of the action plan Ms Kozinos had indicated “hospital social worker” against each
of the three tasks. That Ms Johns should have assumed responsibility for the other
two tasks, namely to alert the ward to call the police if an attempt was made to
remove Victoria, as well as asking the ward staff to monitor mother/daughter
interaction, is less than clear, particularly as Ms Kozinos told the Inquiry: “Unless
otherwise stated as hospital social worker or police child protection team, it is the
social worker from our office that carries the decisions out with the lead agency”.
8.70 Given no such ‘hospital social worker’ indication was made against these two
tasks, the scope for confusion was obvious, particularly for Lisa Arthurworrey, to
whom the case was subsequently allocated and who had not been present at the
strategy meeting.
8.71 On her return to the North Middlesex Hospital, Ms Johns wrote and then delivered
a memo for the ward notes addressed to the sister in charge of Rainbow ward.
She also updated Nurse Jennings on the outcome of the strategy meeting. In
the memo she asked if the ward staff could provide a summary of the observed
interaction between Kouao and Victoria that had given cause for concern and
if they could continue to monitor and record the interaction between the two.
Ms Johns said this was how she interpreted her task from the strategy meeting to
seek a report from the ward staff concerning neglect. In terms of the third task
that she took from the strategy meeting, Ms Johns advised Nurse Jennings that if
Kouao did attempt to remove Victoria from the ward before discharge was agreed
jointly by the hospital and Haringey Social Services, the police should be alerted
immediately and asked to step in. She also gave notice that Haringey would be
contacting Dr Meates for further medical information.
8.72 On 29 July 1999, Ms Johns paid her fifth visit to Rainbow ward, to return the
original child protection forms she had taken away to photocopy for the strategy
meeting and to update Nurse Beatrice Norman. She also tried twice to contact
Dr Meates by telephone but she was unavailable. Ms Johns sent her a memo to let
her know that Haringey Social Services would be undertaking a child protection
investigation in respect of Victoria, and that the duty social worker, Ms Rodgers,
would try and contact her in the near future. She also wanted Dr Meates’s advice
as to the procedure for letting the police have the hospital’s medical photographs
of Victoria “so as to avoid the need to repeat the procedure twice”. According to
Ms Johns’s statement, Dr Meates replied within two days by annotating Ms Johns’s
original memo to her – the date stamp suggests it was received by the hospital
social work team on 2 August 1999. The reply gave permission for the police to
have copies of the photographs provided they followed the procedures. Ms Johns
passed on this information to Haringey Social Services.
Victoria is discharged from hospital
8.73 On 2 August 1999, Ms Johns also received a telephone call from Nurse Jennings on
Rainbow ward to say that Victoria was fit for discharge. Ms Johns told the Inquiry
she was quite clear that fit for discharge meant only that Victoria was ‘medically’
fit enough to go home or to go elsewhere. Nurse Jennings expressed her view that
she would like the discharge to happen as soon as possible. According to Ms Johns
it was normal for the ward to say that because they are always in need of beds.
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
234
Nurse Jennings also told Ms Johns that the scabies was no longer active. Ms Johns
agreed to let North Tottenham District Office know the position.
8.74 For the reasons already noted, Ms Johns did not attend the psychosocial meeting
that afternoon. The notes of the meeting, kept in a book in the psychiatry
department, identified signs of emotional abuse and noted that Victoria seemed
scared of mother’s visits with her male friend, though she was not fearful when just
mother visited. In fact Victoria seemed “clingy with mother”.
8.75 Had Ms Johns attended the psychosocial meeting she may have noticed the
inconsistency between this description of Kouao’s interaction with Victoria and
that contained in Dr Forlee’s notes. Dr Forlee’s notes revealed concerns regarding
Victoria’s interaction with Kouao, in particular that Victoria wet herself when her
mother visited, Victoria seemed “on edge when her mother visits” and that Victoria
seemed to “jump to attention” when Kouao visited. Dr Rossiter did attend the
meeting that day and she recalled asking for a psychiatric assessment because of
her concerns about emotional abuse. According to Dr Rossiter, the psychiatrist
was not prepared to see Victoria without further background information and until
she had been assessed by social services. However, as the hospital never wrote to
Haringey to pursue this, and partly because Ms Johns did not attend the meeting,
this exchange of views never reached Haringey.
8.76 Ms Johns subsequently made four separate telephone calls. First she rang the
North Tottenham District Office to speak to Ms Kozinos. Ms Kozinos told her that
Victoria’s case had been allocated to Ms Arthurworrey. Ms Johns recorded speaking
to Ms Arthurworrey that same day and in her oral evidence Ms Arthurworrey said
that they probably did have a conversation. Ms Arthurworrey remembered saying
she had not yet been given the file but that she would contact Ms Johns when
she had it. Ms Johns then left a message for Dr Meates to telephone her. She rang
Nurse Jennings on Rainbow ward twice, first to let her know the outcome of her
contact with the North Tottenham District Office and then later in the afternoon to
say, as she had yet to hear from Ms Arthurworrey, she would fax her and invite her
to make contact directly with the ward.
8.77 The next morning, Ms Johns faxed a memo to Ms Arthurworrey letting her know
that Victoria was “ready for discharge” and the ward would like this to happen
as soon as possible. Ms Johns did not qualify this remark or indicate in any way
it was her understanding that although Victoria was medically fit for discharge,
discharge should only happen if social services agreed jointly that it was in fact
safe for Victoria to be discharged. She indicated to Ms Arthurworrey that she
might want to talk to the ward directly to discuss social services’ involvement and
gave her Nurse Isobel Quinn’s details as the nurse in charge for that day. She also
mentioned that Victoria’s scabies had been successfully treated and was no longer
active and she passed on Dr Meates’s message for the police with regard to the
photographs. She admitted she did not know what the usual procedures were for
the police to obtain the photographs but assumed that PC Jones would know.
8.78 Finally, Ms Johns contacted Nurse Quinn to update her and pass on
Ms Arthurworrey’s contact details. Ms Johns was to have no more involvement in
Victoria’s case from 3 August 1999. She completed and signed off the necessary
paperwork on 9 August, including a brief closing summary. The summary
did not address the hospital’s view as to whether the scalding incident was
non-accidental, the significance of the other marks discovered on Victoria’s body
and whether there was anything other than a query around possible emotional
abuse and neglect. Against the box marked ‘risk factors’ Ms Johns wrote “N/E”
(not established). The reason for this, according to Ms Johns, was that Victoria’s
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case had been transferred to Haringey Social Services and they had accepted
responsibility. Therefore, it rested with Haringey to identify the relevant risk factors.
8.79 Ms Lipworth closed Victoria’s file in Enfield on 13 September 1999.
Analysis of practice
8.80 Viewed as a whole, Ms Johns’s role in Victoria’s case was limited to that of a
‘postbox’ for information passing between the hospital and Haringey Social
Services. Ms Johns’s description of herself as a “conduit of information” is difficult
to challenge and I have to question whether that can be a sensible use of an
experienced social worker’s time.
8.81 Having heard all the evidence, I fully accept that in her clear and unambiguous
referral to Ms Rodgers on 27 July 1999, and in the information she conveyed to
the strategy meeting on 28 July, Ms Johns provided Haringey Social Services both
orally and in writing with the fullest details she possessed at the time. I am left in
no doubt that if Ms Johns had been given the full picture by the North Middlesex
Hospital staff, as they described to me in their evidence, she would have recorded
it and passed it on to Haringey.
The initial assessment
8.82 The inadequacies in the initial assessment may in part be attributable to the fact
that the Enfield-Haringey protocol in place at the time stipulated the following two
options in relation to Haringey child protection cases:
• Where there are clear concerns of child protection needs in a case, Enfield
hospital social workers find that usually Haringey Social Services respond
immediately, whether the case is known to them or not. If they cannot respond
immediately they agree a plan of action with the team manager.
• Where child protection needs are not clear but are suspected, if the case is
not known to Haringey, the hospital social worker will do an initial assessment
in consultation with the duty team manager, ie getting any background
information. This assessment will then be discussed with the duty team manager
and, if agreed that it is clearly child protection, the district team will continue the
work. If hospital social workers feel it is child protection and the district does not,
the team leaders of hospital and district need to discuss.
8.83 On 26 July 1999, having established that Victoria was unknown to Haringey,
Ms Johns had sufficient information in relation to the scalding incident to firmly put
Victoria’s case into the second of these two protocol options; in other words child
protection needs were not clear but suspected. When asked, Ms Johns accepted
that she had responsibility for Victoria from 3.15pm on 26 July – though in her
mind the responsibility went no further than seeking to clarify the referral. Counsel
to the Inquiry then pressed her as to which child protection protocol option
she thought the case fell into at that stage. Ms Johns was less than clear in her
response. I have no such doubts.
8.84 Ms Johns had already conceded that she did not, contrary to the advice she gave
to the nursing and medical staff on Rainbow ward in her memo, require clear
specification by a doctor of non-accidental injury and confirmation that the carers
had been told of a referral to social services before she could become involved.
Indeed, arguably the whole purpose of the second option, the ‘not clear’ category,
was to kick-start an initial assessment at the earliest opportunity (in conjunction
The Victoria Climbié Inquiry
236
with Haringey) in order to firm up the child protection concerns and assess the risk
to Victoria.
8.85 Admittedly, through no fault of Ms Johns, the child protection process had already
got off to a false start. Dr Forlee’s first discussion with Haringey Social Services
on the evening of 24 July 1999 had prompted no immediate investigative action.
Ms Johns, however, soon had an opportunity to get matters back on track. In my
view, the time she spent from 26 July onwards – reminding hospital staff of the
procedures to be followed – would have been better spent talking to Victoria and
Kouao and ascertaining the views of the medical and nursing staff responsible for
Victoria’s care. The only advantage in pressing for the proper completion of the
child protection forms with a clear diagnosis of child protection, from Enfield’s
perspective, was that it would move Victoria’s case into the first option, and
provided that Haringey accepted the case and could respond immediately, which
they did, responsibility for undertaking any assessment would pass to them. As a
result, any obligation on an Enfield hospital social worker to do more than the
most rudimentary first checks would have disappeared.
8.86 In the 24 hours or so that Victoria’s case rested with Ms Johns, and despite there
being no clear child protection concerns, Ms Johns did little more social work
investigative tasks than check whether Victoria was known to Haringey, speak to
medical staff, read Victoria’s case notes on the ward and consult with her manager.
There were no phone calls to any other agencies. For example, a phone call to the
Central Middlesex Hospital would have opened a whole trail of inquiries leading
back to Brent and Ealing Social Services. However, Ms Johns thought these were
part of the secondary checks that Haringey would perform. The fact they did
not is clearly not the responsibility of Enfield Social Services, but once again an
opportunity to pull together information known about Victoria by those whose
remit it was to do so, and for however short a period, was lost.
8.87 When asked what she thought was meant by an ‘initial assessment’, Ms Johns was
anything but clear because there was no clear definition at the time:
“At the time ... it was very unclear ... initial assessment could just
simply mean gathering the information that was available and clarifying
from that what kind of referral there was or was not, or perhaps even
interviewing a parent ... You might actually be assessing what kind of
case this is, because if child protection needs are not clear, that does
need to be clarified at some point. Before the case can be passed to
Haringey properly and appropriately, that does need to be clear.”
8.88 Both Ms Carr and Ms Lipworth supported Ms Johns’s notion that it was sufficient
as of 26 July 1999 to do no more than clarify the kind of referral Enfield was
dealing with before passing it on to Haringey. Enfield’s own management review
of Victoria’s case took a different view:
“It must be pointed out that an initial assessment would normally include
gathering background information and the Child Protection Guidelines
for North Middlesex Hospital state that a hospital should do preliminary
checks on all cases.”
8.89 However, while the author of that report conceded it was acceptable for those
initial checks, which according to the guidelines ought to include health visitor, GP,
police child protection team and school if relevant, to be undertaken by Haringey,
it was the author’s clear opinion that an initial assessment would normally include
contact with a parent.
8 Enfield Social Services
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8.90 The doubts expressed by many to the Inquiry about what constitutes an initial
assessment will hopefully be remedied with the full-scale implementation of the
new National Assessment Framework. For any experienced social worker in the
summer of 1999 to believe that undertaking an initial assessment – or as Ms Johns
would have it, clarifying the nature of a possible child protection referral – could be