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50 injuries, 60 visits - failures that led to the death of Baby P
Review ordered after mother and two men convicted over death of toddler
12th November 2008
Ministers last night ordered an urgent nationwide review of child protection procedures in the wake of the death of a 17-month-old boy at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and another man.
The three were convicted at the Old Bailey in a case that has many echoes of the terrible death of Victoria Climbié, whose murder eight years ago, in the same north London borough, Haringey, led to widespread changes in child protection.
The woman, 27, and her boyfriend, 32, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and another man, Jason Owen, 36, were convicted of causing or allowing the death of Baby P, whose identity is also protected by a court order. All three were cleared of murder.
The trial heard that the boy, who was on the child protection register, suffered more than 50 injuries during an eight-month period in which he was seen 60 times by social and health workers, but according to lawyers still did not pass the threshold to be taken into care.
Lord Laming, the child protection expert who led the inquiry into the Climbié case, spoke last night of his distress that another child known to welfare and health services should suffer such a violent death in the same borough. "What I had hoped was that Haringey would develop services that would make it an examplar of good practice," Lord Laming told the Guardian. "Although our recommendations were not directed only at Haringey, I had hoped that they would be a sufficient stimulus for Haringey to say 'never again'."
The children's minister, Beverley Hughes, has now asked Lord Laming to prepare an independent report on how his recommendations are being addressed nationally. She added: "This is a very tragic case that makes all of us question how someone could do such a terrible thing to a child and set out to deceive the very people trying to help."
The paediatric pathologist who examined Baby P after his death said that he never seen such damage done to a child. The court heard that a tooth must have been swallowed after a violent blow to the head, fingernails were missing, eight ribs had been fractured and chocolate was smeared over him to cover his bruises when social workers visited.
Two days before the boy died, in August last year, a paediatrician, Dr Sabah al-Zayatt, allegedly failed to spot that he had a broken back. A full examination was not carried out because the child seemed "cranky", the doctor noted.
Her contract has not been renewed by Great Ormond Street hospital, said the hospital's chief executive, Dr Jane Collins, who added that al-Zayatt was appealing against the decision. "Clearly we didn't get things right - a child died," said Dr Collins.
"More should have been done when the child was seen by a paediatrician two days before he died."
Two social workers and a lawyer have been given written warnings but there have been no sackings or resignations over the case, said Sharon Shoesmith, chair of the Haringey local safeguarding children board. "I can only begin to tell you the shock and horror there is across Haringey over this," she said. "The very sad fact is that you cannot stop people who are determined to kill children." She added that "lessons will be learned" and that, with hindsight, different actions could have been taken.
Police investigating the case said that the mother had persistently covered up the abuse. Detective Superintendent Caroline Bates, of Scotland Yard's child abuse investigation command, said: "She repeatedly chose to mislead professionals in order to enable the continued abuse of her son. We cannot guarantee a child will not be the victim of abuse by his carers, but we continue to investigate allegations of child abuse and to assess the risks to children based on information available."
The three defendants will be sentenced on December 15, and face maximum sentences of up to 14 years in prison.
Care professionals denied yesterday that the case showed the system established after the Climbié inquiry did not work. Maggie Atkinson, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said: "While this case is clearly an individual tragedy, it is not a symptom of a broken child-protection system ... This work is complex and difficult and sadly we cannot eliminate risk or the miscalculation of risk. Not every tragedy can be prevented but we must continue to strive to do so - we owe this child and those who loved him that much."
The foundation set up in the wake of the Climbié case called for a full inquiry. Mor Dioum, director of the Victoria Climbié Foundation, said: "This case is worse than Climbié. The signs were there but were not followed." There had been lapses in information sharing between the agencies and the child had not been put first, he suggested. "I do not think they can scapegoat an individual in this case. We must look at the system as a whole."
Wes Cuell, acting chief executive of the NSPCC, said last night: "Even with substantial child-protection reforms, spotting the danger to an individual child remains fraught with difficulty - especially when the child is too young to speak out."
On average, 47 preschool children are killed every year, mostly by parents or carers. Some of them not known to local agencies before they are killed.
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