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Climbie council 'is still failing abused children'

A north London council criticised for failing to save the life of Victoria Climbié faces new allegations that social workers ignored other child abuse cases.

Claims made by a Haringey senior social worker, Nevres Kemal, allege that the council's inaction exposed seven children to serious risk of abuse by their stepfather. When she raised these concerns with her superiors, Ms Kemal alleges that she was victimised and racially discriminated against.

Ms Kemal says that what she uncovered has worrying echoes of Victoria Climbié who died in 2000 as a result of the neglect and the vicious beatings meted out by her great-aunt, Marie Thérèse Kouao, and her boyfriend Carl Manning.

An inquiry into the multi-agency care of Victoria found that, on at least 12 occasions, care workers could have saved her life. The report has led to further reforms of child protection including creation of a Universal Child Database to keep track of every child in Britain in order better to co-ordinate the notes of doctors and social workers.

The new allegations against Haringey made by Ms Kemal concern events in 2004 and 2005. In a claim before Watford employment tribunal Ms Kemal says she became aware of sexual abuse allegations in October 2004, two months after they were first brought to the attention of Haringey Council.

She has told the tribunal: "I noticed on reviewing the file that, from the time of the initial allegations, the children were not subject to any medical examination. This lost potentially important forensic evidence and denied the children any necessary timely medical care that would have been required."

In late 2004 Ms Kemal says she first reported that a case of child abuse had not been properly dealt with by management. "After this whistle-blowing, management became hostile towards me. The files I was passed indicated that children who had been sexually abused [with objects inserted into them] had been left in the care of their abusers for nine months. It was horrific."

Ms Kemal claims that, shortly after raising her concerns, management targeted her for unfavourable treatment. "They sought to manipulate a complaint that was made in bad faith and which was vexatious to engineer my dismissal or to undermine me and damage my credibility should there be any disciplinary against them for putting the lives of vulnerable children at risk," she says.

On Friday, the tribunal entered a judgment against Haringey after the council failed to answer the claims made against them.

Ms Kemal, who is being represented by the law firm Equal Justice, is asking the tribunal to award her punitive damages that could run into millions of pounds. Her solicitor, Lawrence Davies, said yesterday: "Haringey Social Services is not a disaster waiting to happen. It has already happened once and now it is alleged to have happened again. It is claimed a child sex abuser is not being challenged. The lives of vulnerable children are being ruined."

A spokesman for Haringey Council described Ms Kemal's allegations as "spurious and incorrect." He said: "Detailed investigations were carried out after Ms Kemal made a number of allegations. These investigations have found that correct procedures were followed and that children were not put at risk by any action or inaction by us. The employment tribunal papers at the centre of this woman's claim against us were never served on us; her solicitor gave the tribunal the wrong address."

A statement issued by Haringey claims that its legal department only became aware of the claim on Friday. "Therefore we will be asking the employment tribunal to set aside their decision to issue a default judgment against us. Having now seen the claim, we will robustly fight this case. If she has further allegations or more detailed evidence, then of course we would look into them. Ms Kemal is not and never has been employed by Haringey Council as a child protection officer. Ms Kemal is a senior social worker in our Leaving Care team but does not manage staff."

Mr Davies said: "The address we gave to the tribunal was Haringey's head office. If Haringey have left the building, it is news to us."

Lessons from Victoria's case

The death of Victoria Climbié seven years ago this week sparked one of the biggest inquiries into child protection in Britain.

Lord Laming's final report in 2003 identified major failings in all agencies that came into contact with Victoria during her short life in London.

The inquiry found that care workers missed at least 12 chances to save Victoria. Despite their contact with the girl, staff knew no more about her when she died than when they first saw her.

Lord Laming said it was lamentable that "nothing more than basic good practice" would have saved her but "this never happened". All the services involved were under-funded and short-staffed, while child protection policies and guidelines were up to a decade out of date.

Victoria Climbié was born in Abobo near Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and at age seven was sent by her parents to Europe with her great-aunt Marie Thérèse Kouao for a chance for a better education.

They travelled first to France, and then to England. In London, Kouao met Carl Manning, a bus driver, and she and Victoria moved into his flat in Tottenham in July 1999. Here, Victoria was abused by both Kouao and Manning.

She was admitted to casualty on 24 February, 2000, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. She died the next day.

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