Councils under pressure from Climbie Inquiry

Councillors
at Haringey and Brent Councils were placed firmly in the firing line at the
opening of the Victoria Climbie Inquiry yesterday (Wednesday) over spending
cuts in children’s services prior to Climbie’s death writes Lauren
Revans.

Making
his opening statement, counsel to the inquiry Neil Garnham QC said questions
would need to be answered by members of both London councils about decisions to
spend significantly less on children’s services than the amount earmarked by
the government’s Standard Spending Assessment.

Haringey
and Brent are two of the three councils that came into contact with Climbie
during her brief life in England before she died in February 2000 at the hands
of her great-aunt Marie-Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning. Climbie
was also known to Ealing Council, the North Middlesex and Central Middlesex
Hospitals, and the Metropolitan Police.

Garnham
told the inquiry that Haringey Council appeared to have spent “at least £10m
less” on children’s services than the £27.9m the government would have
permitted them to spend in 1998-9.

“That
is perfectly lawful but if our analysis of the figures is correct, the council
should not be blaming central government for providing inadequate resources;
they should instead be explaining the political decision to take money
earmarked for children’s services and use it elsewhere,” Garnham said. “The
question is whether a greater proportion of the Standard Spending Assessment
which could have been spent on children’ services, should have been spent on
children’s services.”

In
Brent, only £14.5m was spent on children’s services in both 1997-8 and 1998-9
despite the SSA earmarking £26.5m and £28.1m respectively.

“During
this two-year period, Brent decided that over £26m that might have been spent
on children was spent on something else,” Garnham said. “We await their
evidence on this subject with interest.”

Garnham
began his opening statement with a reminder that Climbie’s death was not an
“isolated act of madness” by two individuals, but a prolonged period of
ill-treatment that was not out of sight of the authorities. “The signs were
there,” he said. “In fact, it seems as if the signs were on display time and
time again. But they went unheeded.”

He
said the agencies charged with duties of child protection had missed at least
12 chances to save Climbie, including their repeated failure to undertake a
proper assessment of her needs despite numerous reports of concerns, their
failure to follow-up allegations of sexual abuse, and finally the closure of
Climbie’s social work and police files “on the hunch of a social worker to the
effect that the family might have moved abroad”.

Garnham
said the evidence to date on Climbie’s case seemed to bear “so many of the
hallmarks of previous fatal child abuse cases” and urged inquiry chairperson
Lord Herbert Laming to ensure that the lessons were not allowed to be ignored
again.

“If
the cost and effort involved in this inquiry are not to be wasted, it will be
essential that a mechanism is found to ensure recommendations you make are
properly considered and acted upon by those in a position to make a
difference,” Garnham told Laming.

“In
that context, there may be merit in your making your first recommendation that
the department of health appoint an officer charged with the task of reviewing
periodically the implementation of recommendations made by this inquiry and
reporting and publishing the results of that review.”

Lawyers
for the 13 parties that came into contact with Climbie between April 1999 and
February 2000 were due to present half-hour summaries of their cases to the
inquiry today (Thursday). The first phase of the inquiry is expected to last
until late December.

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