The statutory inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie (also
known as Anna) has been formally launched with more promises of
openness, thoroughness and independence, writes Lauren
Inquiry chairperson Herbert Laming confirmed that he and his
newly-announced team of experts would begin hearing evidence from
witnesses at the end of September and expected phase one of the
inquiry to last until mid-December. The inquiry’s overall deadline
had already been extended to Spring 2002.
Phase one will be “backward looking” and concerned with the
specifics of what happened to Victoria and why. Phase two, which is
likely to be less formal, will be “forward looking” and concerned
with the wider issues raised by the case.
The majority of known witnesses have already received requests
for written statements. Once received, it will then be down to the
counsel to the inquiry – whose role will be to assist the
investigation, advise on matters of law, and present the evidence –
to decide who will be called to give oral evidence.
Lord Laming confirmed media speculation that an approach had
already been made by the inquiry to Victoria’s killers
Marie-Therese Kouao and Carl Manning “requiring them to give a
statement detailing what services they sought while Victoria was
supposedly in their care”. Manning has responded positively and
Kouao is expected to follow suit.
It has not yet been decided how or where either of them would
give oral evidence in the event that they were required to do
Lord Laming said that all efforts were being made to ensure that
Victoria’s parents, who live in the Ivory Coast, were well-informed
about the inquiry and able to contribute.
Acknowledging that some individuals or organisations would be
“subject to criticism” during the inquiry, Lord Laming promised
that additional steps would be taken to ensure that proceedings
were conducted fairly.
“I will make no findings significantly adverse to an individual
without ensuring that that individual has first had a proper
opportunity to answer the criticism,” he said.
Lord Laming confirmed that legal representation to the inquiry
would be permitted, but warned that both public funding of legal
costs and the role of the lawyer during evidence-giving would be
However, he conceded that while interested parties would not
ordinarily be permitted to call witnesses or cross-examine, counsel
to the inquiry would consider requests from interested parties for
additional witnesses to be called or for particular lines of
questioning to be followed.
In line with the inquiry’s policy on openness, Lord Laming said
that all evidence would be given in public, with statements
provided to the inquiry and transcripts of each day’s evidence
posted on the inquiry’s website at www.victoria-climbie-inquiry.org.uk
However, he added that he reserved the right to hear evidence in
private in “exceptional circumstances”. He also stressed that the
inquiry would be “inquisitorial not adversarial”, and would not be
concerned with questions of civil or criminal liability, nor linked
to any disciplinary hearings.
Victoria was bought from the Ivory Coast to England by her
great-aunt Kouao in March 1999, and became the victim of systematic
and horrific abuse at the hands of Kouao and Kouao’s boyfriend
Manning before her death, aged eight, in February 2000.
During those 11 months, Victoria came into contact with four
local authorities, two health authorities, two NHS Trusts and the
Metropolitan Police. Five social workers and eight child protection
police officers are currently facing disciplinary action.
In January 2001, health secretary Alan Milburn announced a
statutory inquiry into her death, later confirming that its
statutory base would encompass the Children Act 1989, the NHS Act
1977, and the Police Act 1996.
To see a list of the inquiry assessors visit: www.victoria-climbie-inquiry.org.uk/assessors.htm