The statutory inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie was
launched last week with renewed promises of openness, thoroughness
Inquiry chairperson Herbert Laming confirmed that he and his
experts (see box) 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 was extended
last month to spring 2002.
Phase one will be concerned with the specifics of what happened
to Victoria and why. Phase two, which is likely to be less formal,
will examine the wider issues raised by the case.
Most witnesses have already received requests for written
statements. Once these have been collated, the legal counsel to the
inquiry – whose role will be to advise on matters of law, and
present the evidence – will then decide who will be called to give
Lord Laming confirmed media speculation that an approach had
been made to Climbie’s killers Marie-Therese Kouao and Carl Manning
“requiring them to give a statement detailing the 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 if required to do so.
Lord Laming said every effort was being made to ensure that
Climbie’s parents, who live in Ivory Coast, were well-informed
about the inquiry and able to contribute.
Acknowledging that some individuals or organisations would be
“subject to criticism” in the inquiry, Lord Laming promised every
effort 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
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.
All evidence would be given in public, with statements provided
to the inquiry and transcripts of evidence posted at www.victoria-climbie-inquiry.org.uk
However, Lord Laming added that he reserved the right to hear
evidence in private in “exceptional circumstances”. He also
stressed that the inquiry would not be concerned with questions of
civil or criminal liability.
During her 11 months in England, Climbie 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
Louis Blom-Cooper, the QC behind high-profile child death
inquiries in the 1980s, last week questioned the suitability of
Lord Laming – a former social services chief inspector – and his
team of assessors to lead an independent inquiry. Speaking on Radio
4’s PM programme he said it was vital the inquiry was conducted
“independently and impartially”.
Lord Laming’s team of expert advisers
– Nigel Richardson: assistant director, children and families,
for North Lincolnshire Council. Also vice-chairperson of the local
area child protection committee.
– Donna Kinnair: nurse, health visitor, and strategic
commissioner for children’s services for Lambeth, Southwark and
Lewisham Health Authority. Also chaired working groups on several
reviews into child deaths.
– Dr Nellie Adjaye: consultant paediatrician, with special
interest in community child health for Maidstone and Tunbridge
Wells NHS Trust. Also sits on review groups investigating child
abuse and child deaths.
– John Fox: detective superintendent and head of special
investigations department in the Hampshire Constabulary. Also sits
on four area child protection committees.