Laming promises openness

    The statutory inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie was
    launched last week with renewed promises of openness, thoroughness
    and independence.

    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
    oral evidence.

    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
    limited.

    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
    action.

    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.

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