Britain reviews child protection after toddler’s death by torture

November 12th, 2008 - 11:44 am ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 12 (IANS) A shocked British government has ordered a full review of the country’s child protection measures after a court convicted a young mother, her boyfriend and another man for the terrible death by torture of a 17-month-old child. In his short life, the boy known as Baby P endured 50 injuries - including broken bones and back - at his home in a London borough.

Child officers, police and doctors saw him 60 times, temporarily took him under their care thrice and arrested his mother twice. However, according to lawyers at the trial, Baby P still did not pass the “evidence threshold” to be taken into care. Now, after the convictions, the administration is wondering how it went wrong.

This is the second such case from the same borough of Haringey. The nation was shocked in 2000, when eight-year-old Victoria Climbié died of malnourishment and a whopping 128 injuries caused by her guardians. Child carers failed to notice her condition, leading to the first review of the child protection system.

Baby P’s 27-year-old mother, her boyfriend and Jason Owen - a man staying in their house - were Tuesday convicted of allowing the child’s death. They now await sentencing.

The child was used as “a punching bag”, the court was told, according to The Guardian.

A paediatric pathologist who examined Baby P after his death said that he had never seen such damage done to a child. The court heard that a tooth must have been swallowed after a violent blow to the head, fingernails were missing, eight ribs had been fractured and chocolate was smeared over him to cover his bruises when social workers visited.

His mother, who had a traumatic childhood with a drug addict mother, was able to manipulate social workers and police. She deceived them with the appearance of cooperation, taking the child to doctors when he was ill and apparently seeking help. On three occasions, the baby was released back into her care. The last was two months before he died.

The first signs of abuse began to appear in December 2006, a month after the boyfriend moved in. A police detective said he was “sadistic - fascinated with pain” and jurors heard suggestions that he may have tortured his younger brother during childhood.

Police believe the biggest factor in the tragedy was the boyfriend’s hidden presence in the house. Had they known he was living there, Baby P might have been saved, detectives said. The police had no idea that he had been in the house because he had “purposefully evaded” them at every opportunity.

Two days before Baby P’s death, he was examined at a hospital by paediatrician Sabah al-Zayatt who allegedly failed to spot his broken back. The General Medical Council is investigating her case.

Hospital chief executive Jane Collins said: “Clearly we didn’t get things right - a child died.”

Two social workers and a lawyer received warnings, but there were no sackings or resignations, said Sharon Shoesmith of Haringey Safeguarding Children Board.

Harry Ferguson, professor of social work at the University of the West of England, said: “The striking thing for me is how the social workers failed to touch the child, to examine him…it exposes structural weaknesses in how we are failing to prepare professionals.”

Lord Laming, the child protection expert who led the inquiry into the Climbié case, said: “People who do deliberate harm to a child go to great lengths to disguise what they have done. People working in this field have to recognise this in their evidence gathering.”

Mor Dioum, director of the Victoria Climbié Foundation, said: “This case is worse than Climbié. The signs were there but were not followed.”

Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes said the incident was shocking and asked Lord Laming to report on how his recommendations were being addressed nationally.

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