Norman Tutt, Director of Social Services at Ealing Council, faced hostile questioning at a public meeting organised to discuss the public inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié.
Around fifty people attended the meeting held at Ealing Town Hall on 9 December 2002, which was preceded by a vigil on Ealing Broadway. The event was organised by Southall Black Sisters and the Family Foundation Group, a campaigning organisation born out of the Victoria Climbié family campaign.
Norman Tutt told the meeting that, while he accepted that errors had been made, no system of child protection could do anything to prevent abuse, where an abuser sets out, like Marie Thérèse Kouao, to deceive social workers. But, Raju Bhatt, solicitor for the Climbié family, said that such a claim ‘beggars belief’ and contradicts evidence submitted to the inquiry which shows that staff at Ealing Social Services did recognise signs of abuse but failed to act on it. The Climbié family have repeatedly expressed their frustration at individual and departmental failures to accept responsibility.
Eight-year-old Victoria Adjo Climbié died at St. Marys Hospital in London in February 2000. She had endured appalling abuse at the hands of her great aunt, Marie Thérèse Kouao, and Kouao’s boyfriend, Carl Manning. Victoria’s parents – Francis Climbié and Berthe Amoissi – had sent their daughter from Ivory Coast to stay in Europe, believing that she would receive a better education and escape poverty. But instead Victoria suffered months of neglect and beatings.
Between the end of April and early July 1999, there were fifteen contacts between Kouao and Ealing, the first local authority to have contact with Victoria. Although little of it was recorded, social workers did have concerns about Victoria’s physical appearance and her relationship with Kouao. She appeared to one member of staff to resemble ‘an Action Aid poster’. Yet no assessment was made of Victoria’s needs and nor were there any enquiries made about her schooling. Tutt told the public meeting that there are too many new arrivals coming into Ealing from abroad to check each one’s school registration.
Esther Ackah, a member of the public who had, in June 1999, alerted Brent Social Services of her concerns about Victoria (but was ignored), told the meeting that, in her view, Ealing had been too focused on preventing fraudulent housing claims by Kouao and did not pay enough attention to the welfare of the child in her care.
As director of Ealing social services, Norman Tutt has been praised for turning around a department condemned by the Department of Health as ‘the worst in the country’ in 1997. However, Ealing Social Services now stands accused of missing the first of the thirteen alleged opportunities that social workers, doctors and police in three London boroughs had to prevent Victoria’s death.
Marie Thérèse Kouao and Carl Manning were found guilty of murder in January 2001. The public inquiry into one of the worst ever cases of child abuse in Britain is expected to report in early 2003.