Khyra Ishaq would “in all probability” not have died, said the judge, had welfare officers intervened and taken her from her mother and her mother’s convict boyfriend.
The case carries echoes of Baby Peter and came on the 10th anniversary of the killing of Victoria Climbie – raising questions over whether lessons were learned from their deaths and subsequent official inquiries.
Khyra was in Birmingham where 18 vulnerable children have died over the past five years, according to the local MP, who described the death rate as “an epidemic”.
She suffered months of abuse by Angela Gordon and Junaid Abuhamza.
Emaciated and confined to a squalid room, she was deprived of food and regularly beaten, dying in excruciating pain in May 2008, weighing 2st 9lb. She was found to have suffered more than 60 injuries. Khyra and five other children in the family home shared a single mattress and one small bowl of food a day, in conditions which were compared to a “Victorian workhouse”.
As Gordon and Abuhamza were convicted of manslaughter and child cruelty yesterday, the failures of social services and welfare officers were laid bare.
Mrs Justice King, in a report released yesterday, said: “Khyra’s death was caused by and is the responsibility of her mother and the Intervenor [Abuhamza], but on the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, Khyra would not have died.
“Merely looking at the photographs of the house and the conditions in which the children were living confirms in my mind that had social services even seen the bedroom in which the children lived or the manner in which they were fed, they would undoubtedly have intervened.
“It is beyond belief that in 2008 in a bustling, energetic and modern city like Birmingham, a child of seven was withdrawn from school and thereafter kept in squalid conditions for a period of five months before finally dying of starvation… No professional person, whether teacher or social worker, saw the children after Feb 2008 and no one tried to see them.”
The case follows that of Peter Connelly, Baby P, which caused national outrage.
He was 17 months old when he died in August 2007 at the hands of his mother Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and their lodger Jason Owen, after months of abuse and despite 60 visits from social workers and being on the “at risk” register.
Details of Khyra’s suffering emerged at the end of a criminal trial at Birmingham Crown Court. Gordon and Abuhamza had murder charges dropped after claiming diminished responsibility. Psychiatrists said Gordon, 35, had been suffering serious depression, while Abuhamza, 30, was a schizophrenic.
Mrs Justice King issued her damning verdict at the High Court in a ruling on care for the other five children in the house. It was released on the anniversary of the death of Victoria Climbie, the eight year-old starved to death by sadistic relations.
Tony Howell, strategic director children, young people and families at Birmingham council, last night refused to resign, saying it would serve no purpose. “I would like to say how sorry I am that we were unable to save Khyra Ishaq,” he said. “It has caused a great deal of hard reflection among all the agencies in the city who have a responsibility to protect vulnerable children.”
A serious case review is expected to be published within weeks. A spokesman said no disciplinary action would be taken until then.
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Bar, called for a wide-ranging inquiry into the city’s social services.
“We have had 18 deaths of vulnerable young people in Birmingham over the past five years, all of whom had come into contact somehow with social services – this is an epidemic,” he said.
Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, said the public would be “appalled” by Khyra’s death. “There are clearly serious questions to be answered about what local services and professionals were doing,” he said.
Ishaq Abuzaire, Khyra’s natural father, said: “These are classic social work failures. Every time I went there the child was dying, every time I’ve been to the house slowly and slowly that child was suffering.”