I’ve wanted to do a post similar to this for a long while now, and I’m happy to announce that I will finally be featuring crime-themed posts on my blog!
I’d never heard of this case up until about a week ago, but I feel like it’s an important one that should be shared as it had a massive impact on the laws surrounding child protection in England. Unfortunately, the life of a beautiful, young girl with so much potential was lost in order for this to happen – and so I believe that her name should be spread.
This is THE HEARTBREAKING CASE OF VICTORIA CLIMBÉ
Victoria Climbé was born on 2nd November 1991, Abobo, Côte d’Ivorie. She was the fifth out of six children to Francis Climbé and Berthe Amoissi. In October 1998, Francis’ aunt named Marie- Thérèse Kouao, visited the Climbé family after attending her brother’s funeral. She claimed that she wanted to take a child back with her to Paris, for educational purposes, and Victoria was more than happy to be chosen. Kouao had three other sons that she claimed welfare benefits for. Although her parents had only met Marie-Thérèse a few times, this type of informal arrangement was common within her family’s culture.
Originally, Marie-Thérèse planned on taking another young girl named Anna Kouao, but Anna’s parents changed their mind. When Marie-Thérèse flew back with Victoria to Paris, she made her travel on a French passport under the name of Anna Kouao – which she was known as afterwards, and pretended that she was her daughter.
Victoria was soon enrolled in a school, and by December Marie-Thérèse had already began to receive warnings about Victoria’s absenteeism. Soon in February, the school issued a child-at-risk notification and a social worker got involved. Teachers noted how Victoria would often fall asleep in her classes, and it was reported that Marie-Thérèse mentioned that she had a dermatological issue. On the 25th March 1999, Victoria had a shaven head and was wearing a wig. From the image of Victoria above, it’s clear to see that she had a thick and full head of hair, therefore it’s bizarre that five months later she’d ‘suddenly’ lost it all.
Due to a reason linked to child benefits, Marie-Thérèse owed the authorities £2,000, and was also evicted from her home in France due to rent arrears. It’s believed that she was simply using Victoria as a source for claiming benefits.
On 24th April 1999, the two left France to travel to the United Kingdom, in which they settled in Ealing, West London, and from this point on Victoria was known as Anna. They had reservations for a bed and breakfast in Acton. They were visited by Esther Ackah, a distant relative of Marie-Thérèse’s through marriage, who noted that Victoria was wearing a wig and looked rather small and frail. On the 26th April, Marie-Thérèse and Victoria went to a homeless person’s unit, and they were seen to by a officer named Julie Winter who helped Marie-Thérèse fill out a housing application form. Marie-Thérèse told Winter that Victoria was wearing a wig because she naturally had short hair. Winter failed to notice Victoria’s passport (that had a photograph of Anna) yet declined their application form anyway.
Between 26th April and early July, they’d already found residence at Nicoll Road, Harlesden, and were visited by social services eighteen times for financial and housing causes. Staff noted Victoria’s untidy appearance, a member of staff named Deborah Gaunt thought that she looked like a child from an ActionAid advertisement – which is a charity for supports poor women and girls. However, no further measures were put into place as they believed that Victoria’s appearance was quite simply ‘to persuade the authorities for money’.
Marie-Thérèse landed herself a job at Northwick Park Hospital, and during her first month working there, no efforts were made to engage Victoria in educational nor daycare activities. On the 8th of June, Marie-Thérèse took Victoria to a local GP surgery where she was reported as having no current medical problems. By mid-June, Victoria was being minded by a woman names Priscilla Cameron whilst Marie-Thérèse was at work, and spent most of her days at home. There was no evidence to show that Victoria was harmed when she was in the care of Cameron – in fact, on several occasions Cameron noted that Victoria has tiny cuts on her fingers, to which Marie-Thérèse said that they were caused by Victoria playing with razor blades.
The two soon saw Ackah on the street one day, and she noticed that Victoria had a scar on her cheek, to which Marie-Thérèse said that it was caused by Victoria falling on an escalator. Ackah visited their household three days later, and regarded it as being ‘unsuitable’. On the 18th June, she anonymously telephoned Brent social services to express her concern for Victoria’s situation, but when she phoned them back to ensure that the case was being dealt with, she was told that social services had ‘probably’ done something about it.
This continued for some time, and by this point Marie-Thérèse had found a boyfriend by the name of Carl Manning – and it believed that Victoria’s abuse increased when they moved into his one-bedroom flat in Somerset Gardens, Tottenham. A letter was sent to Nicoll Road informing them about a home visit, but they’d already moved to Manning’s house by then. Social officers Lori Hobbs and Monica Bridgeman visited the address, but of course recieved no answer. No further enquiries were made, which may have led them to Victoria’s whereabouts, nor were any background checks. The only additional referral notes that were made stated ‘Not at this address. Have moved’.
On 13th July, 1999 Marie-Thérèse took Victoria to Priscilla Cameron’s house and asked for her to take her permanently, as she didn’t want her no longer. Cameron refused, but agreed to take Victoria for the night. Cameron and her family saw that Victoria numerous injuries all over her body – including a burn on her face and a loose piece of skin hanging from her right eyelid – which Marie-Thérèse once again excused as being ‘self-inflicted’.
The following day, Cameron’s daughter Avril took Victoria to see her son’s French teacher named Marie Cader, who advised them to take her to the hospital. By 11:50 AM was seen by Dr Rhys Beynon who took in Victoria’s history based upon what Avril knew, and thought that her injuries were likely to be non-accidental. Victoria was taken to the Barnaby Bear ward, where she was seen to by Ajayi-Obe, a paediatric registrar. She asked Victoria about her various injuries, to which she said that she’d caused them, but Ajayi-Obe didn’t believe her and admitted her onto the ward.
The doctors alerted Brent police and social services, and placed Victoria under police protection with a 72-hour protection order that didn’t allow her to leave the hospital. Marie-Thérèse told them that Victoria had scabies – a medical condition that causes severe itchiness and pimple-like rashes, but doctors and nurses disagreed. However, Ruby Schwartz, a consultant paediatrician and child protection doctor, agreed and diagnosed Victoria as having scabies even though she hadn’t spoken to Victoria by herself. Social services were written to and were told that there were ‘no child protection issue’.
Michelle Hine, a child protection officer at the Brent council that reviewed a report notifying her about Victoria’s injuries, planned to open up an investigation, but trusted Schwartz’s decisions and downgraded the cases level of care.
Rachel Dewar, a police officer that was allocated to the case, lifted the police protection order – and Victoria went home on the 15th July 1999.
Shortly after on the 24th July 1999, Marie-Thérèse took Victoria to A&E at North Middlesex Hospital with severe scalding to her head as well as other injuries. They reported that there was no evidence of scabies on her body. Consultant Mary Rossiter felt as though Victoria was being abused, but still wrote that she was ‘able to discharge’ on her notes.
A doctor named Maureen Ann Meates felt like Victoria showed signs of neglect and emotional and physical abuse.
Social worker and police officer Lisa Arthurworrey and Karen Jones were assigned to follow up the case on 4th May 1999, but when they heard about the scabies they cancelled. Jones later called the hospital for further information about the disease, as she had no knowledge of it, but they reported no such inquiry and instead said that the injuries that Victoria had sustained were consistent with belt buckle marks.
On the 5th August 1999, Barry Almeida, a social worker, took Victoria to an NSPCC centre in Tottenham, assigned her to Sylvia Henry who closed the case as soon as they found out that Victoria had moved house. That same day, Marie-Thérèse told Arthurworrey and Jones that Victoria had poured boiling water over herself to relieve the itchiness of the scabies. They believed her, and Victoria returned home later that day.
After this, Marie-Thérèse kept Victoria far from hospitals and instead opted to turning to the churches. She told pastors that she was Victoria’s mother, and that there were demons inside of her. Most of the pastors believed that injuries were due to demonic possession, although one pastor suspected abuse – but did nothing.
As of October 1999, Manning forced Victoria to sleep in a bin liner filled with her own excrement – to which he later explained that he did due to her ‘frequent bedwetting’. On November 14th 1999, Marie-Thérèse told social workers that Manning sexually assaulted Victoria, but later withdrew her accusation. Jones sent a letter to Marie-Thérèse, but there was no answer and therefore no further action was taken.
Between December 1999 and January 2000, Arthurworrey made three visits to the flat, but there was no answer and so they speculated that they’d moved back to France. Despite having no evidence of this, supervisor Carole Baptiste wrote in Victoria’s file that they’d left the area. They concluded that if they received no contact then they’d close the case, and by 25th February 2000 they closed the case – the same day that Victoria had died.
She died from hypothermia, but had sustained multiple organ failure and malnutrition. At the hospital, Marie-Thérèse was said to keep saying ‘my baby, my baby’ but didn’t seem sincere.
A pathologist noted 128 separate injuries and scars, and said that it was the ‘worst case of child abuse’ that they’d encountered.
The report showed that Victoria had been burnt with cigarettes, tied up for periods of time longer than 24 hours, hit with bike chains, hammers and wires.
Marie-Thérèse was arrested the same day that Victoria died, Manning the next. She denied all charges, but he pleaded guilty to charges or cruelty and manslaughter.
The thing that is so disappointing and utterly frustrating about Victoria’s case is that SO many people were involved, yet nobody took any further actions to investigate what was happening until it was far too late. A total of four local authorities, two child protection teams and hospitals, an NSPCC centre and local churches somehow didn’t realise that an innocent, eight year old girl was being abused by a woman that she was supposed to trust and have a better life with. EVERYONE let Victoria down and that is what is so heartbreaking about her case.
Victoria’s murder really goes to show what blatant ignorance and neglect can lead to, but fortunately it led to the Every Child Matters programme, which aims to improve the lives of children as well as the introduction of the Children Act 2004. As I previously said, it’s a great shame and disgrace that a life had to be lost in order for these measures to be put into place, but I’m grateful to be able to share her story.
SOURCE OF INFORMATION – MURDER OF VICTORIA CLIMBE, WIKIPEDIA
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