Thursday, 18 December 2008

"baby p": another dutroux or casa pia? ( 7 texts)

London's bourough of Haringey has last year witnessed the horrors of the "Baby P" affair. Behind this child molester-killer story, emerge patterns reminding of the Casa Pia ( Portugal ) or the Dutroux ( Belgium) stories that deserve further investigations.

Hereafter some UK press articles where you can discover that:

1/ in 8 months ( 240 days ) a molested baby has been seen 60 times ( once every 4 days ) by social services which did not detect anything.

2/ The director of Harringey's child protection service tried to block an inquiry of her department.

3/ The borough spent 19,000£ on spin to better answer the public outcry.

4/ Relatives of Baby P parents were involved in a child sex ring

5/ In another instance, the Haringey social services transferred a child from a good foster family to some child molester.

What hides this kind of cover up and piling up of blinding evidences?

Alexandre de Perlinghi

The 60 missed chances to save abused child's life

Despite numerous visits from social workers, a toddler was allowed to die from the horrific injuries inflicted by his guardians

By Mark Hughes, Crime Correspondent

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A baby who was beaten, bruised and left to die by his guardians was seen 60 times by social workers but was never taken into care. The child was seen 18 times by council staff, 37 times by health workers and five times by welfare officers, yet no one rescued him from his abusers before he died.

Yesterday, a nationwide review of children's services was launched after Haringey Council in north London was again accused of failing to prevent the harrowing death of a child. Haringey was the authority involved in the case of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, who was murdered at the hands of her great-aunt and her boyfriend in 2000.

Now the authority faces fresh criticism over the death of the 17-month-old child, known as Baby P, who was battered and abused for eight months, despite being on the council's child protection register.

Yesterday Baby P's 27-year-old mother, her 32-year-old boyfriend and their lodger, Jason Owen, 36, were convicted at the Old Bailey of causing or allowing the death of a child.

Murder charges against the mother and Jason Owen were dropped after the judge decided there was insufficient evidence to convict. The 32-year-old man was yesterday found not guilty of murder. After their conviction, attention turned to the authorities which apparently failed Baby P in the months leading up to his death. The Metropolitan Police admitted errors in their investigation, while a doctor at St Ann's Hospital, Tottenham, has not had her contract renewed for her failure to spot that the child had a broken back and ribs just two days before he died.

But it is the conduct of Haringey Council that prompted children's minister Beverley Hughes to announce a nationwide independent review of child protection services. The council's failings in the Climbié case led to Lord Laming's inquiry which made recommendations in child protection reform. But just five years after that report was published, the Government yesterday asked the peer to conduct another inquiry following the death of Baby P.

Ms Hughes said: "To ensure the reforms the Government set out after Lord Laming's inquiry are being implemented systematically, Ed Balls and I have asked Lord Laming to prepare an independent report of progress being made across the country."

Yesterday, Lord Laming, who called for a series of reforms in the wake of Victoria Climbié's death, said the similarities between her case and Baby P's were "dispiriting".

In the eight months that Haringey Council was involved in the case, social workers visited the home of Baby P 60 times – twice a week – but failed to take the child into care. At one point, they allowed Baby P to return to his mother even when she was on bail for attacking him.

The case has been described as "worse than Climbié". It is very similar. It involved the same council, the same health visitor clinic in Lordship Lane, Tottenham, and one of the same social workers, Sylvia Henry.

Ms Henry was accused of lying in official records relating to the Climbié case to cover up her team's lack of action. In the Baby P case, she was one of the social workers involved in the decision to return Baby P to his mother during the initial inquiry in December 2006.

Two social workers and a lawyer at Haringey Council have been given written warnings after a review into their conduct during the case. Ms Henry, it was confirmed to The Independent last night, will not be disciplined and she, along with every other social worker involved in the case, will keep her job.

Yesterday Sharon Shoesmith, the chairwoman of Haringey's local safeguarding children board – the body that led the independent review, refused to apologise for her council's handling of the case.

Instead, she criticised the child's mother for "deceit" in dealing with the council and the police, and extolled the benefits of hindsight, but said: "The very sad fact is you cannot stop anyone who is determined to kill their children.

"Of course we are shocked by the details of this but no agency killed this child. This child was killed by members of his own family. The agencies are not responsible." Dr Jane Collins, the chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital, which provided paediatric services to Baby P, said that Dr Sabah Al Zayyat – the doctor who failed to spot Baby P's broken back and rib two days before he died – had not had her contract renewed – a decision the GP is fighting.

Asked about the hospital's role in the child's death, Dr Collins added: "Our doctor did not show the diligence expected. Do you not think we feel bad about that? We feel as uncomfortable about that as you do. Clearly we did not get things right. He [Baby P] died and we need to do things better."

The police also admitted to errors in their handling of the case. Detective Superintendent Caroline Bates, who led the inquiry, said: "With hindsight, having the benefit of a major investigation, we know quite clearly the mother was lying and trying to subvert agencies involved with the family."

Privately, however, the police are said to be angry at the lack of co-operation shown by Haringey Council. Sources say that the council's unwillingness to disclose vital documents relating to the case hampered their investigation.

The tragically short life of Baby P was marred by violence and marked by a series of blunders and missed opportunities by the organisations in charge with saving him from abuse.

Just two days before his death, Baby P was taken to see Dr Zayyat. During the trial at the Old Bailey, jurors were told Dr Zayyat did not spot the fact the child had a broken back and nine broken ribs. Instead, she noted that he was "miserable"and had a cold and sent him home.

The visit to the doctor was the last chance anyone had to save Baby P, but it was certainly not the first.

Throughout the investigation, Baby P's 27-year-old mother lied to the police and social services and claimed his injuries were caused because he was a feisty child who liked to headbutt things.

Neither the police nor the social workers, both of whom visited the home several times, realised the mother was sharing her home with two men. And tragically, they decided to drop the investigation into the alleged abuse the day that the child died.

Baby P's natural father left the family home in July 2006, four months after his son was born. In November 2006, the mother, described as a slob "devoid from reality" and obsessed with internet chatrooms and daytime television, moved her new boyfriend into the house, in Tottenham.

The mother did not inform social services that her new boyfriend, who had a fascination with knives and was "sadistic" and "fascinated with pain" according to the police, had moved in. In December 2006, the mother was arrested after bruises were found on the Baby P's face and chest. Social services were informed and visited the council flat in Haringey, which the mother and her boyfriend shared with three dogs including a large Rottweiler.

There, they found pornography scattered around the house, which was dirty and smelled of urine. Baby P was placed on the child protection register and handed to a family friend but was allowed to return home after five weeks.

In April 2007, he was admitted to North Middlesex Hospital with bruises, two black eyes and swelling on of his head. His mother claimed he had fallen onto a marble fireplace and blamed his grandmother for the injuries.

Baby P returned to the hospital in June 2007, again with bruises. That time, his mother blamed the injuries on a fight he had with another child. She was rearrested and bailed and police officers recommended the child should not be allowed to return to his mother.

Detective Superintendent Caroline Bates said: "The officers involved felt very strongly that the child should not be returned to the family."

Despite that, the child was returned to the house as he had not reached the threshold required for taking a child into care.

Later that month, on 29 June, the abuse accelerated when Owen moved into the flat.

The following day, 30 June, Maria Ward, the appointed social worker paid an unannounced visit to the house. She is said to have missed injuries to the child's face and hands because he had been smeared with chocolate to disguise them.

On 1 August came the last chance to save Baby P's life. He was taken to Dr Al Zayyat who did not spot the child's terrible injuries.

The following day, the mother was told by police she would not be prosecuted. But that evening the child was to suffer a final and fatal attack when he was punched so hard in the mouth that he swallowed his tooth and suffered damage to his spine and neck. The following morning, Baby P was found dead in his cot. Experts said he had been dead for several hours.

The 28 'experts' who failed to save battered Baby P

Baby P was seen by 28 different social workers, doctors and police officers before he was tortured to death, it has emerged.

By Gordon Rayner and Nick Allen

17 Nov 2008

All of them had contact with the 17-month-old boy after concerns were first raised that he was being abused, but their combined expertise failed to save him from the violent beatings that finally killed him eight months later.

Baby P was taken to hospital nine times, the last occasion coming two days before his death, when his spine had been broken but doctors failed to spot that he had been paralysed because he was “quite miserable and crying” and so, they said, it was not possible to make a “full examination”.

The catalogue of missed opportunities, revealed in court documents, begin on March 1 2006, the date of Baby P’s birth. It shows how medical complaints escalated from minor childhood infections to increasingly distressing injuries.

It includes excuses given to explain Baby P’s injuries, which become more severe once the mother’s boyfriend moved in.

The catalogue includes:

October 13 2006, “bruising to head and chest / accidental fall downstairs”,

December 19 2006, Defendant and mother arrested regarding assault, with P receiving a leg x-ray two days later.

April 5 2007, P is pushed into a fireplace, something the defendant says was done by another child.

June 8 2007, P is registered for neglect, but continues to return to hospital with ear infections and head lice.

August 1, 2007, P seen by doctors at St Annes Hospital who notes he is “quite miserable crying” so they are unable to make a full examination.

August 3, 2007, emergency services receive a 999 call and P dies at hospital.

It was also claimed yesterday that the social worker responsible for Baby P’s welfare was dealing with 50 per cent more cases than the supposed maximum.

Maria Ward was allegedly dealing with 18 cases at the time of the boy’s death in August 2007 despite Haringey council’s guidelines stipulating that no more than 12 cases be allocated to each social worker. It says her caseload was seven families.

Miss Ward’s alleged predicament mirrors that of Lisa Arthurworrey, the social worker who had responsibility for Victoria Climbié when the eight-year-old was killed in Haringey in 2000. Miss Arthurworrey had 19 cases — a workload that Haringey said at the time was too high.

A spokesman for Haringey council said Miss Ward had seven families allocated to her, which it said was “in line with the average caseload for our social workers” but it refused to comment on whether the seven families included 18 different children.

Last week, the mother’s 32-year-old boyfriend and another man, Jason Owen, 36, were convicted of causing or allowing the death of Baby P. The mother, 27, had previously admitted a similar charge.

Meanwhile, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls could draft in a 'hit squad’ to take over the running of Haringey social services once an urgent inquiry into the Baby P incident has been completed, it was reported last night.

Hampshire’s head of children’s services John Coughlan has already been sent in to ensure that the correct procedures are being followed.

Mr Balls promised to “come down hard” on anyone who was found to have failed in their duty of care to Baby P when he receives an interim report into the child’s death on Dec 1. “Where serious mistakes are made there must be accountability and I will not hesitate in responding to what went wrong,” he said.


Shoesmith tried to halt inquiry after death of Baby P.

Caroline Gammell.

Dec 12, 2008

THE disgraced director of children's services at Haringey council tried to prevent an investigation into her department six months after the death of Baby P, a leaked report shows.

Sharon Shoesmith, who was sacked on Monday, said a full review of child protection services was unnecessary due to "good performance in this area''.

Despite the child's death, the 55-year-old said such a review would not "add value''. She even suggested that her staff be "commended''.

Mrs Shoesmith's attempts to shield her department came in her Child Protection Feasibility Report last February. Baby P died in August last year after suffering months of abuse at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger.

Last week, a review by Ofsted concluded that there had been a catalogue of failings at Haringey with breakdowns in communication, poor record taking and bad management.

Mrs Shoesmith was fired from her pounds 100,000-a-year post without compensation.

But in her report, she praised Haringey children's service, saying it should be "commended for improving performance in this area''. She made no mention of Baby P.

Mrs Shoesmith insisted that the council's overview and scrutiny committee did not need to review the child protection service.

She said Ofsted had rated the service as "good'' in its 2007 annual performance assessment, a report which has since been discredited and strongly criticised.

"In the light of the good performance in this area, as recognised by the recent annual performance assessment and the existing reporting and monitoring arrangements both locally and nationally, the committee agrees that a full scrutiny review would not be beneficial or add value to the service,'' Mrs Shoesmith wrote.

The report was uncovered by lawyers for Nevres Kemal, the social worker who warned four government ministers and Ofsted that Haringey social services were "out of control'' six months before the death of Baby P.

Lawrence Davies, of the lawyers Equal Justice, said he had written to Gordon Brown about the report and had demanded an independent inquiry into Ofsted.

"Without our client's action, the public would be none the wiser and Haringey would still be commending itself,'' he said.

"It is of public importance that those involved in the child protection tragedy in Haringey are made accountable and that, regrettably, includes Ofsted inspectors.''

Mrs Shoesmith was suspended on full pay last week before her contract was terminated. Two other senior social workers were suspended while three others were placed under review.

Baby P died in August last year after months of abuse that was concealed from social workers

Source Citation:Gammell, Caroline. "Shoesmith tried to halt inquiry after death of Baby P.(News)." Daily Telegraph


Council paid £19k for Baby P 'spin'


08 Dec 2008

SHAMED Haringey Council squandered £19,000 trying to make Baby P scandal boss Sharon Shoesmith look better.

MPs were furious last night after learning spin doctors were hired following the tot tragedy.

Their role was to give media advice to the head of children’s services and her colleagues.

Ms Shoesmith, 55 — now suspended — was given role-play exercises by up to three firms on how to answer probing questions from journalists.

She twice refused to apologise at a press conference over her department’s shocking failure to save the 17-month-old “at-risk” tot after his evil mother and stepdad and a lodger were convicted of torturing him to death.

Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone said: “It is absolutely outrageous that this money has been wasted on spin doctors. Every penny would have been better spent on improving our children’s services.”

Haringey even offered Scotland Yard access to its media advisers — but the suggestion was flatly refused.
The taxpayers’ cash was blown even though Haringey has an in-house communications team. The role of spin doctors was exposed in an answer to a written question tabled by the Lib Dems to council leader George Meehan before he quit last week.

Mr Meehan said: “The cost of paid-for media advice to the council from three sources included media training for key spokespeople. The total estimated final cost will be £19,000.”

Ms Shoesmith was suspended after a report slammed failures by her team as “damning” and “devastating”. She is still picking up her £110,000-a-year salary.

Baby P died after the North London council failed to learn from the death of Victoria Climbie, eight, who was tortured to death in the borough eight years ago.

Ofsted, the Healthcare Commission and the Chief Inspector of Constabulary found Haringey failed to check whether adults involved with at-risk children were on the violent or sex offenders’ register, or identify children at immediate risk of harm.


Baby P relative implicated in child sex ring.

Sunday Times

Dec 14, 2008

Eileen Fairweather

A RELATIVE of Baby P, who died after sustained abuse, was known by police and social services to be involved in a suspected paedophile ring, it emerged this weekend.

The close relative was named in the children's homes scandal in Islington, north London, in the 1990s in which youngsters in council care were alleged to have been abused by paedophiles and driven into prostitution.

The relative was considered such a key figure in the scandal that an independent report was commissioned on his role. It found that he had been singled out by suspected child abusers and was subsequently alleged to have recruited other children for wealthy paedophiles.

According to the report the child was involved with three pimps suspected of being involved in child abuse. These men telephoned or called at the children's homes and persuaded him with money, drugs and threats to bring other children to them.

The disclosure raises further questions about the failure of Haringey council to take Baby P into care. Care experts say routine background checks on the family would have uncovered the history of abuse in the family and should have raised serious and immediate concerns.

Liz Davies, the former Islington social worker who blew the whistle on the 1990s scandal, said the child was like a "Pied Piper" who led other children into abuse. "But he was also a victim himself, who begged for help," she said.

The scandal was uncovered by the London Evening Standard in the early 1990s. It said children in council care had been abused by paedophiles and prostitution rings.

An inquiry found the homes had been run "disastrously", and although it was unable to confirm some of the worst allegations, it concluded they had not been properly investigated at the time.

At the time of the scandal Baby P's mother was living in Islington. Her own mother had a drink problem and she was sent, aged 11, to a boarding school for disturbed children.

Her relative had already been placed in an Islington's children's home. He is now believed to be in prison.

There is no suggestion that he was involved in abusing Baby P, who died in August after having suffered months of violence. Baby P's mother and two co defendants were convicted of causing or allowing his death and are awaiting sentence.

When the Department for Children, Schools and Families was asked last week why no effective action was taken by Haringey in light of the role of Baby P's relative in the Islington child homes scandal, a spokesman said a new "serious case review" had been commissioned into the death of Baby P.

Any fresh information about any alleged failures involving social services in Haringey should be handed to the review team, he said.


Haringey: the tragic betrayal of another child

Keith Dovkants


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Haringey snatched child from me to give to abusers

Comment: Haringey: politics of a tragedy
The rotten borough of Haringey?

DAMNING new evidence of the incompetence of Haringey child protection services is revealed today.

The council at the centre of the Baby P scandal snatched another child from a loving foster parent and put him into the care of a couple now at the centre of an investigation into abuse.

Baby C was taken after social workers acting on the orders of disgraced children's director Sharon Shoesmith launched a court battle to take the baby boy from his foster mother, who had applied to become his guardian.

The highly experienced foster mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has now disclosed the full, shocking story to the Evening Standard. It includes her version of how the child, now five and known as Child C, was seized by one of Ms Shoesmith's staff as he played outside his home.

As the social worker ran with the child to a car, the boy screamed for his foster mother, who was physically restrained by a Haringey social services manager.

The council then fast-tracked adoption procedures to place Child C with the couple now being questioned by police over allegations of abuse.

Ms Shoesmith has gone into hiding after she was sacked because of her role in the death of Baby P. She was dismissed from her £100,000-a-year post without a pay-off last night after being suspended last week by Children's Secretary Ed Balls when a damning report found systemic failures in her department.

Ms Shoesmith will still receive a "gold-plated" pension worth up to £1.5 million, and she could legally challenge the decision to deny her a pay-off as she was expected to be entitled to a six-figure severance package.

She failed to return to her Bloomsbury flat last night and her family refused to say where she was. She would not be back until next month, they said.

She caused a furore when she failed to apologise over the death of 17-month-old Baby P, who died after a sustained period of abuse at the hands of his mother, her partner and a lodger.

Ms Shoesmith, 55, played a key role in the handling of Child C. Her department wanted to place the child, who is of African descent, with black adoptive parents and rejected appeals from his foster mother, who is of north African origin but is not black.

The foster mother was one of the borough's approved foster parents and had previously successfully looked after a baby taken from its mother at birth.

Now the Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Command has been called in to investigate allegations that after he was adopted Child C suffered abuse.

He has been treated twice in hospital, once for a head injury.

The inquiry team has been told the boy's adoptive mother rejected him and complained he was ruining her marriage.

Health professionals familiar with the case were disturbed that Haringey social services department was not acting.

One, consultant child psychiatrist Hamish Cameron, who had compiled a report on Child C, decided to call in the police.


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Haringey snatched child from me to give to abusers
article no more available (jan 2010)


The rotten borough of Haringey?

Keith Dovkants


AS HARINGEY council prepares to debate the Baby P affair for the first time on Monday there is a sense that the borough's elected leadership is struggling to grasp the enormity of what has happened. Baby P's death is the second such tragedy in a few years and it cannot be surprising if people wonder whether there is something dysfunctional about the place itself.

Baby P, and before him Victoria Climbie, slipped through the safety net at Haringey. Some may imagine a syndrome is at work, although the reality may be far more complex and every bit as troubling.

The story of the child tortured to death has now moved to the internet, with appeals for revenge from so-called web vigilantes. Cyberspace and mobile phones have re-opened territory once occupied by lynch mobs. Baby P's 27-year-old mother and her 32-year-old boyfriend, both convicted of causing the 17-month-old child's death, cannot be named by the media for legal reasons. Yet their names are now widely known.

As the boy's mother languished in a segregated cell at Holloway prison, awaiting sentence, pages were posted on Facebook urging violence. One carried this message: "Death is too good for (mother's name). Torture the bitch that killed Baby P." The sites were taken down, but more appeared. A text message naming the couple was sent to mobile phones across the country. A web message was directed at prison inmates, calling on them to harm the pair in jail.

The tsunami of anger and hatred unleashed by the Baby P atrocity underlines the fact that such horrors are rare. But they may become less rare in the future. Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids' Company, sees the working of London's social services departments at close hand. She told the Evening Standard there could be hundreds of children like Baby P whose plight may never be exposed because, although abused and neglected, they manage to survive.

"If that baby had not died, we would probably never have heard of him," she said. "This case is not an exception. Throughout London, and other inner cities, the whole social services system is not fit for purpose."

Ms Batmanghelidjh has seen some of the worst scenes from the frontline of childcare. And she is in daily contact with individuals who are overworked and demoralised.

"They are so overwhelmed they try to find reasons for not taking cases," she said. "Because the system is not working they realise they don't have the capability of doing the good they want to do. Every day they are exposed to relentless levels of abuse, neglect and dysfunction. They become inured; their norms shift. The futility gets to them."

There is a frighteningly high, and probably increasing, number of households where abuse is passed on from generation to generation, she said. It is impossible, in the current system, for social workers to cope.

"You can't blame them," she said. "They are forced to meet targets and to do that they often have to lie. Managers don't want to be seen to be failing, so they don't admit to failure. Central government, which might be able to make a difference, doesn't know what's happening. The individual child has no advocacy. They are suffering now but we may never know who they are."

She does not single out Haringey for blame. Its social services department is probably no worse than any other in London. Yet Haringey is different. Pauline Bradley, who worked as a social worker in Haringey for 13 years until 2006, said: "The difference from other parts of London is in the mix of rich and poor. It really is two worlds."

Haringey was formed in 1965 from the former boroughs of Tottenham, Wood Green and Hornsey. It covers 11.5 square miles and is home to 224,000 people. That is the official number. Haringey probably has a population closer to 280,000 although no one knows for sure. This is a symptom of one of its problems. The transient population in the borough is among the highest in London.

Eritreans, Tamils and Somalis are among large numbers of asylum seekers who drift in and out. Nearly half the borough's population comes from an ethnic minority background. More than 190 languages are spoken by school pupils, half of whom have English as a second language. More than a third of Haringey's schoolchildren are eligible for free meals.

The indicators for poverty suggest Haringey is the 13th most deprived area in England and the ninth most deprived in London. The most recent figures put the unemployment rate at 6.2 per cent, compared with a London rate of 3.6 per cent.

The most telling figure, perhaps, may be the one that records infant mortality. In London as a whole, the rate is 5.7 in 1,000 births. In Haringey it is 6.9.

From these numbers it might be imagined the borough is a miserable, modern incarnation of a Hogarth cartoon. Not so. In Highgate, where the boundary with Camden runs down the High Street, a seven-bedroom home with a summerhouse and wine cellar is currently on sale at £3,850,000. It is not untypical of properties in the area where expensive boutiques and highly-rated restaurants prosper in a village-like setting.

In Muswell Hill, parents clamour for a home in the catchment area of Fortismere School, reckoned to be one of the best state secondary schools in England. Houses here can cost more than £1 million, at least £200,000 more than similar homes outside the catchment area. Muswell Hill is one of north London's most sought-after locations. Actress Maureen Lipman recently sold her house here for more than £1 million and the BBCs business editor, Robert Peston, lives with his family in one of the more favoured streets.

Even here, poverty makes its presence felt. In the Baptist church on Dukes Avenue, near the patisseries and cafes of the shopping centre, volunteers run a soup kitchen five nights a week. John Grant, an early-retired civil servant, has been organising the food evenings here for 12 years.

There are contrasts like this throughout London but Haringey is perhaps unique in having such disparity over so much of its territory. At Monday's council meeting, the housing chairman John Bevan is to be asked how many of Haringey's homes have no inside lavatory. It may seem an odd request but it is being asked because on the west side of the borough, surrounded by some of the most desirable and expensive homes in London, a disabled woman in her 80s lives in a council property that has been hardly touched since the 1940s. Sixteen years ago, when she was living alone after the death of her elderly father, council officials promised they would refurbish the house and install a bathroom inside. She is still waiting.

Now, frail and moving only with great pain and difficulty, her case has been taken up by a councillor who asked to remain anonymous. The reason? The elderly woman is deeply embarrassed by her predicament and is terrified that even the faintest clue could disclose her identity.

Haringey's most impoverished area is usually reckoned to be Northumberland Park, near Tottenham Hotspur's White Hart Lane stadium. Even here, poverty is relative. Council blocks sit side-by-side with terraces of 1930s homes and many of the residents eke out an existence on benefits. One is Sarah Ellis, 33, a single parent with three children. She pays a nominal £5 a week rent for a two-bedroom flat where her 14-year-old daughter Sharmaine shares a room with her five-year-old brother Declan. The youngest child, Piper, two, shares a room with her mother.

"It's very hard," she said. "I have been begging the council to put me in a larger home for five years now. The four of us are cooped up in a small space, we need more room." This Christmas she plans to take out a £500 loan to buy the children presents. "I have often taken out a loan at Christmas so that I can afford food and presents," she said. "My weekly income is just not enough."

Each week, Miss Ellis receives £230, which includes Child Tax Credit, Child Benefit and Income Support. After spending £150 a week on groceries, the rest goes on rent and bills. "At the end of the week I have no money whatsoever," she said. "I live on less than a shoestring budget. I can barely afford nappies for my youngest."

Miss Ellis, who has lived on the estate all her life, and moved into her current flat 14 years ago, said she is desperate to leave the area because it is plagued by gangs and crime.

"I can't let the children out to play as there are gangs of kids smoking crack in the stairwell near my flat," she said. "And in the playground, teenagers think it's funny to throw fireworks and knives at one another. It's a horrible estate to live on. There are times when I wonder how the hell I can carry on."

Keith Flett, chair of Haringey Trades Council and a veteran campaigner is leading a highly vocal attempt to roll back plans for cuts in the borough's health services. Few people are better able to pinpoint Haringey's problems.

"One of the biggest issues is poverty of opportunity," he said. "Look at Tottenham. It was once a centre of manufacturing, there were jobs. Now the furniture industry has gone, the engineering firms have closed and it's all warehouses. Young people are left with nothing. Services are under pressure like never before and they struggle to get the right people. If you were a social worker would you put Haringey at the top of your list? With its history?"

Flett lays a share of the blame for Haringey's woes at the door of its Labour-controlled council. Labour has run Haringey since 1968. The leader, George Meehan, has been a councillor since 1971 and has been leader three times. He was in charge during the Climbie affair.

Flett said: "There tends to be a one-party state view of the world. You saw that the other night when Labour debated the Baby P tragedy behind closed doors. The Lib-Dems have almost as many councillors as Labour now - why didn't they invite them in? Why didn't he say: 'we're all in this together, let's find common purpose?' But the Labour leadership tends to sort things out between themselves, as they have always done."

The Lib-Dems are making inroads fast. Some perceive an East-West divide in Haringey, with the most prosperous residents in the west. This is where the party has made most progress. Lib-Dem group leader Robert Gorrie said of the disparity that is so much a part of Haringey: "It's a kind of social schizophrenia. On one side of the road you've got million-pound houses, on the other you have some of the worst council homes in Britain."

Lynne Featherstone, the Lib-Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, has campaigned for action on what she says is injustice in government funding. Haringey, because of its location, is not designated an inner London borough, but it has inner city problems.

Featherstone wants the government to recognise this and has been pressing for changes in education funding. Haringey receives £5,480 for each pupil, while inner London boroughs, such as the far more wealthy Kensington and Chelsea, get £6,216.

"Haringey has equal if not greater educational challenges than many inner London boroughs," she said. "It's ridiculous that if you stand on one side of the Seven Sisters Road a child is worth £736 less than on the other because of a borough boundary."

The boundaries are mere lines on maps, of course, and Camila Batmanghelidjh says they are virtually meaningless when it comes to a question of whether a child is safer in one borough or another.

"Every social services department feels it is walking a tightrope," she said. "They have all watched the Baby P tragedy unfold and they are thinking: 'That could have been us.'"

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