The Night Tragic Victoria Died

Victoria ClimbieIt’s the seventh anniversary of little Victoria Climbe’s death this month. An eyewitness tells The-Latest about the tragic events of the night of February 24 1999, when he desperately fought to save her life and unwittingly became involved in one of Britain's most disturbing child abuse cases.     


"I was working on the night shift as a paramedic at Tottenham Ambulance Station (in north London). We had returned to the station after a job and I was in my ambulance making a radio call to control, when I noticed a silver estate car, possibly a Renault, coming into the station. It was travelling quite fast and the tyres squealed as the vehicle stopped. The driver got out and came around to the ambulance and yelled, ‘please help, please help, it’s a baby’.

I put down the radio set and walked up to the car. I approached it very carefully because the area is crime-ridden and I was not sure what was going on. As I approached, a woman got out of the vehicle and shouted to me, ‘It’s my baby, it’s my baby’. I got into the back seat of the vehicle. It was dark so I could not see very clearly. In the middle of the two rear passenger seats was a child, who I presumed to be about five years old. There was a man in the vehicle who I believe was sitting in the seat behind the driver. I kept asking the man and woman what was wrong, but I could not get much of a response.

First, I touched the child. I thought she was already dead because she was so very cold. I then shouted for somebody to go and fetch my mates from inside the ambulance station. I thought the best thing to do was to get the little girl out of the car and then assess her in the ambulance because it was well lit. When I picked the child up she was very light. I kept yelling to the woman, whom I presumed to be her mother: ‘What is going on, what is wrong, can you at least give me a clue what is going on?’ I could not get a sensible answer from either of the two adults.

While I was taking the child to the ambulance I noticed the she had a very weak pulse. I struggled to get the ambulance door open because I was holding her in my arms. I put the child down on the trolley bed in the ambulance. By that time my colleague, Jon Spicer, had joined me. I told Jon I did not know what was going on and that the child was unconscious. It got to the point where we were going nowhere fast with the two adults. I thought maybe they had a problem understanding English, so I asked if they could speak French. The woman said she could. I then asked her in French what had happened but still I did not get an answer. I asked her how old the girl was and she told me eight. At the time I did not think that was possible. The girl looked much younger. She was really thin and did not look healthy at all.

Jon and me remained in the back of the ambulance with the child. The couple we presumed were the parents travelled in the back with us. It would not have taken more than about seven or eight minutes to get to the hospital from the ambulance station. We were going at full tilt in the middle of the night.

I was concentrating on the child’s vital signs but I couldn’t help noticing that she seemed to have a heck of a lot of skin problems. She had the scarring on the hands, around the wrists and up the arms. The scars did not look like a skin disease, but I could not make out what they were. Her head was paler than the rest of her skin and looked lumpy as if it had some sort of skin disease. I asked about the condition of her head and the woman claimed she had poured hot water over herself.        

During the journey to the hospital, I was seated at the head end of the trolley. I tried unsuccessfully to place a tube in her mouth in an attempt to make sure she had a clear airway. I was unable to do this because her jaws were clenched, like a bear trap. For a jaw to be clenched in someone who is unconscious is totally abnormal. If someone is unconscious they are usually totally slack and I can slide the tube in with no difficulty at all. I therefore guessed that the little girl must have had some kind of a fit. That is the only explanation I can think of for her jaw to be clamped like that.

I just kept her jaw in what they call the anaesthetist’s position, holding the oxygen bag and mask over her because she was breathing so slowly. I added a mouth to mouth breath when I thought she needed one and this strengthened the ones that she was having. I remember that her pulse remained extremely slow. She also had really low blood pressure. During the journey I kept asking the presumed parents, what was going on. They told me they had gone to church and the minister told them not to take the baby to hospital because the church would heal her. Their story was just not adding up. I remember thinking to myself, ‘what pastor would be this irresponsible?’

The couple said that they had been to church and had the child ‘exorcised’. From what I could gather, this process had been going on for a long time. Jon asked the couple about the scars on the little girl’s hands and they said something about her tying rubber bands around them. I asked the two adults why the child had done that and they replied that she was ‘possessed’ and had evil spirits in her. This information came mostly from the woman. The man sat back and did not really go into anything at all. He just looked like a zombie; as if he was not really there.

I could smell bleach in the back of the ambulance. I had not washed the ambulance yet so I knew it was not coming from the vehicle itself. I asked the couple about the smell of bleach everywhere and they told me that the child had wet herself all the time. I remember thinking that if this was their kid then they looked, ‘blinking unconcerned.’ The message I was getting from them was one of: “Here we go again, another one of these problems for us. Look at what we’ve got to put up with.”

On arrival at North Middlesex Hospital, the emergency team met us and we handed the child over to them. I went into the resuscitation room and was present when the medics removed the child’s clothes. It appeared that her head was too big for her body. She seemed to be wearing a kind of makeshift nappy and I thought there is something wrong here; something does not add up.

The people we presumed to be the parents were not in the resuscitation room. I went to speak with the man and woman outside, to try to get some more information. They kept saying the girl had done all sorts of weird things. I asked them why she was so thin and they said she refused to eat. I asked about her skin problems and was told the child had tried to wash herself clean with bleach. I had real problems getting the child’s name from them or any kind of details. They were very sketchy. I was very suspicious about how unconcerned they seemed about the fact their child might be dying.

When I went into the relatives’ room the man and woman did not speak to each other at all. They were not behaving like I would have expected of a traumatized couple. They sat apart and they were not looking at each other. I remember the woman’s cold hard expression. She had taken the Bible out and had it on her lap. She seemed unconcerned and I kept asking her if she could tell me anything else about what was going on because the medical team really needed to know.

I believe the woman said the child had become unconscious at home. Then she had been taken to church instead of hospital. Somehow the couple had ended up in a mini-cab. Then they got to us driving in our ambulance. The woman said the family lived on Creighton Road, Tottenham (near to the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club ground). The hospital is a stone’s throw away from there. They could have walked to the hospital quicker than coming the way they did. I would not be surprised to learn that they could have seen the hospital chimneys if they had looked out of their house in the right direction. The poor child might be alive today if that is what they had done."  

As told to Phil Simms

Victoria Climbie, who was born in Ivory Coast, West Africa, was starved and tortured to death by her great aunt, Marie Therese Kouao, and the woman's boyfriend, Carl Manning. Yet she was known as a child at risk by four London boroughs, two hospitals, two police child protection teams and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Kouao and Manning were jailed for murder. An unprecedented official inquiry blamed the authorities for failing ensure that 'front line' staff, including senior social workers, did their jobs properly.