Starved to death, waiting for help that never came
Published 04/10/2013 | 09:37
The images should haunt those who failed him until their dying day. One shows Hamzah Khan looking imploringly into the camera for help that never came; the other shows the unimaginable squalor of the house where his body lay mummified after his mother, Amanda Hutton, starved him to death.
A jury convicted Hutton, an alcoholic mother of eight, of manslaughter after hearing that she cared only where her next drink was coming from, and not a jot for the welfare of her son.
The verdict answered the question posed at the start of her trial, when a prosecutor asked how it was possible for a child to starve to death in 21st century Britain.
Yet a far bigger question remains: why did a procession of doctors, police officers, teachers and social workers fail to save Hamzah, who was so malnourished that he ate the contents of his nappies? And how could a four-year-old boy, whose mother was seen regularly by the authorities, die in a busy suburb of Bradford without anyone noticing for almost two years?
One child protection charity said today that it was as if Hamzah had been “invisible” to all those who visited the home.
His death might have remained undetected had it not been for the “mother’s instinct” of a police community support officer who visited the house on her second day in the job and sensed that something was wrong. She opened a “terrible Pandora’s Box”, the court was told.
Jodie Dunsmore felt Hutton was “hiding something” when she refused to let her in, but would not take no for an answer, leading to the discovery of Hamzah’s corpse in September 2011.
Her curiosity, concern and tenacity appeared to have been singularly lacking in other professionals who missed at least nine opportunities to intervene while Hamzah was alive. His story was so heartbreaking that Hutton’s trial at Bradford Crown Court had to be restarted with a new jury after one of the original panel broke down as the evidence was read, and could not continue.
It is, tragically, only the latest in a long line of child abuse and neglect cases, from Baby P to Daniel Pelka, in which the authorities have sat on their hands until a child died.
Hutton, 43, the daughter of a nurse, came from a middle class background and was “well-spoken”, something which appeared to have thrown some of those who came into contact with her.
She was working as a care assistant for the elderly when she met Aftab Khan, a taxi driver, and had her first child in 1989, aged 18. The couple had seven more, including Hamzah, who was born on June 17, 2005.
By then Hutton was well known to police, who had been called to her home repeatedly for years following beatings by Khan. They answered 999 calls from Hutton eight times between 2004 and 2008. Hamzah was born into a family already in chaos, but following the death of Hutton’s mother on Christmas Eve 2005 she turned to drink, and repeatedly asked the police, doctors and social workers for help.
In the year after Hamzah’s birth, she asked police for help in getting away from her abusive husband, asked her GP for help with depression and asked the local social services child protection unit for advice.
Hamzah, meanwhile, was slowly starving. Having been seen at home by a midwife six days after his birth, and by a health visitor two weeks later, he was never again seen by a health professional. Health visitors who went to the home more than six times following missed immunisations eventually gave up after Hutton slammed the door in their face.
Hamzah was not registered with a GP until he was 15 months old, but he was never taken there, and Hutton’s GP deleted the child from her patient list rather than inquiring after his welfare. In April 2009 Hutton failed to pick up her children from school and two teaching assistants brought them home. They described Hutton as “heavily in drink” and “incoherent” and contacted police, but officers reported that the children were “healthy”.
Other professionals who visited noted no concerns about the children, despite their untreated head lice, fungal infections and signs of “frostbite like” damage to their toes.
Even when Khan, who was convicted of assaulting his wife after an incident in December 2008, told police that Hamzah was malnourished, officers could find nothing amiss. Khan’s relationship with Hutton ended the same month, when a judge granted an injunction preventing him from seeing her, leaving Hutton with little contact with the outside world.
Hamzah died on Dec 15 2009, while his mother was at a supermarket. Later that night she telephoned a Pizza Hut and an Indian takeaway to order food for herself. She later told her children to tell teachers that Hamzah had gone to live with his uncle in Portsmouth.
By June 2010 the boy would have been five, the statutory age for starting school.
A health visitor contacted the school nurse, who reported that he had never attended, and the matter went no further.
On Sept 4 2011, almost two years after Hamzah’s death, PCSO Dunsmore was investigating a complaint from a neighbour of Hutton, who said nappies had been thrown over the fence. Mrs Dunsmore noticed a “quite vile” smell and flies after looking through Hutton’s letterbox. She said: “Call it a mother’s intuition, gut instinct, something wasn’t right. When I saw all the flies and the smell I was thinking, has someone died in there? Why are they not answering?
“I thought, well of course there is no one dead in there because people don’t live in a house where there is a dead person. I obviously couldn’t leave that because I joined the job to look after people and people’s welfare.”
Hutton later rang her, but was “very evasive”. “Alarm bells definitely started to ring,” said Mrs Dunsmore. After a further visit, when she was again refused entry, she immediately contacted social services.
When police finally went in they found rubbish piled knee high, cat faeces in the bath and Hutton’s vomit rotting on the floor.
In her bedroom were the remains of Hamzah, in a travel cot, wearing a babygrow for a six to nine-month-old.
Hutton showed no emotion as she was convicted of manslaughter. She had previously admitted cruelty to her five youngest children aged five to 13, who lived in the house with their brother’s corpse. She admitted preventing the lawful burial of Hamzah together with Tariq, her 24-year-old eldest son.
Shaun Kelly, of Action for Children, said: “Hamzah’s is yet another tragic story of a child who was invisible to society. It seems that people are so afraid of doing the wrong thing that they don’t do anything at all.”
Bradford’s safeguarding children board has conducted a serious case review but its findings will not be published until later this year.