HOW did a boy starve to death and his demise go unnoticed for almost two years?
Agencies involved with Amanda Hutton and her eight children can expect strong criticism in a forthcoming serious case review, according to child protection professionals.
The family was known to police, health, schools and social services but Hutton would not co-operate and rarely answered the door.
Many visits were made to the home by police, health visitors and a social worker but nobody picked up on the fact that Hamzah was being starved to death.
There were three multi-agency meetings to look at helping Hutton with domestic violence but it appears that the child’s plight was not high on the agenda.
Hamzah was seen twice soon after he was born and given a clean bill of health but beyond the age of two weeks his development was a “blank page”.
When he was four months, a health visitor had the door slammed in her face by Hutton. She looked through the letterbox and noted the house was untidy.
Health visitors, who offer a non-compulsory service for parents, repeatedly called at the house but did not get through the door.
When Hutton failed to register Hamzah’s birth, she was visited by the registrar and was seen to have a “puffed-up” eye injury and to smell of alcohol.
Hamzah was registered with his local doctors’ surgery in September 2006 – 15 months after his birth – but he was never seen by a practice GP. The surgery eventually took Hamzah off its list in 2009 after many missed appointments. The court heard that this common practice is being examined because “it causes children to sink even further below the radar”.
Hutton was well known to police in Bradford, but as a victim of her violent partner, Aftab Khan.
Police said they were called to incidents on eight occasions in the four and a half years up to 2008 and Hutton was put under the watch of a specialist vulnerable victims unit.
Pc Virginia Whittaker visited Hutton’s home 10 months before Hamzah’s death but did not see Hamzah as his mother said his nappy needed changing and he was upstairs. The officer said the house was tidy and nothing caused her concern.
Police said they shared information about all their engagements with Hutton with social services.
But Hamzah was only seen once by a social worker, in November 2006, and the appeared “well cared for and well dressed”.
Claims by Hamzah’s father that his son was undernourished were investigated but came to nothing and a police welfare check eight months before his death found the children well fed and clean.
A key question is: Why was Hamzah not missed at school? He would have been six if he had still been alive when his body was found in 2011.
David Shemmings, professor of child protection research at Kent University, said serious questions had to be asked.
“This is certainly one of the most dreadful and sickening cases I have encountered. Not surprisingly, many people will be wondering how things seemed to have gone unnoticed. But there are some points we should consider carefully before looking too quickly for someone to blame.
“Firstly, health professionals and social workers have no direct powers of entry into a house. Under very proscribed circumstances they can apply for an order to gain access to a child, but only the police can demand to inspect the rooms in a property. Even then they need enough evidence to do it.
“Child protection professionals have in the past taken children into care when, in hindsight, it has emerged later that some of them didn’t require such protection. The contrast between then and now is a powerful illustration of professionals being ‘damned if they do ... and damned if they don’t’.”
Julie Wallbank, senior lecturer in family law at Leeds University, believes that individual authorities had failed Hamzah.
“Agencies have failed to raise any alarms about the potential harm to him,” said Dr Wallbank.
“Doctors would have been aware of the existence of a child at potential risk and a failure to keep appointments should have in itself raised alarms.
“There is a systematic failure on the part of agencies to get involved to protect a child.
“The failure of Amanda Hutton to co-operate should have been enough to warrant further action.”