New evidence has emerged about the brutal treatment of tragic Birmingham girl Khyra Ishaq, who starved to death at the hands of her mother and stepfather.
Two of Khyra’s five siblings nearly died in hospital because of “Re-feeding syndrome” a phenomenon first seen in the Nazi concentration camps of Eastern Europe.
Details of their harrowing five-month detention is included in a previously unreleased judgment from last year’s month-long care proceedings at Birmingham County Court.
It found that only the strongest children managed to eat as the six youngsters were forced to “eat like dogs” out of a shared bowl in an upstairs bedroom.
The starvation of the surviving children was so extreme that two other siblings were close to death.
Read the court documents here.
Experts had to refer to cases involving concentration camp prisoners, famine children in Africa and IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, from the early 1980s.
The cases were worse than in western children during the last depression. In Khyra’s case there was no body fat or muscle mass left when she died.
Hospital staff were so emotionally affected by the state of the surviving children that they allowed them to eat too much and it nearly killed two of them.
Re-feeding happened when survivors of concentration camps ate too soon after starvation and simply dropped down dead because their bodies shut down.
Doctors said the youngsters only survived the condition because of the strength of their young hearts.
Khyra, who had “significant learning difficulties” was also beaten with a stick a few hours before her death whilst Junaid Abuhamza sang songs.
She was forced to stand in front of a cold fan with her hands on her head and she slept on a wooden floor because she wet the bed.
Her hair was also forcibly shaved off by her mother (despite Khyra’s screams) six days before her death because it was falling out in clumps because of malnutrition.
A post-mortem found that she had 60 external injuries and lay dying with pneumonia and meningitis for two days whilst her mother was downstairs using her laptop and eating a takeaway with Junaid Abuhamza. The other children were given leftovers upstairs in the same room where their sister died overnight.
The interviews of the children led the honourable Mrs Justice Eleanor King DBE to describe the house as being more like a Victorian workhouse than a semi-detached house in Birmingham in the 21st Century.
She said expert witnesses had testified that Khyra would have suffered a very painful and unpleasant death.
She also revealed the desperate and numerous attempts by school staff to alert social services and how one teacher discreetly made sure that Khyra’s brother received extra food at dinner time.
Angela Gordon withdrew all of her children from the breakfast club in January 2007 and she wrote to the schools in March, 2007, asking staff to not give second helpings to the children.
In September 2007 she sent another letter to the schools, which told staff to stop overfeeding the children and she added that they should not be given chocolate milk.
The letter added: “Please do not give my son too much food. He does not know his limits. He is skinny simply because it is hereditary, not because he is starved at home, so please stop excessive feeding.”
One teacher broke down in tears during evidence and described how he “manipulated” dinner staff to make sure Khyra’s brother got bigger portions towards the end of 2007. He had caught the child, who cannot be named, taking an apple core from a bin. The teacher, identified as Mr Q, said: “The expression on his face made staff sure that it was hunger. None of the other children were ever as hungry.” He saw the child holding up his trousers with his hand.
The judge said: “Mr Q did everything he could, even manipulating school meals so that he could have more food without breaking the letter of the mother’s edict about second helpings.
“The school went the extra mile to ensure the children were safe. The fact that they, in their opinion ‘failed’ is not their fault and should not feel in any way responsible for what happened.
“No one could do other than feel profoundly sorry for him as he gave evidence in tears and quite wrongly blamed himself for what had happened to Khyra and the other children.”
The County Court also heard evidence from paediatricians and paramedics who were reduced to tears about what they had witnessed. One teacher described Khyra’s sibling as “like a child from Ethiopia”.
In another exchange Khyra’s teacher was left speechless when Gordon told her that she sent her daughter to school in wet pants as a punishment for wetting them. There was also evidence about the children stealing and foraging for food at school and how one was seen “frantically stuffing his pockets” from a fruit box in the playground. Gordon also confronted a Polish family next door and accused them of feeding the kids bread, which was actually meant for the birds.
The judge said: “Kyhra was desperately ill from at least Thursday when she had been beaten and made to stand for at least an hour in front of a cold fan.
“She died without medical treatment, without love, without comfort, or reassurance on a dirty mattress shared with her brothers and sisters in a room that she had scarcely left for five months.”
A professor from the Institute of Child Health, in London, said: “Make no mistake. Not having enough food is unpleasant, but extreme hunger is very painful.”