London

Baby P killer Steven Barker 'forced to give evidence'

Steven Barker
Image caption Steven Barker was convicted of causing or allowing the death of Peter

The boyfriend of Baby Peter Connelly's mother could be forced to "answer questions" about the 17-month-old boy's death, a coroner has said.

Steven Barker, convicted of causing the toddler's death and of raping a two-year-old girl in north London, would need to testify at an inquest.

The coroner said Barker would have to be a "competent witness" before giving evidence if an inquest was held.

Peter died in Tottenham, north London, in 2007 after months of torture.

The toddler suffered more than 50 injuries over eight months despite being visited by social workers, doctors and police.

His mother Tracey Connelly admitted causing or allowing the death of the boy, while Barker and his brother Jason Owen, were found guilty of the same charge.

Barker did not give evidence while on trial for murdering Peter, where he was found not guilty. He also refused to speak in his defence during a subsequent trial where he was found guilty of raping a two-year-old girl.

At a pre-inquest review hearing in High Barnet, North London coroner Andrew Walker said Barker could be compelled to reveal details about the child's final days.

Image caption Baby Peter suffered eight months of torture before his death in August 2007

"It seems to me he would be required, as would any other witness, to answer questions from this court," the coroner said.

Bernard Richmond, representing Barker, said his client would need legal advice and help to write a statement if he was asked to give evidence.

Neither Barker nor Connelly would be granted legal aid after their appeal was rejected, the Legal Services Commission said.

The court heard that an inquest, which could last 20 to 40 weeks if a jury was involved, would cost millions of pounds and would hear facts which have already emerged during several investigations following the child's death.

But Mr Walker said: "For any inquest that has many issues to be considered, it is going to take time, but that is not a fact that should restrict or interfere with a decision on whether there is sufficient cause for it."

'Life of filth'

Peter's father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is keen for an inquest to take place so he can find out exactly what happened to his son, the court was told.

His barrister, Julien Foster, said he wants to know how his son ended up "living a life of filth in squalor" with bruises and fungal infections, and yet was allowed to stay in his mother's care and deemed to be "happy and well-groomed".

The coroner added that the extent to which neglect by external agencies played a part in Peter's death would influence his decision.

"Would it be sufficient cause to resume the inquest if it was argued that the cause of death was contributed to by neglect on the part of other agencies?" he asked.

In October, the publication of previously secret official reports revealed the failings of agencies involved in Peter's care.

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