Some months after the lawyer for Nevres Kemal (the whistleblowing social worker) had written to the four ministers David Lammy (minister as well as the tragic Baby P’s own MP), Patricia Hewitt, Ivan Lewis and Rosie Winterton and got no satisfactory response – her story finally came to me – can’t say how.
Concerned by what I heard – anything that links Haringey with serious failures in child protection automatically sets alarm bells ringing – I decided that the best and most direct action I could take would be to bring it to the attention of George Meehan who, as Leader of Haringey Council (as he was at the time of the Victoria Climbie tragedy), ultimately must bear responsibility for its actions.
I personally wrote to him, both about the issues raised by Nerves Kemal and also two other cases which I thought indicated a systemic failure in Haringey’s Children’s Services.
I quote a few of the paragraphs from my letter of November 2007:
There have been a few cases in terms of Children’s / Social Services issues that concern me and I wanted to bring them to your attention…
[There] is a seeming repeating pattern. A parent or social worker makes a complaint about something to do with a child – be that against the school or the Council department. From analysing three cases in particular, what seems to happen is that the first instinct of the authorities is to turn the complaint on the complainant in a sort of closing of ranks.
I then go on to describe the three cases, the third of which being Nevres Kemal:
The third case: Social Worker Nevres Kemal. I’m sure you know she was dismissed for breach of confidence and trust. But my concern is the pattern again – that tables appeared to turn on her after she raised the issues of no medical reports being completed on a case.
The point I am raising George, is that it would seem that there is a pattern of the Council exhibiting more interest in protecting the school, Authority, department than investigating the actual complaint. Moreover, that in seeking to protect the ‘establishment’ the real issues are not being investigated – which may lead to incompetent people staying in post, bad practice and so on – and worst of all – children being at risk … I could not rest easy without bringing this initially to your attention.
I then asked for a meeting, and finally managed to get one with George Meehan on 31st January 2008. Ita O’Donovan (Chief Executive of Haringey) was in attendance at George’s request – so it was Haringey’s more senior politician and most senior member of staff at the meeting.
I brought the case histories and the letters with me and went over my extreme concerns with them both. They assured me they were as concerned as I was and Ita O’Donovan said she was looking at this in particular and commissioning an expert examination (I believe that is what she said).
But chasing letters following the meeting asking what had happened were not responded to.
So whilst Ms Kemal raised concerns with Ministers – and I subsequently raised them face-to-face with those directly accountable in Haringey – it seems from the unfolding of tragic events that neither route produced the right response. And the horror of this is that if both at local and national level there was no effective response – then we do not have in place adequate safeguards.