A litany of failure by Haringey

The tragedy of Baby P’s death has hung over all our lives during thelast week. The depth of public anger and outrage is enormous – reflectedin my postbag, email inbox and phone calls to my office.

Our justice system has done its part with the prosecution of thoseresponsible, but we also need to be sure that we learn what can belearnt. There is much we do not yet know – such as why there was a fourmonth gap between the decision to have Baby P checked over by apaediatrician and the appointment actually taking place.

But we do know how Haringey Council has been responding to warningsabout how it was looking after children. For all the good work done bymany front line staff, at the most senior levels the reaction toconcerns and warnings has been one of delays, hostility, failures to actand unwillingness to accept responsibility.

There is much over-blown rhetoric in politics, but grotesque really isthe right word to describe Haringey’s initial press conference at thestart of last week – repeatedly refusing to admit responsibility orapologise or admit to the possibility that those in senior roles had aresponsibility for things having gone wrong.

If that had been just one press conference, perhaps we could conclude -bad judgement, but apology now made and inquiry happening, so let’s moveon. But it wasn’t a one-off. It’s the same attitude that has metrepeated attempts by myself and others to raise concerns over the lastfew years.

To give you just a flavour. I personally met with George Meehan and ItaO’Donovan – Haringey Council’s leader and chief executive – to raisewith them three different cases, where the pattern was in each caseHaringey seeming to want to blame anyone who complained rather than tolook at the complaint seriously. I was promised action – but despiterepeated subsequent requests for news on progress – I was juststonewalled.

Gail Engert, a Haringey councillor, had several serious, credible contacts from residents concerned about how Haringey was looking afterchildren and whether the lessons from Victoria Climbie’s death had beenlearned. And when she raised one of these with senior council staff, she was berated for having the temerity to raise such issues.

When then another councillor, Martin Newton, raised the issue through the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Haringey Council’s political leadership stonewalled again. After eight months, all they decided was to have a feasibility study into whether a review was needed.

Neil Williams, who was leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Haringey at the time of Baby P’s death, issued a press statement expressing sorrow and saying that Haringey needed to look at any lessonsto learn. The council’s reaction? To put pressure on him to withdraw the statement. To Neil’s credit, he refused.

And Haringey Council’s reaction to Baby P’s death last year? It was to put round a memo with already closed-minds saying that concerns aboutparallels with the Climbie tragedy were misplaced. In January the senior staff decided – again – that they did not think any furtherinvestigation of Baby P’s death was needed. When finally there was one – a statutory one that is mandatory upon such a death – the lawyer conducting it was not given independent access to evidence. When prosecutions proceeded – evidence was withheld from the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for much of the process, as the CPS has now confirmed.

Looking back at that record, I am in no doubt that there has beenpersistent failure at the most senior staff and political levels ofHaringey Council to fail to act appropriately. And when Baby P died thereaction for a long, long time was to put up the shutters and refuse tocountenance that there may have been serious mistakes that neededlearning from.

Regardless of what further inquiries may reveal, those persistentmisjudgements and failures should be enough for heads to roll.

Further comment on the Baby P case is on Lynne Featherstone’s blog.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008