So Sharon Shoesmith is having her day in court. That’s her right. But none of the furore in the media, in my view, is responsible for her sacking. The media fire storm was undoubtedly a dreadful thing to go through – but my understanding is that it was her attitude in the press conference Haringey Council held after the trial verdict that brought the media down on her like a ton of bricks. She did that to herself.
The apparent arrogance of saying that Haringey was wonderful, and showing the media charts to point out how brilliant her department was, said everything you need to know about Labour Haringey. In fact, Clare Kober the new Labour Leader, is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying “I have the utmost respect for you (Sharon Shoesmith) as a public servant … I have every confidence that you are the individual to get us where we need to be” demonstrates the sort of poor judgement she and Labour have.
And it is a judgement based on a long history of blag it out, say the moon is the sun, and get out of trouble that way. It is precisely that sort of attitude that leads to the situation where a baby can die even with sixty visits from Social Services because Haringey always rejects criticism, is arrogant and refuses to listen when people try to warn them of problems or trouble. That is the part that worries me the most – because the culture at Haringey is one of cover-up, rank-closing and refusal to accept or deal with problems.
No wonder Haringey supported Sharon Shoesmith at first – regardless of the facts. They had paid a fortune to media trainers to prepare her and others to face the post-trial storm (money they should ask for back). It was all about protecting Haringey’s reputation regardless of the real underlying situation.
That is why Victoria Climbie died and that is why Baby Peter died.
At least this time, unlike with Victoria Climbie, there has been a clear out of those in charge of Children’s Services and I hope that the new Director and new managers will ring the changes and turn the department around – no easy task.
So – back to Sharon and why Ed Balls was 100% right to sack her – regardless of the media and regardless of David Cameron and my contributions at the now famous Prime Minister’s Questions.
After Victoria Climbie died and Lord Laming’s public inquiry made its recommendations – one of the key problems Laming identified was that the leadership was weak and at fault – but took no blame in the consequences. Only Lisa Arthurworry, the social worker at the end of the food chain took the blame. George Meehan (Labour Leader at that time), Gina Adamou (Chair of Social Services at that time) and Mary Richardson (Director of Social Services) all suffered not one bit as a result. The two Labour politicians stayed in post and Mary Richardson subsequently moved to Hackney to be Director there.
The Director of Children’s Services this time with Baby Peter was Sharon Shoesmith. In law, she is accountable and responsible for the litany of failures that went on under her stewardship. She should without doubt have instantly resigned. That – not only would have been the right thing to do – but would also have spared her some of the media fire that followed her dreadful performance at the press conference and beyond.
The investigations that followed Baby Peter’s death all show a litany of casualness and failures by individuals and agencies. The substance of the failures and being the person in the accountable and responsible position in law is why she went.
As Ms Shoesmith refused to do the honourable thing, Ed Balls, therefore, had no choice but to sack her. He understood what had happened – and that if she remained in post despite the law that placed her in the accountable position and despite the terrible things that had occurred under her supervision – then Victoria, Peter, all Lord Laming’s work and the safety of children at risk in future would all be for nought.