Sharon Shoesmith

The court’s decision was that Sharon Shoesmith was unlawfully dismissed because of procedural issues. My understanding is that the court is not saying that she should or should not have lost her job, but simply that proper procedures to dismiss her were not followed.

The real crux for me is that after each terrible tragedy we are always told ‘lessons will be learned’.

Well – one of the lessons we learned from Victoria Climbie’s death (which also happened in Haringey a few years earlier) was that no one took ultimate responsibility for the failings in Haringey Council.

The then Leader, (George Meehan), the councillor who chaired the Social Services Committee (Gina Adamou) and the Director of Social Services (Mary Richardson) – suffered no consequences of the dire failures in departments that they were responsible for. No one resigned. No one was held accountable. Only the social worker at the end of the food chain got it in the neck.

That is why, following the public inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie in Haringey, Lord Laming put in a recommendation that there should be responsibility under the law for this duty of care. And so – in the Children’s Act 2004, for the first time,  it was set in law that two positions would be held responsible for the failings in their service. Those positions were the Director of Children’s Services and the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.

Following Baby Peter’s death – Cllr Liz Santry, the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, resigned. Sharon Shoesmith, the Director of Children’s Services, did not.

The Government’s decision to appeal this latest decision is welcome. The outcome of that judgement will tell us whether lessons have really been learned.

0 thoughts on “Sharon Shoesmith

  1. I don’t think this is good enough Lynn. The court declared Shoesmith’s dismissal void because due legal process was not followed. The crux of the judgement was that she was given no opportunity to answer criticisms made of her before the decision was made. This principle of natural justice is central to all fair legal practice. On Radio 4 this morning Ms Shoesmith stated that she had not even seen the Offsted report at the time she learned she had been sacked. Ed Balls was under media pressure to find a scapegoat and delivered one by summarily firing Ms Shoesmith. The court of appeal has returned the matter of compensation to the High Court which will consider the degree to which Ms Shoesmith should be held responsible for the failure of her department in making any award.

    In unthinkingly supporting Ed Balls you advocate the idea that politicians are above the law of the land. The Guardian’ today calls his failure to accept the judgement as ‘foolish’, a description which extends to your post.

  2. I think the one thing we can all agree on here is that Ed Balls failed miserably at carrying out his duties, and should resign.

  3. As a retired social worker, with nearly 30 years experience of working with children and families, I followed this tragic case with interest. It is clear to me that Sharon Shoesmith’s head was served up on a plate. The sacking byEd Balls at a Press conference, all smacks of a great rush to find a scape goat. This was a knee jerk reaction.

    Rather than spending more money appealing to the Supreme court, Haringeyshould use the cash saved to improve supportand training for it’s staff!

  4. @ Andrew Suffield

    “Ed Balls should be sacked”

    from what? How would removing him as shadow chancellor help?

  5. Lynne, this is dangerously simplistic. Of course senior managers should provide robust leadership but to expect them to carry the can for complex system failures beyond the control of any single individual or department is wrong and dangerously so. Child protection is just too complex and Laming was mistaken in creating such unrealistic structures and expectations of accountability. For a longer analysis, see my new book Child Protection Practice, published by Palgrave.

  6. However much anyone thinks that Shoesmith deserved to be held to account there are legal aspects that mean her employer ie Haringey Council has legal obligations in how they deal with and treat employees. Trade Unions fought long and hard for employee rights that cover ALL employees so that bad employers can’t just sack someone without due process to protect us all from unscrupulous bosses. That applies to Shoesmith, me and every other employee in the UK. I empathise with Ed Balls gut reaction but he had no right to order Haringey tos ack her. They should not have used his unlawful order to get rid. and i recall that Ofsted gave Haringey Social Services and Shoesmith a glowing report whilst all this was going on and nothing has been done about that. They did unfairly and unlawfully dismiss her. She is entitled to compensation. This is the outcome for all employers who unfailry sack people – and rightly so. She is unlikely to ever work again-at anything. Her reputation has been destroyed. I just wonder how the coalition governemt feels employees should be treated?

  7. I agree with you Lynne. I believe that the Government may be appealing this to the Supreme Court and therefore we must await the outcome of this.

    It is necessary to refer to a little more of the factual background. I believe Ofsted identified serious concerns in relation to the safeguarding of children and young people in Haringey which needed to be addressed as a priority. I believe this may be the reason why Sharon’s appeal against OFSTED was dismissed.

    I accept the Court’s view that Haringey could have protected its position if it had served a contractual notice terminating Ms Shoesmith ‘s contract of employment, and it might have done so without prejudice to its contention that it was entitled to dismiss her summarily. It did not do so.

  8. The law does state that the Director of Children’s services is to be held accountable for the failing. However as the judges pointed out, accountability does not, by necessit equate to “heads will roll” – something overlooked by yourself and ed balls. As such the fact that Shoesmith was in a responsible or accountable position cannot negate her basic right to fair treatment as an employee.

    In a more general sense, it is worth considering who we want to fill these rolls. Can the best candidates be recruited, if we fail to offer them thee basic protections they would otherwise enjoy? Are local taxpayers willing to pay these people a premium to balance out the additional risk they would be taking on? I’m not so sure.

  9. It is NEVER right that an employee should be sacked on ministerial say-so, without due process.

    If

    -what you are saying, Lynne, is that it was right that Shoesmith was dismissed without due process, after the minister interfered; and
    – this is liberal democrat policy

    Then I shall cancel my membership and direct debit immediately.

  10. I hadn’t realised you were a minister in the Home Office, Lynne.

    I do not think this blogpost is compatible with being in that position. I do not think you are a suitable person for the post.

  11. As usual Lynne your take on events is a mixture of bizarre and head scratchingly bemusing.

    How can a minister with responsibility for equalities, albeit a very junior very temporary one, not condemn the abject failure to apply fair and equal treatment to an employee concerning issues in her workplace? The Labour response to this terrible event was awful but you are perpetuating it with tabloid type rhetoric.

    Even more extraordinary for someone at ministerial level, if as you trumpet in your first paragraph the Court of Appeal has only dealt with the procedural defects in her dismissal how do you possibly manage to conclude in your final paragraph that the Supreme court will deliver a judgment showing whether all of the lessons of Climbie have been learnt?

    I don’t know Sharon Shoesmith. I imagine that when she went into her job she made promises about what she was going to do. It looks as though she did not deliver on those promises. The effect of failure was devastating (I note though that you have nothing to say about the vile killers). You say she therefore should have resigned. If you are right do you know anyone else who made a whole bunch of promises, has failed to deliver on them and should resign?

  12. I agree with your take on the Sharon Shoesmith case. It would have been better for all had Shoesmith accepted responsibility and resigned. Instead, Shoesmith is, in my opinion, adding insult to injury by arguing on rather technical aspects of her dismissal, and completely avoiding the issue of blame, of which she must have some share. Her apparent delight and triumphalism on winning her appeal shows poor judgement. As Children’s Minister at the time, Ed Balls had a legal responsibility to protect children. A strong argument can surely be made that the immediate removal of Shoesmith was essential to ensure the safety of children in Haringey. I don’t know why some people seem so willing to believe that Shoesmith was somehow ‘scape-goated’, or that Ed Balls must have acted unlawfully in giving the order to sack her. I am glad that an appeal will be made to the Supreme Court, and I hope their judgement can clarify once and for all what powers ministers and councils have at their disposal in handling any future Shoesmith-type scenario.

  13. I agree with you Lynne. I believe that the Government may be appealing this to the Supreme Court and therefore we must await the outcome of this. This seems to be a matter of constitutional interest and there may be a case for points of law to be discussed at the Supreme Court. For example, what powers Ministers have in taking immediate steps and making decisions when it involves the safeguarding of children and young people and what powers the court have in challenging such decisions.

    It is necessary to refer to a little more of the factual background. I believe Ofsted identified serious concerns in relation to the safeguarding of children and young people in Haringey which needed to be addressed as a priority. I believe this may be the reason why Sharon’s appeal against OFSTED was dismissed. This suggest the Court upheld the findings of Ofsted. I am not in a position to question the independent findings of the learned judges.

    I accept the Court’s view that Haringey could have protected its position if it had served a contractual notice terminating Ms Shoesmith ‘s contract of employment, and it might have done so without prejudice to its contention that it was entitled to dismiss her summarily. It did not do so.

  14. Mash is right – the point I am raising is a constitutional one. Because the placement of the position of Director of Children’s Services in statute as the responsible person for safeguarding is exceptional in law – does that mean that in this particular case (on the basis of a damning OFSTED report about Ms Shoesmith’s department) that the Secretary of State had the right to step in and over-ride normal employment law?

  15. I wish people would stop painting this women as some sort of victim , she was earning £133,0000 per year and head of one of the worst performing dept’s in the land and a baby died on her watch . In any other employment sector i.e. manufacturing , services , constuction etc , she would have been fired , so don’t come with that “poor little sharon shoesmith” expression cause there are people in this country who have real problems and she is not one of them . The problem is the system because in any other employment sector , if you dont perform you get sacked but if you work for government its almost impossible to be sacked even if you are as inept as Mrs Shoesmith , so stop feeling sorry for the women who was earning 133k a year and feel sorry for the wee boy she failed

  16. “she was earning £133,0000 per year and head of one of the worst performing dept’s in the land and a baby died on her watch . In any other employment sector i.e. manufacturing , services , constuction etc , she would have been fired”

    No, in any law-abiding employment she would have been given a written warning that laid out the precise conditions which must be met in order for her to avoid being sacked, and which she had the opportunity to respond to and correct any inaccuracies therein. That is the law. People cannot be fired for failure, only for failure to correct the errors once they have been formally warned of those errors.

    She screwed up, and her job certainly would have been at risk. To be summarily fired without due process? We have laws against this for a reason.

  17. A WRITTEN WARNING!!!! Are you mad ??? someone dies in a workplace and through the safety officer failing to spot a risk that ends up in the death of someone and you think a written waring would suffice ! Andrew !! Britain is broken , all facets of government are not working and the amount of red tape and political correctness are the main reason . I’m not saying sack anyone from making a mistake and don’t talk down to me like I’m a child . This women has worked in child care (one form or another) for over 30 years and if she cannot spot problems of this magnitude after all the experience she has gained over the years and all the warnings from the previous years before in that particular council , she should not be in such an important job , simple !! lets stop rewarding ineptness !! lets call a spade a spade !! if you are in charge of a dept that looks after the welfare of children and one dies , you have failed at the highest possible level ! You are the captain of the ship and the buck stops with you , thats why you are paid the big money , so don’t come at me with your rights BS , what about that wee child’s right to care !! was his life not important ?? there are times when due process must be bi-passed and swift action must be taken for the safety of others , me personally , id rather someone was unemployed than someone was dead , get you head out of the law books and into the real world !!!

  18. Lynne, and a few others here, are just engaging in vicious scapegoating of Shoesmith. Ed Balls sacked her because he was running scared of a reprehensible campaign against Shoesmith run by The Sun. He’s said as much.

    Let’s get something straight – all of us are distressed and saddened by baby Peter Connelly’s murder. I’m a father of young children myself and it’s immensely tragic and heart-breaking to look at pictures of this poor ill-cared for young lad.

    BUT – Sharon Shoesmith is not to blame. On two occasions social workers tried to take him into care, but were overruled by lawyers who said the criteria hadn’t been met. The social workers didn’t know the boyfriends were present because the mother lied to them. A paediatrician missed a serious injury, other injuries went unreported by police.

    To say ‘the buck stops’ with Shoesmith is fatuous and insensible. I haven’t seen the The Sun’s editor resign because her reporters have been phone-tapping. Why? Because she didn’t know about it (she says). Well, by that measure why hound Shoesmith. If the buck goes to the top why didn’t Ed Balls resign? He was the minister responsible after all.

  19. I agree with you Lynne. I believe that the Government has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court given the constitutional issues at stake in respect to Ministers making decisions and these decisions being challenged by the courts. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the appeal or the outcome.

    Following the tragic death of ‘Baby P’, I believe that Ofsted was part of a multi-agency inspection team asked by the Secretary of State Ed Balls to review the child protection arrangements and safeguarding of children and young people in Haringey. It was a multi-agency of services which I believe inspected Haringey. The inspection – which was carried out by seven inspectors from Ofsted, the Healthcare Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary – evaluated the contribution made by relevant local agencies to ensure that children and young people are safe. It started on 13 November and was completed on 26 November 2008. These is reported by Ofsted.

    The inspection allegedly found there appeared to be insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight of safeguarding services by Haringey councillors and officers. They also alleged that there was managerial failure to ensure full compliance with the recommendations of the Victoria Climbié Inquiry (which reported in January 2003 following the death of Victoria Climbié, also in Haringey).

    I believe this may be the reason why Sharon’s appeal against OFSTED was dismissed. This suggest the Court upheld the findings of Ofsted. I am not in a position to question the independent findings of the learned judges.

    I accept the Court’s view that Haringey could have protected its position if it had served a contractual notice terminating Ms Shoesmith ‘s contract of employment, and it might have done so without prejudice to its contention that it was entitled to dismiss her summarily. It did not do so.

    I reject this view that somehow the Secretary of State’s decision to commission the Ofsted inspection or suspend Sharon Shoesmith was driven by media frenzy. This is too simplistic a stance.

  20. Mr Murphy , The Suns reporter’s jobs are to get stories and I don’t agree with their tactics of phone tapping and the like but I suppose you are one who thinks a super injunction is a good idea !! These reporters you speak of are not in charge of the safety of children and although their actions are unethical as far as im aware no child has died from phone tapping . The argument you bring forward is as daft as saying sharon shoesmith did not fail in her role as head of her dept , 60 times this wee boy visited A&E , I dont know what you work at but Im an engineer and I dont need a degree in child psychology to see that something is seriously wrong with that number the phrase “gross negligence” comes to mind which is grounds for ????? Instant DISMISSAL . And as far as im aware the miniter The leader of Haringey Council George Meehan and cabinet member for children and young people Liz Santry did resign from their posts,
    Shoe smith should donate the money she gets from her settlement to charity if this was not about the money and just simply clearing her name . I am a parent also and to hear Mrs shoesmith used words like thrilled and delighted makes me feel sick !!

  21. I, as so many others, am confused by your comments here Lynne. How can anyone be allowed to “over-ride” normal employment law. Dont you see just how dangerous this is to all of us? I have been a Lib dem voter all my life but these sort of comments do make me wonder if I have been right. So much of this case seems odd – the quick change of mind by Ofsted that Haringey was good and then bad, the decision to sack someone via a TV press conference being just 2. I have to say if Ed Balls had been in Government he would surely have had to have gone – even though there is an appeal the fact that the Master of the Rolls came down so clearly against his decision would have made his position untennable.

    I, like others here, do wonder about ministers, particularly one in the Home Office, blogging in this way. Surely it would have been better to have waited until the legal position had been finalised?

  22. What most commentators appear not to realise is that the Complainant (Sharon Shoesmith) had only limited grounds on which to appeal and the Court of Appeal had only limited grounds on which it could rule the dismissal unfair. There is normally an appeal against unfair dismissal only on a question of law. The appeal tribunal or court would not consider whether an empoyee’s action or inaction amounted to misconduct justifying dismissal and should not substitute its own view for the employer’s view of this issue. So the only matter it was called upon to rule on was whether the employer had complied with legal requirements relating to dismissal, which include affording an employee a properly conducted Dismissal Proceedure involving a dismissal Hearing. This it clearly had not.
    It is pie in the sky to wish that the Court had taken account of Ms. Shoesmith’s failures that resulted in her dismissal.

  23. Welbank:

    I agree with you.

    I accept the Court’s view that Haringey could have protected its position if it had served a contractual notice terminating Ms Shoesmith ‘s contract of employment, and it might have done so without prejudice to its contention that it was entitled to dismiss her summarily. It did not do so. As you say, the fact there was a procedural error in the way Sharon was dismissed was a point in law that was considered unlawful.

    Steven: You said: “I, as so many others, am confused by your comments here Lynne. How can anyone be allowed to “over-ride” normal employment law.”

    I am not sure what is what Lynne is saying. The Court of Appeal decision reportedly stated that Sharon Shoesmith was unlawfully dismissed because of procedural issues. They did not rule on the whether or not she should or should not have lost her job. It was more to do with whether the proper procedures were followed in respect to her dismissal. I accept the Court’s view that Haringey could have protected its position if it had served a contractual notice terminating Ms Shoesmith ‘s contract of employment, and it might have done so without prejudice to its contention that it was entitled to dismiss her summarily. It did not do so.

    Steven: You said- “So much of this case seems odd – the quick change of mind by Ofsted that Haringey was good and then bad, the decision to sack someone via a TV press conference being just 2.”

    The inspection allegedly found there appeared to be insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight of safeguarding services by Haringey councillors and officers. They also alleged that there was managerial failure to ensure full compliance with the recommendations of the Victoria Climbié Inquiry (which reported in January 2003 following the death of Victoria Climbié, also in Haringey). I believe this may be the reason why Sharon’s appeal against OFSTED was dismissed. This suggest the Court upheld the findings of Ofsted. I am not in a position to question the independent findings of the learned judges.

    I think Lynne’s commentary appears to be reasonable. She has not taken any sides, but simply made reference to the court’s judgement. She is entitled to comment on the case in respect to providing an update in her capacity as constituency MP whether we agree or not.

  24. “there are times when due process must be bi-passed and swift action must be taken for the safety of others , me personally , id rather someone was unemployed than someone was dead , get you head out of the law books and into the real world !!!”

    Fortunately for people with jobs, there are explicit laws preventing people like you from doing this sort of thing.

  25. “To say ‘the buck stops’ with Shoesmith is fatuous and insensible. I haven’t seen the The Sun’s editor resign because her reporters have been phone-tapping. Why? Because she didn’t know about it (she says). Well, by that measure why hound Shoesmith.”

    This is more or less the law, yes. In order to justify summary dismissal, you usually need to show that the employee’s actions were intentional – in this case, that she deliberately prevented the implementation of measures which would have prevented the errors.

    If an employee has merely made a mistake (such as delegating the implementation to a deputy and not pushing them hard enough), however bad the consequences, then the law is approximately that they must be informed of the mistake and given an opportunity to correct it.