Baby Peter and beyond – Great Ormond Street in the dock

Kim Holt has finally broken cover over the health team’s part in the Baby Peter tragedy with an interview in the Sunday Telegraph with Andrew Gilligan.

Who is Kim? She is (or rather was) a senior paediatric consultant in Haringey’s child protection health team.

Kim first came to me (over a year ago), terrified to talk to me, as she had been gagged – forbidden to talk to anyone. However, because I was her MP, she and I believed that must give her cover as it couldn’t be the case that a citizen loses their right to talk to their MP.

Kim was desperately worried that children in Haringey were at risk because none of the senior managers at Great Ormond Street were taking proper notice of the concerns she and three other senior consultant paediatricians had raised about the dreadful way things were being handled by management in charge of the child protection health team. The four consultants were so worried that they took the unusual step of jointly signing a letter enumerating their concerns and stating that they believed management were ignoring them. This was exposed in the Evening Standard recently also by Gilligan – with a scanned version of the letter for all to see.

In fact, when Kim tried to raise these issues and became vocal about them – guess what – the establishment turned on her. She was bullied by management – and worse – the situation was ignored. She eventually found herself on ‘special leave’ where she has been for two years – kept away from work by management at taxpayers’ expense to try and stop her exposing what had been going on.

Worse than that – additional to keeping her from working (and she a senior consultant paediatrician with an impeccable track record of 25 years of dedicated service) they tried to buy her silence. They offered her £120,000 if she would sign a statement saying all her concerns had been addressed.

But Kim wouldn’t be bought off. Kim’s real and genuine concern is and always has been the well-being of the most vulnerable of children. That is why over the year or so since she first came to me – I have completely and totally supported Kim and believed that she is the victim of bad management, bullying and a desire by those in charge to not rock the eminent boat of Great Ormond Street.

So – when Kim first came to see me to tell me about the bullying – I went to see Richard Sumray, Chair of Haringey Primary Care Trust (PCT) to talk to him privately about this situation. The child protection task had been handed over from Haringey PCT to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). The existing senior manager in charge had been transferred across from Haringey PCT to GOSH. It was now a matter for GOSH. That is what he said – but he also said he would look into it.

Then the Baby Peter trial concluded and all hell let loose. Haringey Council was rightly first in line, as the lead agency and the most culpable, and got all the attention. But knowing a little at that time about the health team and wondering why there was a locum in place – the locum who failed to recognise Peter’s broken back and ribs – I started asking questions.

I raised it in Parliament and if you look back in Hansard you will see me raise the issue of why out of four senior paediatric consultants, two had resigned, one was on sick leave and one on special leave. (You will also read that our health spokesperson Norman Lamb raised it too). I was, at that point, still bound to keep Kim’s confidence but was desperately trying to get the health team management looked at.

Kim was still not working and in my view was being kept from working because of her whistle-blowing. At this point, I ‘phoned Ed Balls office and told them of the dreadful treatment of Kim Holt and said if they didn’t do something at some point this would all blow up and with the reputation of the world’s foremost children’s hospital at stake – they needed to act.

I was very pleased that I was called shortly after this by the Chief Nurse from London Strategic Health Authority who I met with and who undertook to carry out a private investigation of the issues around Kim’s bullying and exclusion.

That investigation reports this coming week. Kim gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph – finally – because she believes the report leaves out the important issues. She is gagged from talking about what is in the report. I have not seen it – but have met with its author and the NHS chief nurse who briefed me on their view of the content.

Now we wait to see the report. But if it doesn’t get Kim back to work, it doesn’t dismiss any managers and it doesn’t tackle the bullying culture – then it will all have been for nought.

Haringey hid the truth!

I don’t know where Andrew Gilligan got the information from about the fact that Haringey had placed a child to be fostered with the family where Abdulla Achmed Ali was living – but he must have phenomenal sources. Not a peep, not a dicky-bird had been said by the Council about this latest incident.

At this point whilst we are asking the questions that need to be asked of Haringey – we don’t know how badly or otherwise Haringey has performed in its duties to safeguard children it places in foster care – but unfortunately with Haringey’s track record we can only think the worst. And as there still has been no public inquiry into Child Protection in Haringey – we all suspect that there is much more of this under the radar as this revelation today has demonstrated.

However, what we do know now, is that Haringey Council has known about this for three years and not brought it forward as something that needs to be examined. Again we see Haringey cloak the whole incident in secrecy. Hide it away and hope that no one will find out. It is secrecy that has bread the breathtaking failures in child protection and elsewhere.

Robert Gorrie, Liberal Democrat leader on Haringey Council said of this latest shocking story:

‘Haringey Council vowed during the Baby Peter tragedy that they would end the silence and cover up in Children’s Services yet this shows a Council still committed to a culture of secrecy.

‘How many more cases of Council failures do we not yet know about? Who knew about this fiasco and was keeping it a secret and how many more cases of Haringey Labour failure do we not yet know about?’

Fostered in a terrorist house!

Haringey Labour Council hit the headlines again today – courtesy of investigative journalist Andrew Gilligan of the Standard.

Haringey place a foster child in the family where – now convicted terrorist Abdulla Ahmed Ali of the liquid bomb plot to down seven planes lived! It beggars belief.

Haringey seems to lurch from crisis to crisis – all generally of their own making.

The child was fostered and Abdulla was living there – and apparently reading terrorist tomes which you might think would be a give away.

Of Course the secret services weren’t going to tell Haringey about their surveillance of the suspected terrorist. I know it’s been suggested that they should have somehow tipped the wink at Haringey so that they knew something was up – but the magnitude of the plot and the importance of the operation would have prohibited that. And with MI5 or MI6 watching the house – the baby was better looked out for than most in the borough.

So – it would be down to Haringey’s rigour in terms of their policy on checking on foster parents that was the only gauge as to whether there was anything recognisably untoward in the home. Would Haringey normally know who lives in the house of foster parents? Do they do background checks? Apparently the couple were already foster parents – but did Haringey know a male adult would be living there? Did they visit?

And in the article it also says that someone says that Muslim children must be placed with Muslim foster parents. I don’t know if that is Haringey’s policy – and in an ideal world it might be a good policy – but if it means that there is any lessening of checks – then that cannot be acceptable either.

Many questions need to be asked and answered – because if Haringey could have known and should have known – then they are in the dock again. But we don’t know the answers to that yet.

I suppose that if I was being charitable I could say that Haringey was unlucky – but the amount of times appalling things happen in Haringey makes me believe that Haringey makes its own ‘luck’.

Great Ormond Street failed Baby P too!

When I found out that the last doctor to see Baby Peter failed to recognise a broken back and ribs – like the rest of the nation I thought she must be a terrible doctor. And she clearly was. However, I also read that she was a locum – and ever since then I have been digging and digging to find out why there was a locum and what lay beneath.

I found out. And whilst I have no doubt that Haringey Labour Council and Sharon Shoesmith were first in line for retribution being the lead agency and lead individual – I have also had no doubt that there were other agencies who were just as bad.

There was a locum because the consultant pediatricians, four of them, in the children’s health department in Haringey (commissioned by Haringey PCT and run by Great Ormond Street – GOSH) had either left, been off permanently sick or on special leave! On digging I found that these doctors had raised their concerns with GOSH and been ignored. Yet again – management taking no notice of dangers being flagged up by professionals – just as the police and a senior social worker at Haringey raised concerns that Baby P should be taken away from the family.

I raised it on my blog. I got Norman Lamb (Lib Dem Health Spokesperson) to raise it in a health debate. I raised it myself in a speech in the chamber. But it is only now that investigative journalist for the Evening Standard, Andrew Gilligan, has found out the real detail of the story and broken it in the paper that the part that GOSH and Haringey PCT played in Baby P’s death is coming to light. He actually has a copy of the letter to the management at GOSH saying that they don’t believe the management has taken their concerns seriously and listing the reasons that children’s lives were at risk.

And yesterday – the Health Care Commission report into Baby P’s death also came out with findings that make it clear that there were systemic and individual failings in GOSH and the Health Trusts – all scandalous stuff.

What has been going on in children’s health in Haringey is practically a mirror image of what was going on in Haringey Council, Children’s Services and the Safeguarding Board.

I hope that this now all comes to light and that equally drastic and appropriate action is taken.

Needless to say – I will be writing to Ed Balls in this regard.

London Development Agency: trying to spin its way out of trouble

Up for a 6:15am pre-record with the Today programme this morning – about the allegations of corruption and misappropriate funds hanging over the London Development Agency. It’s turning into quite an involved saga, with a whole host of allegations – but the latest twist is very simple.

The LDA carried out an investigation, but it wasn’t thorough – and was then misrepresented in the LDA’s own press release as giving the body a clean bill of health.

The LDA’s press release on the results of its internal investigation doesn’t leave any room for doubt as to what they wanted people to think: “Allegations of LDA Corruption False” and the first paragraph is equally bullish: “The report has been issued of the review of allegations of LDA corruption and collusion in improperly awarding funds made by the journalist Andrew Gilligan in the Evening Standard in a series of articles in December 2007. The review finds these to be unfounded.”

Now, if only that was the case! In fact, three of the allegations were passed to the police to look into, a fourth is already under police investigation and it looks like a fifth will end up with the police too. That’s not the picture you’d expect when phrases like “unfounded” are being used, is it?

Then there’s the case of Brenda Stern – who lost her job after speaking out. Was she sacked for whistle blowing on financial scandal? That’s an episode that needs serious investigation – but the review didn’t even interview her.

There’s more in today’s Evening Standard, including this damning quote from her:

“The schedule of allegations published with the review claims I never complained of losing my job for raising concerns about one of the projects. I most certainly did make that complaint and I am very surprised indeed that the LDA claims to have investigated this project without even trying to contact me.”

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The Boer war

Austrian journalists accompany me on the campaign trail. A very nice man and woman who are, if I remember rightly, the equivalent of Radio 4 (the woman) and the Editor of the Guardian (the man) in Austrian terms.

Keen to raise my vote in Austria – we set out in a Labour street in a Lib Dem ward (Alexandra, three gains from Labour in 2002). It was quite extraordinary. Virtually every Labour supporter told me they were voting Lib Dem this time. Iraq was the reason. Whilst Labour may hope we have moved on – we haven’t. I wish Gilligan had been with me on this street. I couldn’t have wished for more palpable evidence of the Labour swing to the Lib Dems.

One woman (Labour all her life, but now voting Liberal Democrat) wouldn’t take one of our posters because she didn’t want to put off Labour canvassers and was hoping to get them on her doorstep to give them a piece of her mind.

Another woman called me across the road to her – same story and her husband who had voted Labour since the Khaki election (think must have meant 1945 rather than the Boer war!) was voting LibDem.

In the evening went round to Tariq Ali’s house to finalise his further efforts to help me in order to actually defeat in his words ‘a warmonger MP’. Tariq is solely and genuinely committed to getting an anti-war majority in the Commons – that is his purpose and therefore we have common cause.

Andrew Gilligan in the Evening Standard

Andrew Gilligan’s piece on Hornsey & Wood Green comes out today in the Evening Standard – which is going to be a pretty important piece of coverage for us – one way or the other.

First phone call in from the press office – only seen the headline – looks good. Well – without droning on too much – it was a good piece for us and for me. Huge photograph of me with the panoramic backdrop of London viewed from the steep slopes of Muswell Hill.

Glad to be able to report that it’s a nice photo! Then I read the piece and it is a really accurate summation of the situation here. The Labour vote is very soft and it’s going to be an exciting finish.

One of the bits that interested me the most was the description of what Labour think is happening in this seat. Last time out in 2001 LibDems (and me) took around 10,000 votes of Ms Roche’s majority. That was before 9/11, before the war and so on. Their rational, according to Labour, is that the residents of this area are basically the advanced guard of Labour thinking in the capital. i.e. Labour here became disillusioned before Labour elsewhere – and therefore the huge swing to the LibDems last time was it.

I have to say I don’t think so! Not in a million years. However, using that logic – is Labour saying that there will be at least a 12% swing to the LibDems in all seats where we are in second place? That would be excellent!

Muswell Hill crime meeting

7am start on emails having done fifty sit ups. Given the amount of exercise I get during and election delivering leaflets and the amount of weight I lose from being on the run – I have decided that I might as well have a flat stomach by May 5!

Inevitably during a campaign the blog content of my daily efforts will be repetitive in terms of 1) delivering leaflets 2) canvassing 3) stuffing envelopes and 4) answering emails, letters and the phone.

The interest I guess will come from the twists and the turns, the media and the national campaign.

So today was unremitting emails and paperwork all morning. Then for light relief three hours of leaflet delivery midst beautiful sunshine – interspersed with hail, lightening and thunder. We (Monica and I) were leafleting a really up-market part of the constituency – with mega houses and tree-lined drives. Only issue with long drives is that it takes twice as long to deliver as normal roads.

At 7.30pm arrive at the British Legion in Muswell Hill Road for the consultation with key stakeholders in Muswell Hill. I am the lead councillor on the roll out of the police’s Safer Neighbourhoods Scheme in Muswell Hill. This is what we have all been waiting for – 6 police personnel, ring-fenced for Muswell Hill on a permanent basis. Hurrah!

This is a real ‘good news’ story – and tonight is about asking the chairs of residents’ associations and neighbourhood watches what they believe are the priorities for the area.

I have raised already one of the key problems for residents of St James’s Lane and Connaught Gardens – which is kids hanging around – and in the case of St James’s Lane acting quite aggressively to passers by.

I have been in email correspondence with Stephen Bloomfield, the local Commander and suggested to him that we try Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs). Yes – we can have patrols (if we are lucky) and that will move them on – temporarily. But I am for long term resolution – not just pushing a problem into someone else’s back yard.

ABCs were pioneered in Lib Dem run Islington with the Met and involve the police, the parents, the children, and other partners from education, social services, housing – whatever the problems need. Parents and children sign up to an agreed way forward for behaviour and have regular meetings to discuss any difficulties etc. These have worked stunningly well – so much so that Labour Ministers Charles Clarks and Hazel Blears are now advocating this as best practise across the land.

Stephen Bloomfield emails back that this seems just the right sort of case to be taken forward with ABCs but he isn’t promising anything until he knows more.

So at the meeting, the team are there and the issue is raised and we will see what path they take.

One of the most positive and optimistic evenings in my memory in terms of policing (outside of the re-opening of Muswell Hill Police front counter).

Come home to find phone message from Andrew Gilligan – so call him back. Piece in Standard will come out on Monday. He asks how I am getting on – and I say well. Lots of emails from Labour supporters telling me not only that they are going switch from Labour for the first time in their lives and vote for me – but why.

Interestingly – the reasons are not just the war. Iraq certainly leads the field – but the disappointments with Labour are many. It’s feeling very good on the doorsteps – especially as former Tory and Green supporters are getting the tactical voting message that to beat Blair’s candidate they need to vote Lib Dem in Hornsey and Wood Green.

Hearing from an old friend

I continue to think about the interview with Gilligan. He asked me about Ken and his stupid remark to a reporter about being like a concentration camp guard – giving great offence to the Jewish community.

A funny thing happened over that whole business – tangentially speaking. I got an email from a very old boyfriend (circa 30 years ago) who was Jewish. We lasted about two weeks when I was at college but became great friends. In fact he came to live with my mother and me when we left college – I left home to get a flat and he stayed with my mother for a further two years.

I lost touch probably over 20 years ago – but I suddenly get this email out of the blue. Peter has been looking at the GLA website to find out how to write to Ken to tell him exactly what he thinks of him and his concentration camp remarks.

That is the depth of feeling in the Jewish community that Ken has stirred – Peter was not easily stirred to action in my recollection. Ken apparently totally fails to understand what he’s done. I don’t know why.

Anyway – back to Peter. He stumbles across my name on the web-site and sends an email to me asking if I am the same Lynne he knows. He makes me smile because he puts a ps:

‘you never write, you never visit, you never call…..’

He always did have a good sense of humour. So as he gives a number, I ‘phone him and it is just great. Sounds just the same. He is of course amazed that I am now a politician as I was an art student and a designer last time he looked. Peter, coming from Rhodesia as was, was always somewhat right wing (mild description). He said he had voted for Blair in ’97 because he was the most right-wing politician in British politics!

Then go into overdrive in effort to get everything in order for the General Election. News of the Pope’s death dominates everything today. The party decides not to knock on doors today, but we have our internal campaign team meeting in the evening.

This will take place weekly now until the election and is at my house. We run thought where we are on our campaign plan and try and make sure any gaps are filled. Then more paperwork and emails – as ever!