Lynne Featherstone MP commenting on Sharon Shoesmith's appeal

Commenting on the judgment by the Court of Appeal allowing the appeal of Sharon Shoesmith against a High Court ruling that the manner of her dismissal after the death of Baby Peter was lawful, Lynne Featherstone MP said:

“It would seem 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 that proper procedures to dismiss her were not followed. However, that is a matter for Haringey Council and Ed Balls.

“The Children’s Act 2004, which followed the tragic death of Victoria Climbie and Lord Laming’s report, set in law that the Head of Children’s Services should be responsible for failings in their service. Sharon Shoesmith was Head of Children’s Services.”
Cllr Richard Wilson, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Opposition on Haringey Council, adds:
“The Children’s Act 2004 clearly sets out lines of responsibility for failures to protect children. This was to ensure that never again could bucks be passed.
“People in Haringey and up and down the country who saw how Haringey Council failed to protect Baby Peter, will find it hard to fathom how the Council managed not to follow correct procedure. This is another blow in the process of restoring confidence and competence in Haringey’s Children’s Service.”

Comment on Sharon Shoesmith verdict

Lynne Featherstone, candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, comments on the Sharon Shoesmith verdict:

“After what happened to Baby Peter, Sharon Shoesmith’s position was totally untenable – and rightly so.

“From this case we see further evidence that the culture of cover up and secrecy goes right to the top of the Labour government. Key facts have only come to light because of this court case, facts that the public are entitled to know. More than ever it shows the urgent need for a full public enquiry to ensure that we get to the bottom of the failure to protect Baby Peter.”

Nevres Kemal, Haringey Children’s Services whistleblower and Liberal Democrat candidate for Noel Park in Haringey, adds:

“I am standing for election against the Council who failed to protect Baby Pater and to help end the failure in Children’s Services.”

A debate on who inspects the inspectors

Following on from my recent post on who inspects the inspectors, I raised the issue in Business Questions in the Commons.

The point I made was that with OFSTED giving 3 stars to Haringey just before the Baby Peter tragic story broke – and giving them 1 star soon after – we needed a debate on how to inspect the inspectors.

Harriet Harman – actually said she thought this was an issue for consideration. There was a lot of support in House for my request for a debate – so fingers crossed.

Of course, it’s even worse than I had time to state in the Commons (you only get a few words before Mr Speaker has a go at you for verbosity). Recently the judge in the Sharon Shoesmith appeal is having to investigate whether a hand written note which apparently instructs everyone at OFSTED who has emails re the Baby P case to delete them is genuine and whether its instruction was followed.

If it was – and emails turn out to have been deleted – this is just outrageous. We wait to hear the outcome of the judge’s investigations.

Sharon Shoesmith's day in court

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.

Haringey to get new Chief Executive!

Got a surprise this morning – Ita O’Donovan – Chief Executive of Haringey is retiring. Good! That means that another person who presided over the Baby Peter tragedy and aftermath is going.

I always thought it was strange that the Chief Executive’s voice was hardly heard at all during the Baby Peter case. Sharon Shoesmith – for all her faults – was out there taking the full force of public, media and everyone’s disapproval.

Anyway – moving onward and upward is the most important thing for Haringey Council. So – hopefully not only will we get a top notch new Chief Executive – we will also have a new administration next May when we have local elections – a Liberal Democrat one!

Great Ormond Street Hospital – senior management must take responsibility over Baby Peter

So – Dr Al-Sayyat – the doctor who famously failed to diagnose Baby Peter’s broken back and broken ribs – is suing Great Ormond Street Hospital over her dismissal.

For all the criticism over her behaviour, that shouldn’t let Great Ormond Street off the hook. As far as I can tell Great Ormond Street’s management has a lot of responsibility for the hospital’s failings during the Baby P tragedy.

Yes, it was Dr Al-Sayyat who saw Baby Peter, failed to spot major injuries and was then dismissed following an investigation. But just as with Sharon Shoesmith – who wasn’t the actual front social worker visiting the house but paid the proper price for overseeing a system that failed so badly – so the senior people in charge at Great Ormond Street should have to take responsibility for a system that failed so badly.

Jane Collins (CEO), Dr Elliman (designated safeguarding doctor) and Jane Elias (senior management) are the key people at Great Ormond Street, who are commissioned by Haringey Primary Care Trust (PCT) to be responsible for running the children’s health service for Haringey.

The Evening Standard recently published a damning letter from four senior paediatricians to Elliman and Elias over desperately serious concerns about the safety of children at risk in the borough. Moreover, they say in their letter that their concerns are being ignored by management. And when the letter was published – Jane Collins went on TV and rather than facing up to the issue and taking action, she dodged around.

So – there is still a job to be done to ensure that the senior management at Great Ormond Street are properly held to account.

Between 2006 and 2008 out of four senior paediatricians, two resigned, one was off sick and one was on special leave. That left the staffing at Great Ormond Street’s services to Haringey’s children at danger level. And I only got those figures after digging and digging to find out why it was a locum doctor – Dr Al-Sayyat – who had looked at Baby Peter.

Those responsible for there being dangerously low staffing levels in such a vital service need to pay the same price as those in Haringey Council did for their part in Baby Peter’s tragic death.

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.

Ten most popular blog postings (1st quarter, 2009)

Here’s what you’ve been reading the most on my blog over the last three months:

10. Lap dancing in Crouch End – one of the big local issues coming up for decision

9. Heading up the party’s Technology Board – see number 1.

8. Sharon Shoesmith – see number 2.

7. Reading the Baby P Serious Case Review – see number 2.

6. Why the number of female MPs matters – see why I think so.

5. What should you do with your emails? – a fun way to demonstrate to Jacqui Smith what’s wrong with the government’s latest plans to keep tabs on what we’re all doing.

4. Not so equal pay at Cambridge University – not Cambridge University at its best.

3. Politicians and Twitter: why The Times is wrong – not The Times at its best.

2. Sharon Shoesmith in The Guardian – I’ve found this blog really useful during the Baby P tragedy, as it’s given me the chance to raise issues and expound on my views at the length the issue demands, but which the media rarely gives MPs.

1. Are you a techno wizard? – no surprise that news about the Liberal Democrats online (and other) work should attract the attention of an online audience!

Has Lord Laming come to the right conclusions?

OK – so now I’ve had time to have a look at all Lord Laming’s proposals (from his review into the state of Children’s Services following the Baby P tragedy) – but my view is not much altered as his report is much as I expected. Another 50+ recommendations because his first recommendations were not implemented.

There’s some good strengthening stuff – but I still can’t see what will make it different so that we avoid the next time. For example – take the Safeguarding Children Board. This is where all the partners around child protection meet to discuss children at risk. In Haringey it is the Board that Sharon Shoesmith chaired, and it is from this Board that the deeply flawed Serious Case Review into the death of Baby P flowed. So flawed that Ed Balls has ordered a second Serious Case Review to be produced and has put in an independent chair.

Lord Laming has recommended an independent chair for all Safeguarding Children Boards and he further suggests the addition of two members of the public – but I’m not convinced this will really deal with the sort of events that went wrong in Haringey.

In the case of Baby P, my understanding is that various of those attending the Board did raise matters of concern – but the management wore down those who raised concerns and in the end forced through what it wanted to do. So – whilst Laming’s proposal could be a help, what we’re missing is a requirement to minute the discussions and disagreements. Lord knows every other bit of information is recorded, computerised, etc etc – but no records are kept of these crucial meetings – and that makes it far too easy to bulldozer past disagreements.

Next let’s look at Lord L’s recommendation for a National Unit for Safeguarding to ensure his recommendations are implemented. Forgive me – but the last thing we need is more central attempts to micromanage what is happening on the ground all round the country.

The eyes and ears that can really help are on the spot – locally. The tragedy is that they were ignored by Sharon Shoesmith and by the Labour Haringey leadership. It’s a strengthening of local accountability and scrutiny that we really need.

What went wrong in Haringey was that the Labour administration, ineffective and defensive, didn’t challenge officers. Ranks were closed, jobs were protected and there was a refusal by Labour or senior officers involved to engage or listen to the many voices that were trying to warn Haringey that children were at risk.

Quite frankly – I could go on and on. There are wider issues untouched by Laming’s investigation: budgetary pressures, the inspection regime (inspectors say things are good, something goes wrong, inspectors say things are bad), the temptation to fudge or mislead when jumping through government hoops brings funding, the need for whistle blowers to have somewhere to take their concerns and have them acted on; the failures of the health services – and so on.

I don’t want to be a misery guts – but I just don’t feel that Lord Laming’s work is going to really cut through the culture and attitude that Labour Haringey operates and which is the reason (in my view) why we have now had two tragedies, Victoria Climbie and Baby P, in Haringey.

What will Lord Laming have found?

The Laming findings on how his recommendations following the Victoria Climbie tragedy have been implemented will be reported tomorrow.

I have had some qualms about Lord Laming looking at his own recommendations as I have been afraid he might not want to find fault. However, he takes the issue of child protection extremely seriously and is the wise old owl who realised that the leadership was key to changing the way a department works – hence the Children’s Act 2004 which made clear where individual responsibility should rest – and so ultimately was why Sharon Shoesmith and Liz Santry were in the frame.

From all the leaks, I expect that Laming will have looked pretty thoroughly at social workers’ caseloads and discovered that they are not kept to the 12 cases I believe he recommended. But I also hope that he has looked at the line management. We were all gobsmacked that Baby P could be visited so many times to no avail. Surely we must see the creation of a culture where if the social worker visiting is too scared or inexperienced etc to ask to see the child from top to bottom – it would be normal for her or him to go back and report this, be supported, and be accompanied back to satisfy themselves of the true condition of the child.

More tick boxes and process driven stuff is the last thing we need – so I’m glad that Laming looks to be staying clear of that. However, I am pretty sure that the atmosphere on the Safeguarding Children Board in Haringey was such that the members gave up putting forward their professional views – as my understanding is that they were simply over-ruled by management and bludgeoned ultimately into silent acquiescence. This needs to change – and so a key recommendation I will look for will be to have the Board discussions and particularly disagreements minuted. They are not currently.

Outside of the leadership and management within Children’s Services – I am fearful that the wider issues will not feature – and those wider issues if not examined now will cause us regret after some future tragedy.

So what about the joining together of education and children’s social services – has it worked? I tread carefully as they were joined to stop children falling through the gap – but clearly in Haringey the Director of Education found herself then in charge of an area where she had no experience. How significant was that? During the furore – Ms Shoesmith was supported by many Heads of Schools who praised her education record – but amongst the hundreds of people from social services who contacted me, not one praised her work on that side.

What about the issue of Haringey Labour Council not heeding any of the warnings that children were at risk? They had plenty – from me, from relatives, from whistleblowers and from opposition members. They ignored all of them. If something is wrong – how can the administration be made to listen? Secrecy, cover-ups and rank closing were the culture of Haringey Labour and officers. Gagging orders, injunctions, refusal to submit to scrutiny and so on meant that no light shone on what was going on. Moreover, even since the furore and the shaming of Haringey – Labour are still blocking moves to proper oversight.

Then there’s the inspection regime. Ofsted gave Haringey three stars just whilst all this was going on under the cover. How can we rely on an inspection system that failed so miserably? And what of the Government whose system of stars makes authorities jump through hoops to get funding and autonomy – putting the temptation in front of people to fiddle and distort the system?

And what of budgetary pressures – they are ever-present. It was said that in an email managers were told not to take children into care because there was no funding. What part did this play?

And finally – what of the nightmare going on in the health services? More of that later.

So you can see – whilst I am hopeful Lord Laming’s recommendations will address some of the issues – in my view we still need a public inquiry on these other issues to ensure that the whole debacle and failure that let Baby P be killed is properly and extensively addressed.