How the police failed over Baby P

Good Friday – and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme booked me early bird time – 6.45 am – to talk about the leaked information showing police failings in the Baby P case (click here to hear the piece).

What the leak – to Tim Donovan of BBC London – basically revealed was things like notes not being taken, a case report languishing in a drawer when the case wasn’t handed over and so on. Each of these ‘failures’ being small in themselves – except that this was a child known to be at risk and therefore we, the public, would expect absolute rigour in all procedures – not the sort of casualness exemplified.

Because the spotlight was so firmly on Sharon Shoesmith and Labour Haringey – rightly so, as they are the lead agency and she had the lead position and was accountable under the Children’s Act of 2004 – the other agencies (health, lawyers and police) have not come under the same scrutiny. That’s one reason why I’ve consistently pushed for a full public inquiry.

And furthermore – I want Ed Balls to admit that he was wrong in refusing to publish the full serious case review. The part each agency played in the ultimate tragedy of Baby P is important if he really means that ‘lessons must be learnt’ and ‘this must never happen again’. Unless everyone involved in protecting children can know what went wrong and why – they can’t learn the lessons that need to be learned.

Although I was looking forward to mostly having the day off – I agreed to do the Today interview because the issue is incredibly important – and my concern has always been that with the passing on of the media tsunami the underlying issues would simply not be addressed. Anyway – my sense of duty was rewarded ‘cos in the green room was Clark Peters (of The Wire and new film in which he plays Mandela). So that was interesting – but then a small woman walked in and sat next to me.

She turned, extended her hand and said “Carole King”. “Carole King the singer?” I stuttered stupidly. “Yes” she said. You have to understand that this woman’s songs were the backdrop to my life and love life in the 70s and then again when I sang all the songs from Tapestry to my girls to sing them to sleep. What a treat. And she said she would perhaps come back next year to do a tour. What a morning!

DNA and discrimination

Off to do the Sunday Politics Show for the third week in a row. Added to our number this week is Tony Travers. We hash over vagaries of London’s voting patterns. After the show, Tim Donovan, Tony and I chat about the disintegration of the Labour party as it appears to descend into civil war with Brown’s henchmen turning up the heat – hoping to force Blair into going, or at least stating when he will be going.

I try and persuade Tim to do a show on DNA. I have been championing a number of issues around DNA for some years – and the Independent on Sunday runs a story using a quote from me and the answer I got to a Parliamentary Question on what percentage of innocent DNA comes from black and ethnic minorities. It’s about 24% nationwide – but the figure that no one is picking up on yet – is that in London this kicks up to 57% of innocent DNA is coming from non-whites. It’s huge – way, way above their actual representation in the population as a whole.

BNP and crime

Campaigning all day on Sunday – except for a journey to a working men’s club in Harlesden to take part in the London part of the Sunday Politics Show on BBC. The club was divided into a big bar and a small bar in which the filming took place. I was there early and so just chatted with Simon Woolley from Operation Black vote and the crew. Tim Donovan was the interviewer and the other guests were Grant Shapps (Tory) and Dawn Butler (Labour) and down the line and only speaking to Tim – Nick Griffin of the BNP.

The two discussions were to be Margaret Hodge’s pronouncement that 8 out of 10 white working class people in her constituency were considering voting BNP and, secondly, the Safer Neighbourhood Scheme.

So – a short film of canvassing in Hodge’s patch and an interview with Griffin. He came over as a racist and a bigot – so at least there was no pretending that that there was anything to do with housing shortages. For the BNP it doesn’t matter what the issue is – they will use whatever is the most obvious local scapegoat to pedal their bile. The word ‘swamped’ peppered Griffin’s language.

However, the arrogance and complacency of Labour in this area left them an opportunity. Political vacuums will always be filled. No wonder the film clip showed a local BNP member taking flowers around to Hodge’s house to say thanks for putting them on the agenda. The publicity we have all been forced into (including this) as a consequence is ridiculous as their ascendance is minuscule. But because of the filth they pedal – we all must always be vigilant against even this tiny blip on our horizon.

My criticism of Labour for their use of the BNP to try and scare Labour voters into voting Labour is that if there really are 8 in 10 white working class (Labour) voters considering voting BNP (which I doubt) – then where the bloody hell was Margaret for the last four years? Did she not know that there was this undercurrent of frustration and unhappiness amongst her constituents? So why the surprise? It is hard not to be cynical and believe that part of her tirade was scare-mongering. And quite frankly – this cynical use of the race card in reverse is as bad as the Tories use of it at the General Election last year. This is dangerous stuff.

The second issue on Safer Neighbourhoods was kicked off with Dawn Butler bringing out the lie that Labour have been peddling that the Lib Dems and Tories voted against the Mayor’s policing budget at the GLA. Tim Donovan did my work for me. He turned on her and pointed out that this was completely untrue. And Tim would know – as he covers the GLA and was there covering the budget debates. As he pointed out – the Lib Dems and Tories both voted on a separate vote for the police budget. And actually – we also put in an extra £20million to increase British Transport Police numbers in London to 272. Voted down by Labour. Anyway – it was good to see that lie rebutted – and not by a politician, by the interviewer himself.

Then she kept trying to say that crime had risen in Islington. The truth is – by the Home Office’s own statistics – that Lib Dem-run Islington has seen a drop in robbery of over 25% between 2002 and 2005, whilst Labour-run Brent (where Dawn is MP) has seen an increase of over 16% and violent crime in Labour-run Brent increased by almost 40% between 2002 and 2005

What drives me mad is the unquestioning repetition of Labour’s false mantras. They trot out absolute rubbish – and believe that repetition of the message will damage their opponents – regardless of the truth. Maybe it works – I don’t know – but no wonder the public don’t believe politicians any more if the truth doesn’t matter.

After campaigning rest of day – get home to find article in the Sunday Times on the meeting that I will be attending with a small group of other MPs from the cross-party group on Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy (MSBP), a condition where people supposedly fabricate illnesses in their children to gain attention. It wants a review of Government guidelines issued to social workers, police and teachers.

The reason for this is that it would seem that many parents are being wrongly suspected of this or variations on this – and the agony of being involved or connected with child protection issues when you are innocent is incredibly stressful and upsetting.

When the group first approached me – because of a local case of this type – my main concern was that in trying to get the balance right over when Social Services should intervene, it might lead to a raising of the threshold for intervention and thereby miss serious child abuse. Coming from Haringey, where the Victoria Climbie tragedy involved the failure of various people to intervene at the appropriate moment, I am naturally concerned that we don’t make it harder for appropriate intervention to occur.

However, the group persuaded me that actually Social Services were failing at both levels – both too many false accusations but also too many occasion when intervention wasn’t occurring. So that is what this is all about.