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Saturday, May 28, 2011

'I'm over the moon': Baby P scandal boss Sharon Shoesmith set for £1m payout after court rules she was unlawfully dismissed

By Tom Kelly and Colin Fernandez

-Disgraced Baby P boss 'hopes to work with children again in future'
-David Cameron says Department for Education will appeal ruling

'Over the moon': Former children's services boss Sharon Shoesmith, pictured with her lawyer, speaks after the Court of Appeal decision

Sharon Shoesmith said she was ‘thrilled’ yesterday after winning a court appeal against her sacking over the Baby P scandal.

The ruling leaves her free to claim an estimated payout of £1million.

And the disgraced former children’s services chief even said she hoped to revive her career in child welfare.

Judges ruled that her dismissal from her £133,000-a-year post was ‘procedurally unfair’ because she was not allowed the chance to defend herself.

Set for payout: Ms Shoesmith, with her legal team, will return to the High Court for a compensation hearing

This came despite a damning report in 2008 which found her department at Haringey Council in north London had allowed baby Peter Connelly to die with over 50 injuries.

In an astonishing performance outside the Royal Courts of Justice after the result was announced, a triumphant Miss Shoesmith smiled as she declared: ‘I’m over the moon. Absolutely thrilled. It’s been long and arduous.’

Miss Shoesmith, 58, has spoken of her ‘sorrow’ for Baby P but has never apologised for her role in what happened. Yesterday’s ruling prompted bitter complaints that she, of all people, should be held accountable for the tragedy.

Baby Peter died in August 2007 at the hands of his mother Tracey Connelly, her sadistic lover Steven Barker and their lodger, Barker’s brother Jason Owen. The little boy had suffered 50 injuries despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over the final eight months of his life.

David Cameron immediately announced that the Department for Education planned to appeal to the Supreme Court against yesterday’s ruling. He said: ‘We all remember the absolutely appalling case of Baby P and how, as a country, we’ve got to do right and make sure we are accountable.

‘Obviously, we can’t bring Baby P back and we have to make sure justice is done.’

A defiant Ed Balls, the Labour Education Secretary who ordered Miss Shoesmith’s sacking in December 2008, said he ‘strongly disagreed’ with the judgment and insisted he would do the same thing again.

He told ITN: ‘The fact is there was a catastrophic failure of management in Haringey. That was why baby Peter in part lost his life. It was a tragedy. We can’t reverse that now but I made a decision as a minister and I didn’t do it on the basis of the media or pressure. I felt to keep children safe I had no option but to act. I disagree with the judges’ verdict.’

A relative of Baby Peter on his father’s side said: ‘This decision is shocking. If the person at the top can’t be accountable, who is?

‘Shoesmith has no shame. She should have accepted the department she was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to run was a shambles. For her to claim she was wrongly sacked makes things all the more painful for the family.’

Philip Henson, head of employment at the City law firm Bargate Murray, said: ‘Miss Shoesmith is likely to receive compensation approaching, or hitting, the £1million mark, taking into consideration reinstatement of her pension rights.’ Miss Shoesmith, who has two grown-up daughters, had challenged a High Court ruling which cleared Mr Balls, Haringey Council and the watchdog Ofsted of acting unlawfully over her dismissal without compensation which was announced live on TV in a press conference by the then Education Secretary. Her lawyer James Maurici told the Appeal Court that ‘buck-passing’ between Ofsted, Mr Balls and Haringey meant she was denied a fair hearing.

James Eadie QC, for the Government, said Mr Balls had to take urgent action following the ‘ghastly findings’ of the Ofsted report.

Wicked: Tracey Connelly, mother of Baby Peter, and her lodger Jason Owen were jailed for their involvement in the child's death

It uncovered ‘dangerous’ failings in Miss Shoesmith’s department which were threatening local and national confidence in effective child protection, he told the court.But Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton, agreed that Mr Balls had not given Miss Shoesmith ‘the opportunity to put her case’. They said: ‘She was denied the elementary fairness the law requires.’

The Appeal Court also ruled against Haringey, but the judges dismissed Miss Shoesmith’s appeal against the watchdog Ofsted, which had identified ‘insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight’ in her department.

The Appeal judges did not make a ruling on compensation, instead referring the case back to the High Court for ‘further consideration’.

Haringey Council said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the ruling and stood by everything it had done. It also plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Richard Wilson, Lib Dem opposition leader on the council, said local people would be ‘angry and astonished’ by the verdict. ‘Everyone was agreed that Sharon Shoesmith should be removed from her post because she was the head of a department with such obvious failings.’

Mr Wilson said he was horrified by the prospect of a £1million compensation payout, which he said would ‘only add to the council’s woes by diverting money away from services to protect children’.

But Labour MP Barry Sheerman, former chairman of the Commons Children, Schools and Families committee, welcomed the ruling and said Miss Shoesmith had been made a ‘scapegoat’ for wider failings.

Shoesmith: 'I still hope to work with youngster'

Horrendous: Some of the injuries sustained by baby Peter, who also received broken ribs despite being visited on average twice a week by social workers



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