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Family Law

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27 MAY 2011

Sharon Shoesmith wins appeal against her dismissal over Baby P tragedy

RCJThe Court of Appeal, presided over by Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, today allowed appeals by Sharon Shoesmith, former Director of Children's Services at Haringey London Borough Council, against Ed Balls MP, former Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and against Haringey.

The Department for Education and Haringey Council plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The court held that Mr Balls acted in a manner that was "intrinsically unfair and unlawful" by denying Ms Shoesmith any opportunity to put her case before he gave Haringey a direction to remove her from office. It further held that Haringey's subsequent decision to dismiss Ms Shoesmith without notice was "unlawful and void".

The Court of Appeal recorded that Ms Shoesmith was the holder of a statutory office who was "very highly thought of" in Haringey. The Court pointed out that "Accountability" is not synonymous with "Heads must Roll". The Court of Appeal recognised that the position of Director of Children's Services in Haringey was "very challenging", that there were "inevitable budget constraints" and that as Director Ms Shoesmith faced "the kinds of difficulty" which are commonplace in running a deprived  inner city local authority.

Against that background the Court of Appeal commented critically on the way that Ms Shoesmith was treated, stating that she was made "a public sacrifice to deflect press and public obloquy" and that "those involved in areas such as social work and healthcare are particularly vulnerable to such treatment". The Court found that Ms Shoesmith was entitled to be treated lawfully and fairly but instead was "scapegoated" by Mr Balls and Haringey.

Speaking after the judgment, Sharon Shoesmith said: "I am relieved to have won my appeal and for the recognition that I was treated unfairly and unlawfully.

"Having spent a lifetime protecting, caring and educating children, my sorrow about the death of Peter Connolly in Haringey when I was Director is something which will stay with me for the rest of my life. But as the judges have said making a "public sacrifice" of an individual will not prevent further tragedies."

Ms Shoesmith's appeal against Ofsted was dismissed. The Head of Ofsted , Christine Gilbert said: "I am pleased that Ofsted has comprehensively won this case and that the original judicial review judgement in our favour has been upheld in every aspect on appeal.

"Ofsted carried out a robust inspection and came to a sound conclusion based on evidence. On any view, our inspection report was extremely critical and there has been no challenge to the finding that services for children in Haringey were inadequate. The fairness of our process and rigour of our inspection has now been confirmed through the scrutiny of not just one, but two court hearings."

Ms Shoesmith was dismissed without compensation in December 2008 after a damning Ofsted report into her department's failings over the tragic death of the one-year-old Peter Connelly.

Ms Shoesmith lost judicial review proceedings against Ofsted, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and Haringey Council.

Peter Connelly died in August 2007 at a time when he had been on the Child Protection Register within Haringey for approximately 8 months. The day after those responsible for Peter Connelly's death were convicted on 11 November 2008, the Secretary of State Ed Balls announced that Ofsted would be conducting an urgent inspection into the child safeguarding arrangements in Haringey. After the report was completed on 1 December 2008, Mr Balls used his powers under Education Act 1996 to remove Ms Shoesmith and her Deputy from their posts. 

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