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23 APR 2010

Sharon Shoesmith loses judicial review against her dismissal

The former Director of Children's Services for Haringey Council, Sharon Shoesmith, has lost her judicial review against her dismissal.

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.

In March 2009 Ms Shoesmith brought 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.  

In a statement her solicitors, Beachcroft LLP, said: "We are disappointed that, despite the serious criticisms made by the Judge of Ofsted, the Secretary of State and Haringey council, the Judge has not upheld Sharon's claim for judicial review. We nevertheless welcome the finding that Haringey acted unfairly in dismissing Sharon.

"We will be giving careful consideration to the judgment, which runs to some 200 pages and considering whether there are grounds for an appeal."

Mr Justice Foskett emphasised that it was not for him to consider whether Ofsted's conclusions in their inspection report were justified, but only to determine if the correct procedures were followed in not allowing Ms Shoesmith an opportunity to make representations to Mr Balls prior to his decision.

"My conclusion is that, in the particular circumstances of this case, fairness was achieved, albeit by no means at the level normally to be expected where a disciplinary or similar process was being pursued," Mr Justice Foskett said.

In reaction to the judgment, the Association of Directors of Children's Services is calling on a greater focus on the overall children's welfare system rather than on individuals.

Marion Davis, President of ADCS, said: "It is right that the public and politicians take a strong interest in the welfare of the most vulnerable children in our society. We must not, however, allow raw politics to simplify or distort what are complex and serious matters concerning the safety of children, or to direct attention solely towards individuals, rather than the need for improvements in the systems that keep children safe."

Ms Shoesmith has an outstanding claim with the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal which was put on hold pending the out come of her judicial review. Mr Justice Foskett hinted that she may be more fortunate in pursing that case, saying: "In a nutshell, I have not been satisfied that the procedures at Haringey gave the appearance of fairness".

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