Baby P chief wins 'unfair sacking' appeal

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The Independent Online

Sharon Shoesmith, who was vilified after the death of the toddler Baby P, won her appeal yesterday which claimed that she was "unfairly and unlawfully" sacked.

As director of Haringey Council's children's services, she was the focus of public fury when it was revealed that 17-month-old Peter Connelly died of abuse despite extensive contacts with social workers. She was sacked by then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls. Yesterday, the 58-year-old said she was "absolutely thrilled" after three appeal court judges ruled that accountability did not mean that "heads must roll" without a fair hearing. She could now receive around £1m in compensation.

Lawyers for the Department for Education and Haringey Council said they would seek to challenge the court ruling that her dismissal was "procedurally unfair" in the Supreme Court.

Mr Balls said yesterday he strongly disagreed with the court judgment, adding: "A little boy, Baby Peter, was cruelly abused by his mother and her partner and died from his injuries after great suffering. He was badly let down by all those who were responsible for his safety.

"My response to the huge torrent of public outrage was not to rush to judgement, but instead to commission a report... When it was presented to me, [it] catalogued catastrophic management failures. I judged, on the basis of that independent report – and on the advice of departmental officials and lawyers – that the responsible course of action was to remove the Director of Children's Services from her position."

Appeal judges allowed Ms Shoesmith's challenge against a High Court ruling that had cleared Mr Balls and the local authority of acting unlawfully. Lawyers argued that Ms Shoesmith – who was sacked in December 2008 after a damning Ofsted report exposed failings in her department – had been the victim of "a flagrant breach of natural justice" as she was driven from her £133,000-a-year post by a media witch-hunt and political pressure.

She asked the judges to rule that her sacking without compensation was legally flawed and that she remained entitled to her full salary and pension.

The judges said they were allowing Ms Shoesmith's appeal because she was denied "elementary fairness" when Mr Balls did not afford her "the opportunity to put her case". The judgment reads: "Whatever her shortcomings may have been ... she was entitled to be treated lawfully and fairly and not simply and summarily scapegoated."

December 22, 2006 Peter is placed on child protection register aged nine months.

August 2, 2007 Peter suffers fatal blow. The next day an ambulance is called but he's dead on arrival at hospital.

November 12, 2008 The Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, orders an urgent review of Haringey Council's children's welfare services.

December 1, 2008 Damning report on Haringey children's services handed to Mr Balls. He removes Sharon Shoesmith from her £130,000 post as the local authority's director of children's services.

December 8, 2008 A panel of councillors sacks Ms Shoesmith and decides she must go without any compensation.

March 6, 2009 Ms Shoesmith lodges an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal against Haringey Council.

October 7, 2009 She launches her judicial challenge at the High Court. Her lawyers argue that she was the victim of a "witch-hunt".

April 1, 2010 Ms Shoesmith's lawyers claim Ofsted rewrote a report under political pressure to make it more critical of her.

April 23, 2010 High Court rules against Ms Shoesmith.

July 6, 2010 At a seminar on child protection she speaks of her distress and sorrow at the death of Baby Peter.

September 1, 2010 Ms Shoesmith is granted leave to appeal against a High Court ruling.

March 23, 2010 Appeal starts.