Baby P chief accuses Balls of 'breathtaking recklessness'

Shoesmith attacks minister for turning 'local tragedy' into a 'national catastrophe'
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The Independent Online

A fresh row over the death of Baby P erupted last night when the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, issued a stinging response to accusations made by Sharon Shoesmith, the former director of children's services at Haringey Council, whom he sacked after an inquiry into the toddler's death last year.

In her first public comments since being dismissed live on television in December, Ms Shoesmith accused him of handling the Baby P affair with "breathtaking recklessness".

Last night Mr Balls responded angrily to the allegations, saying he would make "exactly the same decisions" if he was faced with another situation similar to the Baby P case.

In the same interview, Ms Shoesmith also claimed that the inquiry ordered by Mr Balls into child protection in the north London borough had been an attempt to "discredit" her and had lacked objectivity.

She added that his actions, exacerbated by a sensationalist media, had made life "more of an uphill struggle" for social workers by contributing to a blame culture, and had turned something she viewed as a "local tragedy" into a "national catastrophe".

She said: "I was shocked at how fast it became a party political issue. It has just been deeply reckless, breathtakingly reckless, and I don't think people understood quite what the impact could be."

In a statement, Mr Balls said: "I make no apology for the actions I took in Haringey last December, which I judged absolutely necessary to make sure children in that borough are properly protected. Social workers do an incredibly difficult and sometimes dangerous job every day to keep children safe. They are unsung heroes of our country. But when things go wrong it is vital that we act.

"That is why I sent in the independent children's services, police and health inspectors to investigate the situation in Haringey. Their report was devastating and revealed serious failures in the management of Haringey children's services. I believe that every community, every parent and every social worker would expect me to put the safety of children first. That is what I did – and faced with the same situation again I would have no hesitation in taking exactly the same decisions."

Baby P was 17 months old when he died in August 2007, after suffering more than 50 injuries at the hands of his abusive mother, her boyfriend and their lodger. The trio are due to be sentenced next month.

Haringey social workers and medical officials were severely criticised for failing to notice the abuse despite the toddler having 60 contacts with authorities over a period of eight months. The case triggered public outrage, with 1.3 million people signing a national newspaper petition to get all of those involved in the affair removed from their positions.

Ms Shoesmith admitted she mishandled public reaction and said that Haringey Council had been out of touch with most people's opinions. "I think when we were planning the press response we had misjudged the mood of the nation," she said.

She also said she regretted the "disastrous" press conference in the immediate aftermath of the court case, in which she said: "The very sad fact is that we can't stop people who are determined to kill children."

It recently emerged that Ms Shoesmith was appealing against her dismissal at the hands of Mr Balls.