Baby P social workers to appeal

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The Independent Online

Sharon Shoesmith has defended two of Baby P's social workers after they were granted leave to appeal against an employment tribunal judgment that they were fairly sacked.

Gillie Christou and Maria Ward claimed they were unjustly fired by Haringey Council in north London in response to public outcry about the little boy's horrific death.

But a Watford employment tribunal panel ruled in October that the local authority acted reasonably in dismissing them because of serious failings in their care of the toddler.

Lawyers for the two social workers went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in central London today and successfully applied for permission to appeal against the judgment.

Ms Shoesmith, who was herself sacked as Haringey's children's services director over the Baby P tragedy, attended the hearing to show her support for her former employees.

Speaking afterwards, she said: "They should never have been sacked - there was never any evidence to sack them. I am very pleased it is going to have a full hearing."

Baby P, now named as Peter Connelly, was just 17-months-old when he died in a blood-spattered cot in Tottenham, north London, on August 3 2007.

He had suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over eight months.

Ms Ward was Peter's nominated social worker at Haringey Council from February 2007 until his death, and Mrs Christou was her team manager.

The pair were sacked after an investigation which revealed there was a period in mid-2007 when they did not know where the child was.

Peter's mother claimed she had taken the little boy to visit her sick uncle in Cricklewood, north-west London, despite being told to return home.

Ms Ward was also found to have failed to meet a requirement to see him at least once a fortnight.

Lawyers for the two social workers argued today that their case was bolstered by last month's landmark Court of Appeal ruling that Ms Shoesmith was unfairly sacked.

Senior judges found former children's secretary Ed Balls and Haringey acted in a way that was "procedurally unfair" when the children's services chief was first removed from her post and then fired without compensation in December 2008.

Ms Christou and Ms Ward's legal teams also claimed they suffered "double jeopardy" because they faced two Haringey misconduct panels looking at the same allegations against them.

The first disciplinary proceedings, overseen by Ms Shoesmith, concluded they only needed to receive written warnings but the second resulted in them being fired.

Employment Appeal Tribunal judge Jeremy McMullen ruled the two social workers should be allowed to take their cases to a full appeal hearing, set down for two days at a date to be confirmed.

He said the Court of Appeal judgment had a "significant effect" in relation to the question of whether Ms Christou and Ms Ward were treated fairly by Haringey in employment law terms.

"The upshot then is that partly in the light of the success of Ms Shoesmith in her judicial review, and partly in terms of intrinsic grounds, each of the claimants' cases should go to a full hearing," the judge concluded.

The Department for Education confirmed last week that it is seeking permission to attempt to overturn the Court of Appeal's ruling in Ms Shoesmith's favour in the Supreme Court.

In May last year, a General Social Care Council (GSCC) disciplinary committee suspended Ms Ward for two months and Ms Christou for four months - on top of a 16-month interim suspension ahead of the hearing - for their misconduct in the Baby P case.

The pair admitted failing to ensure Peter was visited regularly enough, not keeping adequate records and losing contact with him for a time.

Peter's mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker, and his brother, Jason Owen, were jailed in May 2009 for causing or allowing the little boy's death.