Baby P workers will return to practice

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The Independent Online

Two social workers who admitted a string of failings in their care of Baby Peter will be free to return to practice within months after they escaped being struck off today.

A disciplinary panel, which heard that 17-month-old Peter Connelly might still be alive if Maria Ward and Gillie Christou had done their jobs properly, suspended Ward for two months and Christou, her team manager at Haringey social services, for four.

But the General Social Care Council (GSCC) committee ruled that they should not be removed from the social care register, arguing that this would be a disproportionate reaction to their mistakes.

Ms Ward, 40, and Ms Christou, 52, admitted failing to ensure the little boy was visited regularly enough, losing contact with him for a time and not keeping adequate records.

Peter Connelly was just 17 months old when he died in his blood-spattered cot in Tottenham, north London, on August 3 2007.

He had suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on Haringey Council's at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over eight months. His mother Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker, and his brother, Jason Owen, were jailed in May last year for causing or allowing Peter's death.

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

But their efforts were “ill-focused, naive and inadequate” and they failed to spot the signs that the toddler was suffering abuse, a GSCC conduct committee hearing in London was told.

Marios Lambis, counsel for the GSCC, said Peter's death was “an eminently avoidable tragedy” which could have been prevented if the two social workers had done their jobs properly.

Under Peter's child protection plan, Ms Ward was supposed to see the toddler at least once a fortnight but the gap was often longer. On one occasion she left 22 days between visits - during which time the boy's mother, Tracey Connelly, claimed she had taken him away and social services failed to check where he was.

Ms Christou recorded only one supervision meeting with Ms Ward about the case in six months, the hearing was told.

Jonathan Roberts, the GSCC committee chairman, said the panel had taken into account a number of mitigating factors including the two social workers' admissions of the GSCC's allegations against them, their otherwise unblemished records, the fact that Peter's mother Tracey Connelly was a “skilled and manipulative liar”, and the staff shortages and excessive caseloads at Haringey Council at the time.

Ms Ward and Ms Christou were suspended from carrying out social work for 16 months, from December 2008 until last month, while the allegations against them were investigated.

They were sacked by Haringey Council in April last year. They have both launched employment tribunal challenges against their dismissal.