Council chiefs lose their jobs over Baby P death

Review into social services described as 'devastating'
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The Independent Online

Five people involved in the failings that led to the death of Baby P have lost their jobs at Haringey Council, while another three could also go.

Three members of staff have been suspended – and are expected to be sacked – while another three are to have their positions reviewed. A final two, including the council leader, have resigned.

The suspensions and resignations came as a "devastating" government report, criticising the authority's handling of the case, and subsequent review, was released.

Among those suspended is Sharon Shoesmith, the council's director of children's services, who had refused to apologise and was removed from her position yesterday by the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls.

Mr Balls revealed he had personally intervened to ensure that Ms Shoesmith was removed as he announced the findings of a joint area review that he had ordered in the wake of the Baby P scandal becoming public last month.

Ms Shoesmith has been suspended on full pay, as have her deputy, Cecilia Hitchen, and Clive Preece, the service head for children and families. It is thought that none of them will receive a pay-off or compensation package.

Three social workers at the council are to have their positions reviewed by the new director of children's services, John Coughlan, who comes from Hampshire County Council, and was appointed by Mr Balls yesterday. They are Maria Ward, Gillie Christou and Sylvia Henry, the latter the social worker who was also implicated in failings in the Victoria Climbié case in 2000. The three are still on the council's payroll, but cannot work with children while under review.

Earlier, the Haringey Council leader, George Meehan, and Liz Santry, the council's cabinet member for children and young people, resigned.

Their joint announcement came just before a 2pm press conference called by Mr Balls, who revealed that, following the joint area review conducted by Ofsted, he had ordered a new serious case review into the death of Baby P, saying that the first one, chaired by Ms Shoesmith into her own department, had been inadequate.

Mr Balls said he was shocked by the case and Haringey's handling of it: "Overall, the inspectors' findings are, I have to say, devastating. Their report sets out detailed recommendations, all of which must now be accepted in full.

"Having studied their report I've decided to take immediate action. My first priority is to put in place a new leadership and management team in Haringey children's services to ensure that vulnerable children in the borough are properly protected.

"I have directed Haringey Council today to appoint John Coughlan as director of children's services with immediate effect. Haringey Council will now remove the current director of children's services from her post with immediate effect."

He added that social workers "must also be accountable for the decisions, and when things go badly wrong people want to know why and what can be done about it". But he ruled out a public inquiry into the council's failings, despite public demands.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Meehan, who was also in charge of the council during the Climbié tragedy, said: "The reasons for my resignation are matters of personal honour and local accountability. I believe it is right now for me to resign. For me, this is a matter of moral responsibility.

"I am acutely aware of the accountability I have to the people of Haringey. They expected better of us to oversee local services. We strived at every opportunity to make the improvements necessary to prevent the kind of harm inflicted on Baby P by his guardians, and we failed."

Ms Santry added: "The report criticises the leadership and management oversight by elected members. I am the accountable lead member. I accept that accountability and take my full share of responsibility."

Announcing the news of the other staff suspensions, Dr Ita O'Donovan, the council's chief executive, said: "I want to say how truly sorry I am that Baby P has lost his life. I know we did not do enough to protect him and that is and going to be something I will never forget. There has been personal and collective anguish and sorrow from staff across the council."

Baby P died on 3 August 2007 after being abused by his 27-year-old mother, her 32-year-old boyfriend and their 36-year-old lodger, Jason Owen. The three were convicted of causing or allowing the death of a child at the Old Bailey last month. They were due to be sentenced this month, but that has now been postponed until the spring.

The questions which still need answers

*What were the detailed failings in the run-up to Baby P's death?

Yesterday's report into Haringey condemned management and practices at the authority and criticised the way the serious case review was carried out into Baby P's death. The full case review has not been published, amid concerns that the report must remain confidential to ensure full lessons are learnt. Yesterday Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, ordered a new review and a summary will be published.



*How did inspectors award Haringey three stars – the highest grade?

Haringey social services were awarded a maximum of three stars after the death of Baby P last year. Mr Balls said the 2007 report was not based on an "in-depth investigation".



*Why no public inquiry?

Opposition MPs led calls for a full public inquiry into the death of Baby P. That was immediately rejected by Mr Balls, after Lord Laming, who chaired the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, recommended that such an inquiry would "set back the progress that has been made in many places" and "could undermine important developments gained and progress made during the past six years".



*Who else is responsible for failings?

The focus of the furore has been on social services but yesterday's report also shows problems with the police and NHS. Mr Balls did not comment on warning letters a whistleblower sent to three ministers.



*Will there be further job losses?

Possibly. Two people have resigned, another three are suspended and may lose their jobs. Three more are under review. It will be up to John Coughlan, appointed yesterday as the council's director of children's services, to decide if they are allowed to continue in employment. Ben Russell

The Haringey Eight

Sharon Shoesmith

Throughout the Baby P scandal, Haringey's director of children's services repeatedly refused to apologise for her team's handling of the case and predicted confidently that no one would resign: "I certainly won't." Yesterday she was denied that dignity when Ed Balls forcibly removed her from her post; she has been suspended on full pay.

Maria Ward

The social worker made at least nine visits to Baby P's home. In July she missed injuries to his face. Her position is being reviewed and she is not involved in child protection work pending an investigation.

Liz Santry

Haringey's cabinet member for children and young people resigned yesterday. She was the first official from the council to issue an apology. She had survived a motion of no confidence.

George Meehan

The leader of Haringey Council resigned yesterday, having kept silent on the Baby P scandal until 18 November. He said then that his council's apology was "heartfelt and unreserved".

Also suspended or removed from child protection duties

Ms Shoesmith's deputy, Cecilia Hitchen, has been suspended on full pay, as has Clive Preece, Haringey's service head for children and families. Sylvia Henry, a social worker party to a decision to return Baby P to his mother, has been taken off child protection duties, as has Gillie Christou, a team manager.

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