'Up to £1m payout' for Sharon Shoesmith
Friday 27 May 2011
Sharon Shoesmith could be in line for a massive compensation payout following today's Court of Appeal ruling that she was unfairly sacked following the Baby P tragedy.
A leading employment lawyer said the former director of children's services at Haringey Council in north London could receive as much as £1 million, if the court's decision is not overturned.
Ms Shoesmith's career was left in ruins after she was removed from her post in December 2008 by then education secretary Ed Balls and subsequently sacked by Haringey, which said it had lost trust in her.
The axe fell after regulator Ofsted published a damning report in the wake of 17-month-old Peter Connelly's death, exposing failings in her department.
Lawyers argued that Ms Shoesmith, 58, had been the victim of "a flagrant breach of natural justice" and that she had been driven from her £133,000-a-year post in December 2008 by a media witch hunt and political pressure.
They asked Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, sitting in London with Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton, to rule that her sacking without compensation was so legally flawed as to be null and void, and that she still remained entitled to her full salary and pension from Haringey up to the present day.
Allowing her challenge, the judges ruled that both Mr Balls and Haringey had acted too hastily and in a way that was "procedurally unfair" because Ms Shoesmith had not been given a proper chance to put her case.
Lord Justice Kay declared: "Accountability is not synonymous with heads must roll."
Ofsted was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ms Shoesmith has accepted that she cannot return to her Haringey post and the judges referred her case back to the High Court for it to consider outstanding issues, including compensation.
Later, Mr Balls said the decision would be "greeted with surprise across the country" and insisted he would "make the same decisions again".
He said: "Ministers need to be able to exercise their legal duties and make judgments in the public interest based on independent analysis and advice.
"That is what I did - and I am concerned that this judgment will make it harder for ministers to do so in future."
Baby Peter died in August 2007 at the hands of his mother Tracey Connelly, her lover Steven Barker and their lodger, Barker's brother Jason Owen.
The little boy had suffered 50 injuries despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over the final eight months of his life.
A series of reviews identified missed opportunities when officials could have saved his life if they had acted properly on the warning signs in front of them.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "The Government thinks that it was right in principle for Sharon Shoesmith to be removed from her post as Director of Children's Services.
"There are questions of constitutional importance involved in this case, beyond the specific question about whether Ed Balls should have had a further meeting with Sharon Shoesmith before removing her.
"Our initial application to appeal has been turned down by the Court of Appeal. We intend to pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court."
Ms Shoesmith said she was "over the moon" at the ruling, but her sorrow over the death of Baby P "will stay with me for the rest of my life".
She added: "People up and down the country are doing their best to protect children and their families, especially social workers, who do an often thankless task in very different circumstances. We all need to understand a little more."
Speaking at the G8 summit in France, Prime Minister David Cameron said he gathered there would be an appeal, adding: "We all remember the absolutely appalling case of Baby P and how, as a country, we've got to do right and make sure we are accountable for the terrible mistakes and errors that were made."
Richard Wilson, leader of the Lib Dem opposition on Haringey Council, said: "People in Haringey and up and down the country, who saw how Haringey Council failed to protect Baby Peter, will find it hard to fathom how the council managed not to follow correct procedure.
"This is another blow in the process of restoring confidence and competence in Haringey's children's services."
Philip Henson, head of employment at City law firm Bargate Murray, said: "I am sure that Mr Balls will now realise that firing Ms Shoesmith live at a televised press conference back in 2008 was not such an erudite idea after all."
Ms Shoesmith was likely to receive compensation "approaching, or hitting, the £1 million mark, taking into consideration reinstatement of her pension rights."
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