Joan Smith: Shoesmith's humiliation is not justice. It's vengeance

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I know we're all supposed to hate boring old judges who want to stop us posting our witty, scabrous or downright furious observations on Twitter. It's freedom of expression, innit? But it's also just conceivable that the judiciary, on occasion, takes a longer and more measured view of controversial cases than the self-appointed tribunes of the people.

Such an event happened two days ago when the Court of Appeal in London ruled that the then children's secretary, Ed Balls, was wrong to announce that he was removing the Haringey children's services boss, Sharon Shoesmith, on live TV in 2008.

She had become a hate figure following the horrific death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, and Balls certainly appeared to be playing to the gallery when he declared her "not fit for office" at a press conference. In a damning judgment, the court decided last week that Shoesmith had been made a "public sacrifice" and took the extraordinary step of suggesting that it would be appropriate for Haringey Council to seek a "voluntary contribution" from Balls towards any compensation she might be awarded.

Shoesmith hadn't even seen a critical Ofsted report on her department or had an opportunity to defend herself. But a week later, her sacking was confirmed by Haringey. Last week the court upheld her appeal against the council as well, ruling that its procedures were "tainted by unfairness".

Let's be clear: what happened to "Baby P" was unspeakable. He was on Haringey's child protection register when he died at the hands of his mother, Tracey Connelly, her lover Steven Barker and Barker's brother, Jason Owen, in 2007. It was one of those shocking cases which raises questions about child protection procedures, but that doesn't mean the professionals involved lose their right to due process. Indeed, one of the consequences of Balls's conduct is that Shoesmith may be entitled to reinstatement of her pension rights, her salary since her sacking and compensation.

I'd much rather live in a world where public employees are given the chance to defend themselves at an impartial hearing, but it's also clear in this case that such a course of action would have been cheaper for taxpayers. Bizarrely, the Department for Education and Haringey Council announced on Friday that they would now take the case to the Supreme Court, racking up the costs even further.

I know Ofsted's report exposed failings in Shoesmith's department and she didn't succeed in her legal bid to have it quashed, even though it emerged at the High Court last year that the report had been "beefed up" at the request of Balls's department. He was a minister in a Labour government that took the much-criticised decision to merge child protection and education services, which meant that people whose experience was in education (like Shoesmith) were suddenly in charge of social work departments with huge case-loads.

Shoesmith's lawyers said in court that the impact of her dismissal and the hate campaign against her had been "catastrophic". She has been unable to work for two-and-a-half years, she's had suicidal thoughts and she's still hounded by the media. Even after the judgment, Balls and was unrepentant, while indignant commentators toured the TV studios, claiming to speak on behalf of the entire nation.

Not for me, they don't. I'm sickened by a public appetite for vengeance that will be satisfied only by this woman's total ruin and humiliation.



Joan Smith is Political Blonde: www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

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