Fury mounts over child's death

Terri Judd
Monday 17 November 2008 01:00
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Anger over the death of Baby P appeared to be reaching boiling point in Haringey as the majority Labour group on the council held an emergency meeting to discuss the tragedy.

As more details of the toddler's short life emerged yesterday, members of the public directed their rage at politicians and council employees.

The councillors' summit came ahead of a House of Commons session today in which Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, is expected to face further questions on the matter.

Councillors leaving the session yesterday were tight lipped and defensive. Local residents, however, were considerably more vocal about the way the tragedy was handled, some insisting that they would withhold their council tax.

They also directed their fury at Sharon Shoesmith, director of Haringey's Children and Young People's Service, who has been widely criticised for failing to prevent the child's violent death. One resident posted a message on the front window of the Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party offices calling for her to be sacked.

The poster was the work of Stephanie Biber, who said: "This is the final straw. I'm just so angry about it all. I've written to my bank asking it not to pay council tax to Haringey Council." Similar sentiments were voiced by others in the area.

A council spokesman acknowledged that the authority had been receiving angry calls from residents, and said: "As you might expect, views are being expressed by local people."

The emergency meeting was held as claims were made that, just nine days before Baby P died, the council's legal department advised that he did not need to be taken into care. At a meeting of officials on 25 July last year, a lawyer is said to have advised social workers that the evidence that Baby P was being abused was not strong enough to warrant removing him from his mother.

The toddler died in a blood-spattered cot on 3 August, having suffered more than 50 injuries despite 60 visits from the authorities over eight months.

His mother's 32-year-old boyfriend and another man, Jason Owen, 36, were convicted at the Old Bailey last week of causing or allowing his death. The child's mother, 27, had already pleaded guilty to the same charge, which carries a maximum 14-year jail term. All three have been warned they will receive lengthy jail terms when they are sentenced next month.

An urgent inquiry is under way into child welfare services in the north London borough, the same local authority heavily criticised for failing to prevent the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié in 2000.

Social workers and lawyers blame a decline in the number of child protection cases before the courts on new care proceedings. The cost of taking a case to court rose from £150 to £4,000 in May and social workers need to gather stronger evidence before judges will consider a protective care order. In the Baby P case, lawyers for Haringey Council told social workers their evidence "fell below the threshold" required for court action.

A council spokesman said: "These [legal] matters were covered extensively in the Serious Case Review. A number of recommendations were made. These have all been implemented."

Meanwhile, more details of the child's life came to light. He died in a flea infested home littered with dead animals – food for a pet snake – with human excrement smeared on the walls. He had been attacked by a Rottweiler and left to lie in his own urine and faeces.

It was also claimed that his stepfather sliced off his fingertips with a knife and wrenched off his nails with pliers, punched him in the face, pressed down on his windpipe, bit him, grabbed him by the throat, threw him into his cot and rammed a bottle into his mouth.

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