Sharon Shoesmith in appeal over sacking

Pa
Monday 28 March 2011 13:00
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Sharon Shoesmith has launched a Court of Appeal battle over her sacking after the Baby P tragedy.

Her dismissal as director of children's services at Haringey Council in north London was neither lawful nor fair, her counsel today told three appeal judges.

Ms Shoesmith was sacked in December 2008 after a damning Ofsted report into failings in her department exposed by Baby P's death.

Ms Shoesmith is seeking to overturn a High Court ruling that declared lawful decisions made by regulator Ofsted, former children's secretary Ed Balls and Haringey Council which led to the loss of her £130,000-a-year job.

James Maurici, appearing for Ms Shoesmith, said there had been "buck passing" between the three which had led to her being denied natural justice and a fair hearing.

Mr Maurici described Ms Shoesmith as a highly-thought-of public servant with a very successful career spanning 35 years who now faced ruin.

He said she had held a number of senior education posts with local authorities and risen through the ranks to her post with Haringey in 2005.

A year later she was singled out in an Ofsted report for providing "strong and dynamic leadership".

Mr Maurici said: "On December 1 2008, while trapped in her flat by the media, she had the extreme misfortune to see on television the secretary of state Mr Ed Balls at a live press conference announce that he was directing that Haringey remove her from her post 'with immediate effect'."

Mr Balls told the press that she was "not fit for office".

Mr Maurici said Mr Balls had acted following an Ofsted report which made "damning findings" on children's services in Haringey - a report Ms Shoesmith had not seen, or been given a chance to respond to, before Mr Balls ordered her removal.

Mr Maurici said High Court judge Mr Justice Foskett, who had found her sacking lawful, had commented: "I do not think that any fair-minded person could think that this was a satisfactory state of affairs."

Mr Maurici said the comment "lies at the heart of this appeal".

Mr Maurici told the appeal judges - Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton - said the comment supported Ms Shoesmith's case that she was treated unfairly and Mr Justice Foskett was wrong not to allow her appeal.

Mr Maurici said the purpose of today's appeal was to demonstrate that various decisions were "not made fairly and lawfully, and therefore had no legal effect".

The combined actions of Ofsted, Mr Balls and Haringey involved "passing the buck" when it came to ensuring the requirements of natural justice were met in Ms Shoesmith's case.

As a result they were never properly considered by anyone, argued Mr Maurici.

Government lawyers are submitting that Mr Balls' actions were carefully thought through and a rational response to the Ofsted report, against the backdrop of public concern following the death of Baby P.

Mr Justice Foskett ruled in April last year that the evidence before him was not strong enough to back Ms Shoesmith's claims about her treatment after the death of Baby P, now named as Peter Connelly.

But he said it was "by no means fanciful" that the appeal court could differ from his view.

Peter was just 17 months old when he 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.

Ms Shoesmith is asking the appeal judges to rule that Ofsted acted unlawfully and in breach of statutory requirements in the way that it carried out the joint area review on children's services in the Haringey area that led to its damning December 2008 report.

Her lawyers say Mr Balls unlawfully took into account media pressure when directing her dismissal on the basis of the report.

Haringey Council is accused of acting unlawfully when it sacked her in response to Mr Balls's direction.

Mr Maurici told the court a "media storm" erupted around Ms Shoesmith after the verdicts in the criminal case arising from Baby P's death.

The personal impact of the case on her was catastrophic. She has been unable to find any work since December 2008 and faces financial ruin.

Her health has suffered and she has experienced suicidal thoughts, and she is regularly hounded and vilified by the tabloid press.

The harrassment continues to this day.

Mr Maurici said Mr Justice Foskett ruled against her, in his own words, "with a lurking sense of unease". He found there were a number of areas where she had not been treated with fairness.

The hearing continues tomorrow.

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