Shoesmith lawyers demand Ofsted report drafts

By John Aston,Pa
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:12

Lawyers acting for Sharon Shoesmith today demanded to be allowed to see drafts of an Ofsted inspectors' report prepared in the wake of the public outcry over the death of Baby P.

Beachcroft, solicitors acting for Ms Shoesmith, wrote to the Treasury Solicitor demanding that disclosure be made by 2pm today following a whistleblower's allegations that an annual assessment report on Haringey was secretly downgraded from "good" to "inadequate" because of the furore over the death.

In their letter, the solicitors quote a Guardian article published on Saturday reporting allegations that "senior managers at Ofsted instructed inspectors to rewrite the (2008 annual performance assessment) report on the same information, changing everything because they (Ofsted) were more interested in protecting Ofsted than protecting children".

Ofsted denied the allegations.

The solicitors have also renewed a request that Ofsted disclose, by 2pm today, successive drafts of the report of the 2008 joint area review of Haringey (JAR) that played a major part in the sacking of Ms Shoesmith.

They say they made their request in the light of information disclosed to Barry Sheerman, chairman of the House of Commons Children's Select Committee.

Ms Shoesmith, 56, was dismissed from her post as children's services chief at Haringey last December following the damning JAR report, which concluded there was "insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight" in the safeguarding of local children.

Mr Balls sent Ofsted inspectors into Haringey last November after the trial of those responsible for the death of Baby P, who can now be named as Baby Peter Connelly.

Ms Shoesmith is seeking judicial review at London's High Court against the council, Children's Secretary Ed Balls and regulator Ofsted. She is also seeking damages.

Her lawyers argue she was unfairly and unjustly dismissed after Mr Balls allowed himself to be influenced by a "media storm and witch-hunt" over the Baby P case.

Mr Balls removed Ms Shoesmith from her senior post on December 1 and Haringey formally dismissed her a week later.

She attempted to overturn the decision to sack her but a panel of councillors rejected her appeal.

In March Ms Shoesmith lodged an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal against Haringey Council and launched her judicial review application.

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.

He 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 the little boy's life if they had acted properly on the warning signs in front of them.

But the Guardian said at the weekend that it had seen documents which showed that Ofsted's initial 2008 report into Haringey's children's services gave it high ratings - three or four out of the maximum of four stars - in most categories.

But in the key category it was later changed to one star - the worst, meaning its services were inadequate.

The newspaper reported Mr Sheerman saying that "an Ofsted official" involved in producing the report had come forward claiming that the relegation was done because inspectors were under pressure not to give the council a clean bill of health.

The media had turned on Ms Shoesmith and her handling of Haringey's child protection services, and the emergency inspection - the JAR - had identified severe failings.

Mr Sheerman said he had written to Ofsted's chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, to demand an explanation for the changes.

Ofsted issued a statement to the press saying: "The annual performance assessment (APA) was a system that looked at both performance data and inspection evidence for local authorities.

"It was therefore entirely appropriate for the 2008 APA assessment for Haringey to take into account the specially commissioned joint area review (JAR).

"When it became apparent to Ofsted that the credibility of some of the evidence used to come to the draft annual performance assessment (APA) for Haringey was in doubt, the draft APA was formally suspended at the internal APA consistency panel on 13 November 2008.

"Following the completion of the specially commissioned joint area review, new inspectors were asked to start the APA again.

"Ofsted completely refutes the allegation that it manipulated any results.

"No pressure was put on these inspectors to downgrade the APA rating. The outcome of the JAR was reflected in the published APA letter for Haringey.

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