Outcry over gag on Baby P report

As MPs demand review, internet and poster campaign targets parents

Ben Russell,Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 21 November 2008 01:00 GMT

Ministers face demands for a change in the law after declaring that the detailed report into Haringey Council's handling of the Baby P case cannot be made public.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats called for reform after Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, said an Information Commissioner ruling meant the serious-case review conducted after the baby died last year could not be released to opposition MPs.

Public outcry over the case remains unabated; a text message identifying the baby's abusers was sent to thousands of people yesterday and posters demanding "justice for Baby P" appeared near his home in Haringey, north London. Pictures of his mother and her boyfriend have also appeared on websites. They will be sentenced with their lodger, Jason Owen, next month, for causing or allowing the child's death.

Mr Balls told MPs there was "clear evidence that agencies had failed, singly and collectively, to adhere to the statutory procedures for the proper management of child protection cases".A 15-page summary of the review was released last week but Mr Balls said he could not give the full report to MPs as doing so would risk identifying the professionals involved and could lead to social workers refusing to co-operate in future case reviews.

Michael Gove, the shadow Children's Secretary, acknowledged that the Government's hands were tied, but challenged Mr Balls to change the law. "Does he not agree with me that it is quite wrong to put the interests of a bureaucracy which has failed ahead of proper scrutiny?

"Is it not wrong that the law as it stands prevents the constituency member from finding out what happened in the case? Does he agree with me that the law needs to change?" David Laws, the Liberal Democrat children's spokesman, said it was "deeply unsatisfactory" that the review could not be released.

"When a child dies in such a way, are we not entitled to more accountability and openness?" He asked why the Haringey director of children's services, Sharon Shoesmith, was still in her post. "Isn't it clear that the borough needs new management and that we need a full public inquiry into this issue?"

Mr Balls said: "I endeavoured to see yesterday whether I was able to release the full confidential serious-case review to parliamentarians. But the clear professional advice to me was that would be the wrong thing to do, both given the ruling of the Information Commissioner but also the importance of making sure thatin future serious-case reviews are done properly."

The Information Commissioner's Office said it had not been consulted about the Baby P serious-case review.

Senior Government sources said lawyers had advised Mr Balls that precedent prevented him from releasing the report. And they said that it was important for social workers involved in such reviews to speak frankly, without the prospect of their full remarks being made public.

The full inspection of Haringey social services which Ofsted inspectors were conducting would be made public after it was handed to ministers on 1 December, the sources said.

Parents staged a demonstration yesterday outside Haringey council offices to protest at the handling of the Baby P case.

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