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Balls: 'Shoesmith had to go'

By Alice Tarleton

Updated on 01 December 2008

Haringey council's head of children's services has been suspended following a "devastating" report into the death of 17-month-old Baby P.

Children's secretary Ed Balls said Sharon Shoesmith had been removed from her post with immediate effect. John Coughlan, the Hampshire council director of children's services who was brought into help lead children's service at Haringey last month, will take over temporarily.

Two Haringey councillors, council leader George Meehan and cabinet member for children and young people Liz Santry, also resigned shortly before Balls' statement on the findings of the independent report.

Balls said the council would have to accept the recommendations of the report which gave a "damning verdict on the safeguarding of children in Haringey".

Ofsted, the healthcare commission and the police inspectorate found a catalogue of failures, including a "failure to talk directly to children at risk".

The catalogue of failures included not identifying those at immediate risk of harm, insufficient management oversight of the assistant director of children's services, poor sharing of information and agencies working in isolation.

He said the "whole nation has been shocked and moved by tragic and horrific death of baby P", and that all those who work to keep children safe "make difficult decisions every day".

But Balls said those who have responsibility for safeguarding children "must be held accountable for their actions".

Balls commissioned the report after Baby P's mother, her boyfriend and their lodger were convicted of causing or allowing his death. Baby P was seen by professionals more than 60 times during his short life.

Balls is also directing Haringey to appoint a new and independent chair of its local safeguarding children board.

Graham Badman, former director of children's services in Kent, will take up the post this week and will carry out a new serious case review.

The original review was judged to be inadequate as some of the reports on which it was based lacked rigour, something which Balls said was "unacceptable".

When questioned by reporters, Balls said it would be "astonishing" if Shoesmith received a pay-off, but said this would be a matter for Haringey.

Haringey responds

Haringey council said it fully accepted its failings at a press conference later this afternoon.

Meehan told the press conference he was resigning as council leader as a matter of "personal honour" and "local accountability".

"I believe it is right now for me to resign - for me this is a matter of moral responsibility," he said in a statement.

Children's services lead member Santry said she had considered resigning earlier, but felt it her responsibility to stay and explain the council's actions to those investigating Baby P's death. The report found failings in supervision by elected members, for which she was accountable.

"Now it is time for me to stand down so that others can start with a fresh perspective," she said.

"We have a hard task ahead to rebuild confidence in Haringey children's protection services," she added.

The council also confirmed six members of staff have been suspended over the case.

They include Shoesmith and her deputy, plus three social workers involved in the case.

Haringey's chief executive Ita O' Donovan confirmed Shoesmith would no longer hold any role at the council.

Responding to reporters' questions, she said the suspended social workers were still on full pay because the council had to follow employment law.

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