Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of children’s services at the centre of the Baby P tragedy, wins her Court of Appeal battle over losing her job. Ed Balls tells Channel 4 News the sacking was right.
Three judges allowed Sharon Shoesmith, 58, to challenge a High Court ruling that cleared former children’s secretary Ed Balls and the local authority of acting unlawfully when she was dismissed as Director of Children’s Services at Haringey Council in north London.
Her appeal against regulator Ofsted was dismissed. The Department for Education said it had made an application for permission to appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Ms Shoesmith’s lawyers argued that she was the victim of “a flagrant breach of natural justice” as she was driven from her £133,000-a-year post by a media witch-hunt and political pressure.
The 17-month-old’s violent death sparked national outrage and a review of child protection.
After Friday’s hearing Ms Shoesmith said she was “absolutely thrilled.”
Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who was children’s secretary at the time of the tragedy, said on Friday he had no regrets over the dismissal of Ms Shoesmith.
Speaking to Channel 4 News Mr Balls defended the decision he made to sack Ms Shoesmith and said he would do it again if faced with the same circumstances.
There is no doubt that baby Peter was badly let down by services and leadership in Haringey. Former children’s secretary Ed Balls
“At a time of huge public outcry with many people calling for heads to roll I said the fair and proper way to do things was have an independent report from the inspectors,” he said.
“That was what was done. When the report came to me… [the inspectors] set out in great detail catastrophic failures of the service and leadership and management.
“The advice to me was that in order to keep children safe in Haringey and also to restore public confidence I should act – and I did as a minister – to restore confidence by removing that individual as director of children’s services.”
He added: “I have to say I would do the same thing again. There is no doubt that baby Peter was badly let down by services and leadership in Haringey.”
Speaking outside court Sharon Shoesmith said on Friday: “I would love to go back to work (in Haringey) but that’s not possible. But I hope to carry on with my career with children in some capacity.
“Having spent a lifetime protecting, caring and educating children, my sorrow about the death of Peter Connelly in Haringey when I was director is something which will stay with me for the rest of my life.
“But as the judges have said, making a ‘public sacrifice’ of an individual will not prevent further tragedies.”
Ms Shoesmith had asked Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Lord Justice Stanley Burnton, to rule that her sacking without compensation was so legally flawed as to be null and void, and that she still remains entitled to her full salary and pension from Haringey up to the present day.
The judges said they were allowing Ms Shoesmith’s appeal against Mr Balls because “the secretary of state did not afford Ms Shoesmith the opportunity to put her case”.
“In short, she was denied the elementary fairness which the law requires.
“We rejected a submission on behalf of the secretary of state that the situation was too urgent to permit the adoption of a fairer procedure.
“Nor did we feel able to accept that the adoption of a fair procedure would inevitably have led to the same outcome.”
My sorrow about the death of Peter Connelly in Haringey is something which will stay with me for the rest of my life. Sharon Shoesmith
The judges said there were outstanding questions over the “remedy” which should be granted to Ms Shoesmith.
They said: “There is no question of her returning to her position. That is conceded on her behalf.
“However, there are issues concerning compensation following her dismissal without notice and without any payment in lieu of notice.
“We have not felt able to resolve this aspect of the case at the moment and consider it more appropriate to remit the case to the High Court for further consideration.”
The judges emphasised that it was not for them “to express any view on whether Ms Shoesmith should or should not have been removed from office” or on the extent to which she was “blameworthy”, if blameworthy at all.