Baby P and Haringey Council – my interview on the Jeremy Vine Show

Full transcript below

ED BALLS – Sharon Shoesmith

R2 – Jeremy Vine

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Speakers        Ed Balls

Jeremy Vine

JV:     This means you got it wrong doesn’t it?

EB:     I don’t think so Jeremy because the fundamental question was could the Director of Children’s Services, Sharon Shoesmith stay in her job after a damning report which highlighted failings in Haringey and my judgement was that she couldn’t. It is important to remember the person who lost most here was a small boy who lost his life. His parents were responsible but the report I commissioned also showed the huge failures of leadership and management in Haringey social services. I had a duty to children in Haringey and across the country to act and the law gave me the power, not to sack Sharon Shoesmith – that was not my decision, she was an employee of Haringey – but to remove her from her position as Director of Children’s Services which I did because it was my judgement that was the only way to keep confidence in children’s services in Haringey and across the country. And Jeremy, at every stage I acted on the basis of the expert and legal advice from our departmental lawyers who said to me that it was not my responsibility to have a meeting with Sharon Shoesmith. She had met the independent inspectors, her employers did not want her to come to the meeting at which they heard my decision and then they resigned themselves. Sharon Shoesmith didn’t resign, she has then taken this unfair dismissal case, in my view the judges have not understood the proper legal framework within which I was acting where I had a responsibility to act to keep children safe and therefore I regret this decision.

JV:     You sacked her for a headline because you were under pressure too and it is the easiest thing in the world to scapegoat her?

EB:     Well they may have thought that or not but that is absolutely and categorically untrue. What happened at the time, because you remember this, we I’m sure discussed this at the time, there was huge public anger and upset at what had happened to Peter Connelly and there was lots of pressure for immediate action. I didn’t take immediate action, I actually instead commissioned an independent investigation and waited for that report and was regularly criticised, including in BBC interviews, for not acting more quickly. But when the report came it was devastating and the people who did the report, the independent inspectors pinpointed failures of leadership and management. Now could I really have kept Sharon Shoesmith in her job when her bosses had resigned and when she had failed to keep this child safe and her department hadn’t…

JV:                  There is a suspicion that these so-called independent inspectors actually were also swinging in the wind of public opinion because just after the death of Baby P they awarded Haringey a good rating, then you say what is going on and they award it a bad rating?

EB:                 Well look, many lessons were learned about the importance of tougher independent inspection. That rating was given without a visit and that was …

JV:                   Exactly …

EB:                 And that was a mistake and they corrected that. But the fact was the health, children’s and police inspectors went into Haringey and concluded devastatingly that the department was being badly run. I, to keep children safe, had to remove Sharon Shoesmith from her statutory position as Director of Children’s Services.  Now, the judges said afterwards they think I should have had a meeting with her. I was advised not to do that, it would have made no difference because I wasn’t acting on the basis of my hunch, it was the inspector’s report which highlighted the problem. And the law, the Education Act, gave me, as Secretary of State, the power to remove somebody from a statutory position if I judged public confidence required that. And that was my judgement and I would make the same decision again today.

JV:                  So looking at the whole trajectory – obviously you didn’t have responsibility for Haringey’s decision – but do you think she was treated unfairly?

EB:                 I think that …if the courts say that Haringey could have done their processes differently, fine. The courts say that I should have had a meeting with her, which I was advised not to have done. Frankly, Jeremy, if I had had that meeting it would have made absolutely no difference other than the fact that she wouldn’t have received a very substantial amount of money. But I didn’t have the meeting because I was advised it was improper and outside the law to do so. I wasn’t, if I am honest with you Jeremy, thinking about Sharon Shoesmith, I was thinking about Peter Connelly and thousands of children up and down the country, including in Haringey, who were at risk.

JV:                   He wasn’t killed by Sharon Shoesmith either, was he?

EB:                  No, he wasn’t …

JV:                  The treatment of her is almost as if she did it, her name is more famous than the three killers …

EB:                 I’m afraid what happens in our society is that when some parents do terrible things to children – and it happens and it is hard to understand – we then step in to try and keep those children safe. That was the responsibility of social workers in Haringey who, by the way, were the … it was the same department where Victoria Climbie had been so terribly let down a decade before. Unfortunately, they failed in their duty to keep Peter Connelly safe despite repeated meetings where injuries to him were covered up. I didn’t rush to judgement; I asked the independent inspector to tell me the truth, they came to me and said the position is devastatingly bad, and it starts at the top with a failure of leadership. That was Sharon Shoesmith’s failure of leadership. I could not have kept her in her statutory post and kept public confidence. I did what I thought was the only thing possible to maintain public confidence and allow social workers in Haringey and across the country to get on and do their jobs of keeping children safe. Now, of course this payment leaves a bad taste in the month for everybody because I’m afraid Sharon Shoesmith and her department failed and therefore it is hugely frustrating when somebody receives a payment and I am also frustrated that the courts have taken the view they have taken about a piece of procedure and a meeting which may or may not have happened which would have made absolutely no difference. In the end, whatever had happened procedurally, whatever we would now learn in retrospect from this court case, I’m afraid Sharon Shoesmith had to leave her job in Haringey to maintain the safety of children and public confidence and nothing we can do or say will ever bring back a little boy who was so, so badly hurt and let down.

Related links:

My statement on the appeal court judgement

Former Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan’s blog on the decision

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Posted July 24th, 2014 by Ed

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