We Are Truly Sorry: Council Leader Heckled During First Apology

The leader of Haringey Council issued a “formal apology” last night and acknowledged that the death of Baby P had highlighted the failure “by all the agencies involved”.

Facing calls for his resignation, George Meehan gave a “heartfelt and unreserved” apology for the suffering Baby P had endured and the “failure of all the child protection agencies” to save the infant’s life.

There were shouts of “shame” at the first public meeting of the council since the verdicts were given last week in the case involving Baby P’s mother, her boyfriend and another man. Liberal Democrat councillors again called for Mr Meehan to step down.

Mr Meehan said: “Haringey Council’s apology is heartfelt and unreserved. It is made to all those who knew and cared for the wellbeing of Baby P; it is made to all those residents of Haringey who feel let down by the actions of the child protection agencies in our area and concerned for the future of every other child at risk; and it is made to the wider public who will have listened with horror at the dreadful damage done during the tragically short life of Baby P.

“We are truly sorry.”

Mr Meehan said that the council awaited the outcome of the review being held and that it would not comment in detail on the case until then.

He said: “We will take whatever action is necessary to improve the protection of vulnerable children in Haringey. In the 15 months since Baby P died Haringey’s social workers have continued to do their best, often in very difficult circumstances, to protect vulnerable children. Despite the pressure of the last few months, they continue to put the interests of those children first. Whilst it is right for the review to identify faults and failures, it is important to recognise that denigrating their service does nothing to improve child protection.”

He added: “There is no failure to recognise our accountability — we do so and await the report of the review. There has, however, been failure: by all the agencies involved to protect this little child from the pain and suffering which led to his death; and for that we are truly and genuinely sorry.”

His statement came after the NSPCC said that the records of thousands of vulnerable children should be re-examined to make sure that there was no repeat of the mistakes that led to Baby P’s death. It was vital to ensure that no more children suffered terrible abuse “while being watched over by child protection professionals”, the charity said.

It has called on lead councillors with responsibility for children to request that directors of children’s services go through their child protection caseload including all 29,200 children in England who have been put on child protection plans, which replaced the child protection register in April. The cases of children on interim care orders who are still living at home and those who are subject of an unfinished police investigation into maltreatment should also be carefully examined.

Wes Cuell, acting chief executive of the NSPCC, said that it was particularly important to examine cases where a disagreement between professionals about what should happen to the child had been followed by a decision to take no legal action against a parent or carer.

Baby P died, aged 17 months, in August 2007 despite 60 visits by health professionals and social workers from Haringey Council. Eight years ago the North London authority was criticised severely over the death of Victoria Climbié.

Three doctors concluded during a police investigation that Baby P’s injuries “were suggestive of non-accidental injuries”, but there was still not enough evidence to charge anyone as they could not prove who inflicted the injuries or when.

Yesterday Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, announced legislation to force social workers to co-operate more closely with other agencies working with children.

However, last night it emerged that the Integrated Children’s System designed to improve the handling of child abuse cases has led to social workers having to spend more than 100 hours filling out forms for every case. Sue White, who is studying five child protection departments for the University of Lancaster, told The Guardian: “The system regularly takes up 80 per cent of their time.”