Baby P Council Dismisses Child Chief Sharon Shoesmith

Sharon Shoesmith, the director of children’s services at Haringey Council, has been dismissed immediately and without compensation in the wake of the devastating inquiry into the death of Baby P.

Ms Shoesmith had a staff of more than 1,000, a budget of £100 million and an annual salary of £100,000 in her role overseeing social care in the North London borough. The council was severely criticised for failing to prevent the death of Baby P despite significant evidence that the child was at serious risk of harm within his own home.

In the aftermath of the Baby P case Ms Shoesmith refused to resign, despite the apparent wishes of Ed Balls, the minister for children, who suggested she may lose her job without any compensation.

Tonight the council released a short statement announcing that she had been sacked: “Sharon Shoesmith has been dismissed from Haringey Council with immediate effect,” it said.

“The decision was taken today by a panel of councillors. Ms Shoesmith will not be returning to work in Haringey. She will not receive any compensation package. She will not receive any payment in lieu of notice.”

Ms Shoesmith, 55, from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, had spent most of her professional life in education rather than social services and she retained support within schools in Haringey even after the Baby P case came to light. In an open letter of support last month, heads from 61 primary and secondary schools in the borough called her an “outstanding public servant” who had in her previous role revitalised Haringey’s once embarrassing and demoralised education service.

After the verdicts in the Baby P case she released a statement through one of her two daughters, outlining her disbelief at the reaction to the death of the toddler. “It has really shocked me how much of the media has missed the point that this is a horrendous tragedy and everybody obviously is horribly shocked by it, but there is so much blame, there is so much anger and hatred out there.”

Baby P, who cannot be named for legal reasons, died in a blood-spattered cot in August last year. He had suffered more than 50 injuries at the hands of his abusive mother, 27, her boyfriend, 32, and their lodger, Jason Owen, 36, despite 60 contacts with the authorities over eight months.

Haringey is the same council that was severely criticised for failing to prevent the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié in 2000.

The three people convicted over Baby P’s death will be sentenced at the Old Bailey next spring for causing or allowing the death of a child.

Earlier today Haringey council admitted that it had spent £19,000 on media training for high-profile employees involved in the case.

Ms Shoesmith was among those who received the special training. She called an ill-advised press conference the day after the Baby P trial at which she brandished graphs to prove how well the council was performing.

Also trained to perform for the press was Liz Santry, Haringey’s Cabinet member for children and young people, who resigned last week after the review of the council’s failures.

David Winskill, the Liberal Democrat councillor who requested the figure, said he believed that the media training had been designed to protect Haringey from criticism but had failed. “As a Haringey ratepayer — from what I saw on the TV and having an idea of how much it cost — it’s a classic example of spending big and getting very little,” he said.

Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, added: “It is absolutely outrageous that this money has been wasted on spin doctors. Every single penny of this cash would have been better spent on improving our children’s service.”

Mr Winskill, a member of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, requested the figure from George Meehan, the council leader, who resigned shortly after the question was tabled.

The subsequent reply from the leader’s office read: “The cost of paid-for media advice to the council from three sources included media training for key spokespeople. The total estimated final cost will be £19,000.”

The council was criticised for refusing to apologise for its failure to protect the child. Ms Santry said that she had considered resigning earlier but believed it was her “duty” to stay and explain the circumstances and actions taken.

The names of the companies used for the media training were given to councillors but were not made public.

A Haringey council spokesman said: “It is reasonable for any employer to ensure that staff in the full glare of the media spotlight are given some training to help them deal with this sort of unusual situation.”