Sharon Shoesmith: Thoughts of suicide over the Baby P scandal

The woman who lost her job as head of Haringey children’s services over the Baby P case was left feeling suicidal and facing financial ruin, a court heard today.

Sharon Shoesmith, 56, claims she is the victim of a miscarriage of justice after being dismissed without compensation following a damning report into her department’s failings. She caused outrage when she refused to apologise and insisted no one should lose their job.

Now she is demanding an estimated £173,000 and today launched a judicial challenge in the High Court to prove that Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and Haringey council were wrong to sack her.

The 17-month-old boy — initially known as Baby P but now identified as Peter Connelly — died of horrific injuries in Haringey in 2007 at the hands of his mother Tracey Connelly, 28, her lover Steven Barker, 33, and Barker’s brother Jason Owen, 37.

They were all jailed in May. Peter had suffered 50 injuries despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over the final eight months of his life.

The High Court heard this afternoon that ministers piled pressure on Haringey council to suspend Ms Shoesmith after Gordon Brown was embarrassed by a Commons question from David Cameron on the issue.

Ms Shoesmith suffered post traumatic shock and had considered killing herself since her dismissal in December last year, her counsel James Maurici said, adding: “The effect (of her sacking) was not merely to end her employment with the council but also to end her career.

“The courts have emphasised the importance of fairness where a person’s livelihood is at stake.

“Decisions in this case were made in flagrant breach of the rules of natural justice. Her name has not been out of the media for more than two consecutive weeks for nine months. She is unable to obtain employment and faces financial ruin.” The decision that she had to go was made by Mr Balls after reading a damaging Ofsted report and hearing personally from its inspectors.

But Ms Shoesmith was not allowed to put her case to the Secretary of State, said Mr Maurici. In direct contrast to normal procedure, Mr Balls banned any feedback from the inspectors to Ms Shoesmith or anyone else at Haringey under scrutiny.

The court heard that last Friday Mr Balls admitted for the first time it had not been his intention to prohibit the feedback.

“Two public authorities have been at fundamental cross purposes and as a result Ms Shoesmith’s career was brought to an end in an unfair way,” said Mr Maurici.

“The question at the heart of this case is whether a public authority can exercise powers to end a person’s career without affording that person a hearing — there’s only one answer.”

At a press conference in December last year, Mr Balls made clear he expected Haringey to get on with what was to be “the mere formality” of dismissing Ms Shoesmith, said Mr Maurici.

Ms Shoesmith was “deeply shocked and saddened” by Peter Connelly’s death in August 2007, he added. The court heard that Ms Shoesmith learned she had been sacked by Haringey council when an Evening Standard reporter told her.

Ms Shoesmith’s record as the £133,000-a-year head of children’s services was good, said Mr Maurici, adding: “Her performance was the subject of positive appraisals for each of the years from 2005 to 2008 and she was awarded a number of pay increments.

“She was also widely respected and held in high regard by the head teachers and governors of schools within the council’s areas.”

Her department was subject to “close and regular scrutiny” by Ofsted and its 2006 report rated the council’s children’s services “good”, its social care services “adequate” and child protection work “satisfactory”.

But inspectors sent into Haringey council after the death of Peter raised “glaringly serious” problems in child protection with Ms Shoesmith, the court heard.

Heather Brown, Ofsted’s lead inspector, said the quality of practice at Haringey was the “worst she had ever seen”. But Ms Shoesmith insisted these issues were “never made clear” to her before the publication of the report which led to her being sacked.

The case continues.