Shoesmith was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’

The former head of Haringey children’s services Sharon Shoesmith was sacked because she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, her lawyers said today.

In a hight court submission, they say Shoesmith, who is seeking judicial review of her dismissal in the wake of the Baby P tragedy, had seen her successful public service career summarily ended by the unfair and unlawful actions of children’s secretary Ed Balls, the children’s inspectorate Ofsted, and Haringey council. These had damaged her health, ruined her finances, made her unemployable, and could leave her homeless.

Despite her impeccable track record and professional achievements, Shoesmith’s lawyers imply that her dismissal was the result of pressure to attribute blame in the face of a political and media storm over Baby P in November 2008.

In his submission Shoesmith’s barrister, James Maurici, said she had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He said: “I would venture to suggest that her professional background and achievements were similar to those of the more senior members of the small army of civil servants and government lawyers who have attended this heading on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Ofsted and [Haringey] council…

“But for the grace of God, some of those public servants sitting on the other side of the court room could easily have found themeslves in Ms Shoesmith’s position – they, rather than her, could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time …”

The former director of children’s services had been prevented from putting her side of events to inspectors carrying out a special joint area review of Haringey’s child protection arrangements during November 2008, Maurici said.

Balls subsequently used this report – the findings of which he called “devastating” – to justify the removal of Shoesmith from her post on 1 December, and she was formally sacked from her £130,000 job by Haringey seven days later, without compensation.

Although the review was presented as a damning indictment of Shoesmith, many of the failings related to the NHS and the police in Haringey, the submission said.

Shoesmith had simply wanted a fair hearing – “the chance to state her defence before her career is ended” – but Balls, Ofsted and Haringey had effectively turned the hearing into a “state trial”.

Public hearings in the case finished on Monday. The submission was presented to the judge earlier this week and is published today.

Shoesmith alleged that Balls’s actions had been unduly influenced by a tabloid newspaper campaign to vilify her and secure her sacking, a claim rejected by lawyers acting for the children’s secretary. Ofsted and Haringey council are also challenging her claims that they had acted unlawfully and failed to follow proper procedures.

Baby Peter died in August 2007. He had suffered more than 50 injuries at the hands of his mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend, Steven Barker, and their lodger, Jason Owen, despite being on the child protection register and receiving 60 contacts with social workers, police and NHS staff over eight months.

The judge is expected to rule on the case in the next two weeks.