Ofsted issues apology for ‘serious error’ in Baby P case

Ofsted, the childcare watchdog, has been forced to issue a humiliating High Court apology for its handling of a legal challenge by Sharon Shoesmith, the social services chief sacked over the Baby P scandal.

Lawyers for the inspector admitted a “serious and deeply regrettable error” in failing to produce potentially crucial documents which Mrs Shoesmith had requested as part of her appeal against her dismissal.

The blunder means that the case, in which a judgment was due later this week, is to be reopened with future costs borne by the taxpayer funded body.

Mrs Shoesmith, 56, was dismissed from her £130,000-a-year post as head of children’s services at Haringey council in north London last December after a highly critical emergency inspection report in the wake of the Baby P scandal.

One inspector described the department, which failed to protect Peter Connelly – initially known in court as baby P – as the “worst I had ever seen”.

But Mrs Shoesmith brought judicial review proceedings last month seeking to have her dismissal declared unlawful.

She claims that she was sacked because of a media “witch hunt” and has suggested that the report was made more critical of her department as a result of the public outcry at failings highlighted during the Old Bailey trial of Peter’s abusers.

She requested access to the inspectors’ notebooks, emails and early drafts of the inspection report but was told that they did not exist.

The paperwork was finally produced after a request under the Freedom of Information Act by Mrs Shoesmith’s legal team.

Mr Justice Foskett called a special hearing and announced in open court that new evidence had come to light from Ofsted which must be now examined.

He told the court that the request for disclosure had been “batted away” and that the draft report had been said not to exist – “and now they do”.

He demanded a “chapter and verse” explanation and said that the judgment would now be delayed until around Christmas, or even later.

Ofsted lawyers apologised “unreservedly” in court for failing to disclose the material.

The regulator was ordered to pay the legal costs of the special hearing and said it must pay for Mrs Shoesmith’s lawyers going through the newly disclosed evidence to see whether or not it was relevant.

James Maurici, for Mrs Shoesmith, said: “They must have known these things existed. It is very worrying this has transpired.”

Ofsted released a statement apologising for the incident but added: “We remain confident in the quality of the inspection and the findings of the report.”