Sacked children’s boss Jill Baker loses unfair dismissal claim against Salford council
A children’s services boss who was sacked following a toddler’s death has lost her claim for unfair and wrongful dismissal.
Jill Baker, 56, was dismissed by the council for gross misconduct in December 2009.
She took the local authority to an employment tribunal in a bid to clear her name – but the tribunal has concluded the council was justified in dismissing her.
The case has cost Salford council an estimated £175,000 in legal fees which it may not be able to recover.
A report says: “The council could reasonably conclude that it could no longer have trust and confidence in the claimant to lead this very important department.”
Mrs Baker’s dismissal followed the death of two-year-old Demi Leigh Mahon, who was repeatedly let down by social workers. She was murdered by her 15-year-old babysitter in July 2008.
After a damning report into the child’s death, Mrs Baker told the media that no one would be disciplined in connection with the failings.
The tribunal judgement says the council could reasonably conclude Mrs Baker had committed a ‘serious error of judgement’ in announcing that to the public without consulting with key town hall bosses.
The tribunal also found that Mrs Baker had failed to progress a review of social worker teams working in local communities ‘with potential fatal consequences caused by confusion and gaps’ in an inadequate service.
It adds that an Ofsted report published in August 2009 found that safeguarding of children – the monitoring and care of children living in the community but at risk of neglect or abuse – was inadequate. That report, it says, demonstrated the failure by Mrs Baker to address serious deficiencies highlighted in another report 18 months earlier.
She was given the chance to turn round ‘substantial wrongs’ in her department but it did not improve, says the report.
The tribunal also found Mrs Baker was at fault when she failed to turn up to a crucial meeting with police after a care home runaway attempted suicide.
Its report says that in the light of these main findings, even if Mrs Baker had won a claim for unfair dismissal, the tribunal would have concluded that she contributed to her own dismissal and so would not have awarded any compensation.
The report says of Mrs Baker’s former job as director of children’s services with responsibility for social services and schools: “This is a heavy responsibility. It is a responsibility which the claimant failed to discharge…not withstanding the substantial resources made available to her department.”
It adds it was ‘unfortunate’ her career came to end in such a way as she was a ‘skilled educationalist’.
Mrs Baker had claimed at the tribunal that she was not dismissed because of a lack of trust and confidence in her ability but because council chief executive, and council leader, John Merry, wanted ‘a scapegoat in response to media pressure following a child’s death and in not finding someone to discipline I had caused them political embarrassment’.
Councillor Merry said: “We are pleased that the tribunal has decided we made the right decision, but it is disappointing that we have had to spend so much of the council’s valuable time and money to reach this stage.
“Safeguarding children is incredibly important and is something we take very seriously. We therefore have to have someone in charge of children’s services who we believe can do this job effectively and keep children living in Salford safe.
“We know we still have improvements to achieve in children’s services but we are making good progress.”
Mrs Baker declined to comment.