THE HEARING: SHARON SHOESMITH’S CASE IN DETAIL
[From the EDP24 website May 27 2013:]
By COURT REPORTER Friday, May 27, 2011
Former children’s services boss Sharon Shoesmith, pictured outside the High Court as she has won her Court of Appeal battle over her sacking following the Baby P tragedy.
Former children’s services boss Sharon Shoesmith, pictured outside the High Court as she has won her Court of Appeal battle over her sacking following the Baby P tragedy.
James Maurici, who appeared for Ms Shoesmith, had told the appeal court that “buck-passing” between Ofsted, Mr Balls and Haringey had led to her being denied natural justice and a fair hearing.
He said Ms Shoesmith had been a highly-thought-of public servant with a very successful career spanning 35 years but now faced ruin.
She had held a number of senior education posts with local authorities and risen through the ranks to her post with Haringey in 2005.
A year later she was singled out in an Ofsted report for providing “strong and dynamic leadership”.
But then, in 2008, a “media storm” broke over Baby P’s death and she became the victim of a witch hunt and political pressure which led to a flagrant breach of the rules of natural justice.
Mr Maurici said: “On December 1, 2008, while trapped in her flat by the media, she had the extreme misfortune to see on television the secretary of state Mr Ed Balls at a live press conference announce that he was directing that Haringey remove her from her post ‘with immediate effect’.”
He said Mr Balls had told the press that she was “not fit for office” and acted before Ms Shoesmith had seen, or been given a chance to respond to, the Ofsted report.
Mr Maurici said, although High Court judge Mr Justice Foskett had found her sacking lawful, he had commented: “I do not think that any fair-minded person could think that this was a satisfactory state of affairs.”
Mr Maurici said the comment “lies at the heart of this appeal”.
Baby P was 17 months old when he died in August 2007 at the hands of his mother Tracey Connelly, her lover Steven Barker and their lodger, Barker’s brother Jason Owen.
The boy had suffered 50 injuries despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over the final eight months of his life.
A series of reviews identified missed opportunities when officials could have saved his life if they had acted properly on the warning signs in front of them.
The appeal judges were told of the “catastrophic” personal impact on Ms Shoesmith of the events following Baby P’s death.
Mr Maurici said she had been unable to find any work since December 2008, she experienced suicidal thoughts and was still regularly hounded and vilified by the tabloid press.
James Eadie QC, appearing for the Government, defended what Mr Balls did, saying urgent action had to be taken following the “ghastly findings” of the Ofsted report.
It uncovered “dangerous” failings in Ms Shoesmith’s department that were threatening local and national confidence in effective child protection.
Mr Justice Foskett said in the High Court that Haringey Council had “created the appearance of an unfair process”.
But Ingrid Simler QC, appearing for Haringey, told the appeal court it was inevitable that Ms Shoesmith would be dismissed once Mr Balls directed that she should be replaced as director of children’s services.
The council’s trust and confidence in her had broken down, and there was no role left for her to play.
comment from concerned citizen:
“It has just been announced that a 6 figure pay out of around £600,000 (probably higher when loss of pension is added to the total) plus legal costs has been agreed to compensate Sharon Shoesmith for her summary dismissal from post following her department’s failings in the case of Baby P. It was alleged by her legal team that she was unfairly scape-goated in the wake of the toddler’s death and denied the opportunity to defend herself before being dismissed from post.
What goes against the grain of course is that the person with overall responsibility for failing to protect this vulnerable child should be the one to be awarded a massive damages pay out for the suffering she incurred as a result of being sacked for her department’s inexcusable failure to protect and save the life of this vulnerable child.
It is also to be noted that Ed Balls as Children’s Minister ‘s challenge in the Supreme Court of the Court of Appeal ruling to compensate Sharon Shoesmith for her distress and suffering in the wake of her summary dismissal was itself summarily dismissed evidencing the system’s enduring endeavour to protect and uphold the interests of all those in a professional capacity who fail to prevent or callously inflict intolerable suffering upon vulnerable children and their families. The reinstatement of the likes of Professor Sir Roy Meadow implicated in the life sentences given to Angela Cannings and Sally Clark later cleared of murdering their young children on appeal and Dr David Southall responsible for destroying countless families, always ready to assume that the mothers were to blame for harming their children, who were initially struck off for their systemic and perverse recommendations within Family Court proceedings representing a further chilling example of the system’s capacity for protecting its own and those professionals upon whom it seeks to rely and exonerating them from all blame.
video: BBC NEWS 29 Oct. 13:
Headlines 29 Oct. 13:
Baby P council falsely accused me of abusing a child, reveals whistleblower who feared she’d lose her daughter
Defiant: Nevres Kemal at home. ‘I’m not going to shut up,’ she told bosses
In a devastating interview, the social worker who blew the whistle on Haringey’s dire treatment of children before Baby P’s death tells how the council tried to destroy her life – for telling the truth.
The whistleblower who warned about Haringey Council’s failing social services department six months before Baby P died has told how the council victimised her, even going to the extraordinary lengths of falsely accusing her of child abuse and beginning an investigation into her nine-year-old daughter’s welfare.
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, social worker Nevres Kemal said Haringey’s ‘monstrous’ allegation, which was made, she says, in response to the concerns she raised, left her terrified she would lose her daughter.
Miss Kemal had been accused, falsely, of shaking her fist in the face of a 14-year-old girl (not her daughter) which, according to Haringey, constituted ‘child abuse’.
She says: ‘They then turned their attention to my own daughter and launched a child protection investigation into her, which means that they felt she was at risk.
‘Ultimately, it could have led to her being taken away from me. I felt terribly frightened all the time. It was evil.’
She also revealed today how council staff were taken on ‘team-building’ junkets to Barcelona and Dublin and spent £1,000 on a tea party at the Ritz while back at work, cases of potentially abused children were piling up.
During what she calls a four-year ‘witch-hunt’, Miss Kemal, 44, lost her job, faced a police investigation and saw her family and health fall apart.
An employment tribunal heard that she had been singled out by her bosses because she was a whistleblower. Haringey eventually dropped the case and paid her undisclosed compensation.
An experienced child protection officer, Miss Kemal had joined the London borough in 2004, hoping it had learned lessons from the appalling episodes in its recent past, including the case of Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old tortured and murdered in 2000.
Miss Kemal was ‘like a breath of fresh air’, said a colleague, ‘someone who liked to roll her sleeves up and set to work, rather than take part in meetings about meetings’.
Preventable: Nevres Kemal warned about Haringey Council’s failing social services department six months before Baby P died
Yet very quickly it became apparent to Miss Kemal that the new management brought in to prevent a repeat of the murder of Victoria Climbie was still failing to protect children in its care. Unlike others, Miss Kemal did not remain silent.
She warned that there was a very real risk of another murder. Faced with her concerns, her managers took swift action – but not, it seems, to avert another tragedy.
While they were busy trying to smear her, says Miss Kemal, Baby P was being used as a punchbag and entering the final stage of his tragically short life.
Miss Kemal offers a damning behind-the-scenes insight into Haringey’s inept social services department.
•Council lawyers advised Baby P should stay with his mother just nine days before he died
•Revealed: How a close male relative of Baby P is linked to a big paedophile network
•Baby P council chief hailed a ‘champion’ in letter of support from 61 headteachers
•FIRST PICTURES: The chocolate smile that hid the terrible scars of abuse on tragic blue-eyed Baby P
•’I loved him very deeply,’ says natural father of Baby P in emotional tribute to son
‘God save us from endless inquiries,’ she says. ‘What Haringey needs is managers sacked and arrested, common sense to prevail and money put into frontline services.’
Children’s Services Director Sharon Shoesmith and Deputy Director Cecilia Hitchen have now agreed in writing that Miss Kemal never abused a child, in or outside of work.
‘I never regretted speaking up for the children who needed protection,’ says Miss Kemal.
Miss Kemal joined Haringey Council after the appalling case of Victoria Climbie, pictured, an eight-year-old girl tortured and murdered in 2000
‘I never thought, even when I was at my most scared, why did I not keep my mouth shut?
‘Even my elderly mother knew it was quite clear I’d opened my mouth to defend children who Haringey wasn’t defending and they almost immediately accused me of child abuse.’
Nevres Kemal began work at the council in late August 2004. London-born, of Turkish Cypriot parents, she had specialised in child protection for 15 years.
She arrived with glowing references and an impeccable record and expected to feel valued.
Miss Kemal’s immigrant parents arrived here in 1958 with just £7.50 between them and their little girl learned early to take responsibility, as their interpreter in a foreign world.
She is a typically dutiful Turkish daughter.
After her father died, she moved back into her childhood home to keep her mother company. She is also a Westernised, politically aware and independent woman.
She says: ‘The office was very cliquey. Two key senior women were in a relationship, and if your face didn’t fit, that was it. You’d just be handed files, with no discussion. If you asked questions, you were stupid.’
Haringey’s abysmal reputation had hindered the recruitment of experienced, high-quality staff.
Of the 20 or so who worked in Miss Kemal’s open-plan office, most were agency staff or newly-qualified Jamaican social workers, brought to Britain by Haringey on expensive relocation packages.
On October 15, 2004, Miss Kemal’s manager allocated her a file about a group of children.
Teachers and relatives feared that the same male carer had subjected these children to grave sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and had alerted Social Services many months before. But the social worker responsible had quit, the file had not been reallocated, and the children were simply forgotten.
Miss Kemal was horrified and told an employment tribunal last year: ‘Children had not been properly protected. It was exactly the sort of situation, after the mistakes of the Victoria Climbie tragedy in Haringey, that the new management brought in to improve procedures and standards in child protection was supposed to prevent.’
Fighting back tears: Nevres Kemal feared social services would take her own daughter away after the council falsely accused her of child abuse
Miss Kemal hurriedly interviewed the sad little group – the youngest was only three – and decided they urgently needed rescuing.
Medical evidence could be vital if they were to be taken into care or the man prosecuted, and they could need urgent treatment.
But, incredibly, no one seemed clear who was responsible for authorising medicals – whether it was Social Services, police or health officials.
Post-Climbie, Miss Kemal found this extraordinary: medicals are basic to child protection work.
She fired off desperate emails, and finally went over her manager’s head to alert the department’s chief. She made it clear that the children had already waited months – a delay which could be traced back to Social Services. But she received no reply.
She therefore blew the whistle by alerting a local nurse consultant on child protection, Dorian Cole. He finally cut through the lethargy.
He raised the case at the Area Child Protection Committee and even circulated a flow chart on who had which responsibilities. ‘OK, folks,’ he wrote, ‘this is getting stupid. This is not complicated – let’s get it sorted.’
On November 15, Miss Kemal managed to get the children added to the Child Protection Register and they were eventually taken into care. ‘But,’ she says, ‘after this whistle-blowing, management became hostile towards me.’
She adds: ‘I was destructively and comprehensively investigated and punished for doing nothing wrong, whereas the managers who investigated me left children with an abuser for months. It was Climbie all over again, except that thankfully on this occasion no child died.’
Sharon Shoesmith, chair of the Local Safeguarding Children Board
Children’s Services Director Sharon Shoesmith has agreed in writing that Miss Kemal never abused a child
Haringey used the allegations of a violent, mentally-ill man as the basis of their case against Miss Kemal.
Her own family had been friends with the man’s family, fellow Turks, for 50 years, and her mother spoke by phone every day to his wife.
But the man had become a gambler, paranoid and violent and was, for a time, compulsorily sectioned to a mental hospital.
Six years ago, the frightened wife found the courage to leave him, and Miss Kemal helped her and her then 12-year-old daughter find a new home.
The Muslim husband furiously blamed Miss Kemal, a Christian, and her ‘feminist’, Western ways.
In November 2004, the woman rang Miss Kemal’s mother. The woman’s daughter, who was now 14, had begun staying out late and, she feared, mixing with boys who used drugs.
But, like many modern teenagers, the girl became angry when her mother pointed out the dangers. She asked if Miss Kemal could come over to talk to the girl about keeping herself safe.
The mother had already asked Haringey social services for advice, but in vain.
Miss Kemal did not hesitate to help. But she found mayhem at the house. Everyone was shouting and the girl told her to ‘f*** off’.
Two days later, the woman’s ex-husband falsely complained to the council that Miss Kemal had shaken her fist in his daughter’s face.
The council that did nothing while little Victoria Climbie was tortured to death – there were too many injuries on her emaciated body for the pathologist to count – launched a full-scale investigation, accusing Miss Kemal of child abuse.
Miss Kemal was first questioned on November 17 by her manager. Only independent, external investigators are meant to question staff accused of abuse.
She freely admitted that she had briefly raised her voice to be heard above the clamour and, when the girl swore, raised her hand in a ‘stop’ gesture.
Miss Kemal, unwittingly, had provided the council the stick it wanted in order to beat her. Extraordinarily, it decided that the raised hand and voice constituted child abuse, or common assault. Now it set about gathering further ‘evidence’.
A manager knew about the father’s mental illness and alleged domestic violence, but interviewed the girl in her father’s presence. The unhappy, confused teenager confirmed her father’s allegations.
Experts observe that she was likely to have come under great pressure from her father and, indeed, she later retracted her accusation and offered to give evidence for Miss Kemal. No matter, on the next day, December 1, a divisional manager suspended her.
Miss Kemal returned to the family home in North London cowed, mystified and terrified. The manager had announced a full-scale Section 47 child-abuse investigation which would mean that Haringey would later turn their attention to Miss Kemal’s daughter, who is now 13.
‘I reacted like normal families react – with anger and disbelief,’ says Miss Kemal.
‘What was so terribly wrong is that a system that had the power and the duty to protect children was now hounding me for trying to protect children. It was
like I was in a fascist country. I felt totally alone.’
After Christmas I learnt that they would be investigating my daughter. ‘My daughter is my world, I adore her, it was such an injustice, a farce. By launching this type of investigation – and to this day I don’t know exactly what they did or who they spoke to – it means that the child is at risk. It’s an understatement to say I cried. I cried a river. Even now I cry thinking about it. How dare they cover their own failures by accusing me of abuse?
‘It has made me a more sensitive social worker, I hope. I now know how ordinary families feel if wrongly accused.
‘I was so frightened of losing her that I would hold her like when she was a baby and just cling to her, just looking at how beautiful she was and is and think how in the world can these human beings, these professionals, my former colleagues, accuse me of hurting my own child.’
Christmas at the Kemal house was tense, and the social worker’s devout mother prayed hard, often in tears.
Miss Kemal’s 71-year-old immigrant mother was from a simple background. She had raised her children to do good and speak up for what they believed in, and she could not bear to see her hard-working, once successful daughter too anxious and scared even to eat.
Their home filled with legal papers and accusations that she could not understand.
She was incredulous that, with so many children in Britain in obviously desperate need, Social Services had nothing better to do than hound her child, who had helped so many.
The family’s mortification was complete when, on January 11, 2005, two police officers turned up unannounced at their home.
They cautioned Miss Kemal for an alleged ‘common assault’ on a child and told her to accompany them to the police station. But she refused to be questioned there ‘like a criminal’. She had worked with one officer on several cases, and they agreed to question her at home.
She concluded that the police were trying to help her get Haringey off her back; once the tape was off, they hinted she had already been exonerated.
Sure enough, three days later, police told Social Services there were no grounds for prosecution. Yet Haringey’s investigation continued: more safety checks were now ordered on her own child.
The family doctor and school denied there were any concerns but Miss Kemal’s stomach knotted with nerves when she stood at the school gates. She was terrified other parents would discover she was under investigation for child abuse.
She felt unable to ask children back to play with her child, and the whole family became isolated.
In March, Haringey’s investigator submitted her conclusions: she felt the 14-year-old girl was under pressure from her mother to retract the allegation against Miss Kemal. She believed the original allegation and that the girl’s father was protective and supportive.
Miss Kemal was now told she faced the sack. Her union, Unison, criticised management for still failing to specify the charge.
The union pointed out to the council that child abuse could mean many things.
The union said: ‘You know that “child abuse” is a very emotive and damaging thing to be accused of. We feel that Nevres’s human rights have been breached.’
The teenage girl who Miss Kemal had been accused of abusing begged to be reinterviewed, and wrote an apologetic letter to her.
It read: ‘Dear Nevi, I’m so sorry your [sic] in so much trouble. You always stood by me and watched my back. I hope that you will forgive me some day.’
The girl told Unison representative Pauline Bradley that ‘Nevi never done anything to me and I want all this to end.’
She courageously turned up, unexpectedly, at Miss Kemal’s four-day disciplinary hearing in October 2005, and insisted on addressing it. But management ignored her her pleas were declared by the panel to be ‘in our view not credible’.
Miss Kemal was found guilty of misusing her position; inappropriate behaviour (shouting); and failure to conduct herself appropriately. She was given a final warning because the most serious charge against her – of physical and verbal aggression – was ‘unproven’.
Haringey at this stage allowed Miss Kemal back to work, but not in Child Protection, her area of expertise.
Fearing that management would soon frame her again, she entered a claim for discrimination at an employment tribunal.
Early last year, Watford Employment Tribunal found in her favour by default, after Haringey failed to appear but later the council challenged that decision. The council dragged the case out for another year before settling out of court.
Miss Kemal says: ‘I said to Sharon Shoesmith, “You can take everything from me: my home, my job, my good name but you cannot strip me of my integrity, I’m not going to shut up. You don’t know what is going on in Social Services, what is being concealed from you.”
‘I am sure she was misled by her managers. They are the ones that have to go. When Baby P, died I felt ashamed of us all. I feel ashamed of social work managers and ordinary social workers and I feel in all this the real issue is being lost, that this little boy is rotting in a grave somewhere.
‘How many if onlys are we going to go through, how many inquiries? Someone, somewhere, collectively has to take responsibility.’
Haringey Council said in a statement: ‘Nevres Kemal was employed as a Senior Social Work Practitioner in the Referral and Assessment Team in August 2004. In October 2004 she raised concerns about a particular case. The matter was investigated. No breach of the statutory child protection procedures occurred and children were not at risk.
‘The Commission for Social Care inspection has confirmed in a statement today that it was satisfied that the council had dealt properly with the individual case raised by Ms Kemal.
‘Ms Kemal was subsequently suspended over a separate matter following an external complaint. She was dismissed in March 2007, caused by a breakdown of trust and confidence based on a substantial number of employment-related disputes over the course of her employment.
‘An employment tribunal last year was settled without a hearing, with no admission of liability by the council. Nevres Kemal did not win her case in the ET [employment tribunal] nor did any tribunal make any findings concerning alleged whistleblowing.’