London

Baby Peter: Sharon Shoesmith 'sacked for failings'

Sharon Shoesmith
Image caption Ms Shoesmith argues she was unfairly sacked by Haringey Council.

A council boss could not "escape responsibility" for the failure of her department to care for abuse victim Baby Peter, the Court of Appeal heard.

Sharon Shoesmith was sacked as director of children's services at Haringey Council in December 2008, after the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly.

Ms Shoesmith claims her dismissal was legally flawed.

But James Eadie QC said action had to be taken after the "ghastly findings" of an Ofsted report.

Mr Eadie, for the Department for Education, told three appeal judges that the "extremely disturbing" report had uncovered "dangerous" failings in Ms Shoesmith's department that were threatening local and national confidence in effective child protection.

He added that Ofsted's investigation was not to establish whether Ms Shoesmith was "blameworthy in a personal sense" but focussed on whether systems in her department operated to an adequate standard.

'Ineffectual and dangerous'

However, the Ofsted inspectors had been entitled to examine "the person at the top and ultimately in charge", said Mr Eadie QC.

Mr Eadie told the judges: "It is difficult for her to escape responsibility if the position is the systems were operating as badly and as ineffectually and as dangerously, so far as the protection of children was concerned, as these systems in Haringey were found to be operating by Ofsted."

Image caption Baby Peter Connelly was found dead in August 2007 with more than 50 injuries

The government QC argued that Ed Balls, the former education secretary, was entitled to rely on the Ofsted report and instruct Haringey Council, north London, to remove Ms Shoesmith from her £130,000-a-year job.

He added that Ms Shoesmith "who was obviously in the firing line, was given a full and fair opportunity to respond to emerging concerns".

Ingrid Simler QC, for Haringey Council, said before the Ofsted report the council "was under the impression that everything was fine", but after the report its trust and confidence in her had broken down.

The decision to dismiss her was lawful, she argued.

Ms Shoesmith, 58, is asking the appeal court to rule that her sacking was so legally flawed as to be null and void.

Earlier Ms Shoesmith's counsel James Maurici said there was "buck passing" between Ofsted, the former Education Secretary Ed Balls and Haringey Council which had led to her being denied natural justice.

The "media storm" following the criminal trial meant Ms Shoesmith has been unable to find to find a job since December 2008 and she experienced suicidal thoughts.

Baby Peter Connelly was found dead in August 2007 with more than 50 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken back. His mother, her partner and a lodger were all jailed for causing or allowing his death.

Peter had been seen by health and social services professionals 60 times in the eight months before he died.

At the end of the three-day hearing Mr Maurici said: "The buck has continued to be passed over the past few days."

The judges reserved their judgment until a later date.

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