The noble tradition of a captain going down with the ship is as futile as it is mythical. When something goes wrong, the bottle of Scotch and the loaded revolver is, thankfully, no longer the only option. Honour and responsibility went down with the Titanic.
After the Court of Appeal found that the former Director of Children’s Services in Haringey had been unfairly dismissed, Sharon Shoesmith told the BBC that she “does not do blame” and that “you cannot stop the death of children”. The “you”, in this case, was her.
Peter Connelly was 17 months old when he died at his home of injuries including fractured ribs and a broken back after months of abuse. He and his “family” had been seen 60 times by the department headed by Ms Shoesmith prior to his death in 2007. The scum that inflicted this barbaric cruelty are safely behind bars for the time being and it is interesting that those desperate to apportion “blame” make no mention of those that are actually guilty. It is as if the imprisonment of three sub-humans is not enough to assuage our national shame. More scalps are needed.
Shoesmith has a point when she complains of being singled out for culpability but to accept responsibility and then deny “blame” is, at best, inconsistent. We are told that vast salaries within Local Authorities, particularly at directorship level, are necessary to attract and retain the very best practitioners and offer adequate compensation for the responsibilities of a difficult and often harrowing job. Ms Shoesmith might have been fired unfairly, but the Court of Appeal rejected her assertion that a damning Ofsted report into her department was also unfair. The report revealed that under her leadership, Children’s Services were utterly, completely and dangerously useless.
After deciding not to “do blame”, Ms Shoesmith went on to blame everyone else. When the level of incompetence within her department was revealed, the then Secretary of State, Ed Balls, intervened and fired her. Regarding Mr Balls, she said this:
“I’m still staggered by how irresponsible the Secretary of State was. He almost demonstrated his lack of knowledge and understanding of children’s social care. This was his department yet he took steps that led it into complete disarray.”
So, does she blame Ed Balls for the death of Baby Peter? No, not just Ed Balls. There are other too. She went on:
“As a director of children’s services I cannot control what the police do, I cannot control what health does. I cannot control the fact when a social worker is referring a child for abuse that she rings up and finds that a case has not been allocated to a police officer for four months. I can’t control those matters, this is much more complex than saying you are responsible, let’s sack you and the whole psyche of the nation will be at peace.”
So it is Ed Balls, the Police and the Health Service who should be blamed and not the Director of Children’s Services. That is interesting coming from someone who feels that blame will not produce “anything positive”. By resigning as a result of the Ofsted report, the leader of Haringey council and the portfolio holder accepted their responsibilities and have retained some semblance of honour. Ms Shoesmith, it seems, did not consider resignation.
Haringey and the government have said that they will appeal against the appeal which is good news for lawyers. Speculation is rife that if that appeal is unsuccessful, Ms Shoesmith can expect between £500,000 and £1million in compensation for wrongful dismissal. The Court of Appeal ruled that her dismissal was unfair because she was not allowed the opportunity to defend herself. As the coalition rushes headlong into cutting social services, the police and the NHS, the lessons learnt from all this will be in vain and those services will be unable to prevent this horror from happening again.
Sharon Shoesmith now has the chance to defend herself.
Here is a reminder of someone who did not.