Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Baby P official sacking knee-jerk reaction, says lawyer

Baby Peter

Lawyers for a council official sacked in the wake of the Baby P case have compared her treatment with that of the James Bulger killers.

Sharon Shoesmith's legal team claims that Children's Secretary Ed Balls acted wrongly in his decision to sack her in response to "intense media pressure", the Daily Mail reports.

The death of Baby P at the age of 17 months in a blood-spattered cot in north London sparked outrage as details of child protection failings emerged.

Peter Connelly's suffering at the hands of his family led to Haringey's child protection services being condemned as "inadequate" in a damning report commissioned by the Government.

Mrs Shoesmith was removed from her £133,000-a-year job as head of Haringey Council's children's services following the tragedy.

She has launched an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination, as well as a High Court action for breach of contract and an application for a judicial review of the Children's Secretary's decision to sack her.

Lawyers for Mrs Shoesmith confirmed that a judicial review application has been lodged at the High Court but refused to discuss the contents.

In the application her lawyer Tony Child reportedly states that her case has "strong parallels" with that of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

The 11-year-olds were convicted of murdering two-year-old James Bulger in 1993 but their minimum jail term was reduced from 15 years to eight after the House of Lords said the then Home Secretary Michael Howard had given too much weight to public protests.

Mr Child argues that in Mrs Shoesmith's case, Mr Balls acted wrongly because of "the intense media pressure being applied".

He writes: "The Secretary of State in acting as he did, acted unlawfully in what seems to have been a knee-jerk reaction to press coverage."

In legal submissions, Mr Child argues that Mrs Shoesmith's case "has strong parallels" with the Bulger case and that "the Secretary of State has fallen into the same error".

He argues the decision to sack her should be quashed because Mr Balls "in so acting, did so having regard to irrelevant matters, for an improper purpose and irrationally".

Mrs Shoesmith also complains she was "at the centre of a media storm" and was "being harassed daily by journalists as well as receiving regular death threats".

Peter Connelly had suffered 50 injuries by the time of his death in August 2007 despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over the final eight months of his life.

There was widespread outrage when the full facts of the case emerged in November last year, at the end of the trial of those responsible for his death.

His mother Tracey Connelly, 28, was given an indefinite sentence with a minimum term of five years at the Old Bailey in May after pleading guilty to causing or allowing her son's death.

Her boyfriend Steven Barker, 33, was jailed for life with a minimum of 10 years for raping a two-year-old girl and also given a 12-year term to run concurrently for his "major role" in Peter's death.

Barker's brother Jason Owen, 37, of Bromley, south-east London, received an indefinite sentence with a minimum term of three years for failing to take steps to save the little boy while staying with the couple in Penshurst Road, Tottenham.

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