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BASW's concern at Baby P social workers appeal court ruling

BASW has said that difficult questions remain about the approach taken to staff involved in the Baby Peter Connelly case, following today's decision by the Court of Appeal to reject a claim of unfair dismissal brought by two of the boy's social workers against Haringey Council. 

Maria Ward and Gillie Christou were appealing against a ruling by an employment tribunal in 2010 that the north London council was within its rights to dismiss the pair for errors of judgement in the case of 17-month old Peter Connelly, who died in August 2007 after suffering more than 50 injuries. His mother Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and Barker's brother Jason Owen, were jailed in 2009 for causing or allowing the toddler's death.

Ms Ward was Peter's nominated social worker from February 2007 until his death, and Ms Christou was her team manager.

Commenting on the verdict, BASW professional Officer Nushra Mansuri said: “This news is clearly a severe blow to the two women. Their case illustrates what a long and drawn out process it can be for social workers who find themselves in this situation, and the difficulties some social workers operating in extremely challenging circumstances can find themselves having to confront. 

"While BASW would always advocate that due process needs to be followed by the regulator and employers where issues of professional misconduct are alleged, this case was conducted in the full glare of the media, attracting unprecedented political and tabloid intervention, including a petition in The Sun newspaper and a highly public intervention by the then Secretary of State Ed Balls.

"This prompted initial judgements to be changed, including the conclusion of the original disciplinary hearing that recommended written warnings as opposed to dismissal. This begs the question of how much has the decision-making process been influenced by these external factors in this particular case?”

"It is also important to reflect that a conduct investigation by then regulator the General Social Care Council (GSCC) did not conclude that these social workers should be barred from practice, but instead suspended and allowed to remain on the Social Care Register."

In May 2010 a GSCC hearing described the mitigating factors which it had taken into account in reaching its decision, including the women's admissions of the allegations against them, their otherwise unblemished records, the staff shortages and excessive caseloads at the council at the time, and the fact that Baby Peter's mother was a "skilled and manipulative liar".