The untold story behind Baby P tragedy
The untold story behind the media headlines following the death of Peter Connelly was heard by delegates at the British Association of Social Workers annual conference.
Professor Ray Jones, whose book re-examining the tragedy is to soon be published, said despite being most heavily condemned, the reality was social workers had been “on the job” while other professionals that had made errors escaped criticism.
Co-speaker Sharon Shoesmith, director of children’s services at Haringey Council when Peter died, claimed politicians and the media had colluded to unfairly scapegoat social workers.
Addressing delegates at the London event, Prof Jones said evidence showed there had been nothing to raise significant safeguarding concerns during the first nine months of Peter’s life.
In his last nine months, when things became more difficult domestically, there had been extensive engagement with the family, Prof Jones highlighted.
“This was not a child that was unseen. This was not a child that was going without help. To be honest, I am impressed by the range of assistance that was provided to the family and Peter and his sisters.”
However, he said, other professions had made errors. The Metropolitan Police delayed an investigation started in 2006 after the leading officer was deployed elsewhere and failed to pass on the case. Police also failed to gather forensic evidence, such as photographs of injuries, in a timely fashion and did not record interviews with family members.
The pediatrician employed by Great Ormond Street Hospital to assess Peter two days before he died did not have the relevant expertise for the role.
Legal advice to social workers by Haringey Council came from a locum officer with little experience in children’s legislation.
Prof Jones said: “My pitch in my book is that social workers were on the job. These are the bits of the story that have never been retold in the media.
“Why did Peter Connelly become a national and international story? One argument is because this was Haringey. Haringey has always been a target for The Sun newspaper. The Sun targeted Haringey as a 'loony-lefty' authority for years.”
Prof Jones explained how the intervention of David Cameron, who was Opposition leader at the time, turned the story into a political issue.
Ofsted also escalated the story, he said, by changing an inspection report so a previously “good” judgement of Haringey’s children’s services became “inadequate” in the wake of the media focus.
Ms Shoesmith, who has been unable to find work since she was sacked by former children’s secretary Ed Balls in 2008, claimed while others ran for cover, social workers were hung out to dry.
“Our partners the Metropolitan Police Service and Great Ormond Street Hospital were powerful players in Haringey, against which we stood not a chance. We were absolutely fed to the media.”
Ms Shoesmith added: “Whatever else you think you know about Peter, know this. He died on a Friday. The previous weekend he stayed with his father and grandmother. He returned to his mother and the next day, on Monday, the social worker saw Peter’s mum and the natural father for a visit.
“Two days later, Peter had the appointment with the Great Ormond Street specialist. The next day, the police met the mother with the social worker and she was told there was no evidence against her. That afternoon, a health worker met her on the high street in Haringey and chatted to Peter and the family and the next morning he was dead.
“How does that fit with what you have read? It could have been any of your cases, colleagues, it could have been any of you.”
Ms Shoesmith urged social workers to tackle the vilification of social work to stop others going through what she and those involved in the case went through.
“Nothing stood between us and the mob. We were absolutely out there in fear of attack. Women were outside my flat shouting at me. They were outside the court and sitting behind me in court. I had three death threats. My windows and doors were secured by the police and my daughter lost her hair during that process.
“I was given police advice about how to be safe at home and on the street. I had a device attached on my door that would hold burning material until help arrived.”
One of the dismissed social workers had to leave her home of 19 years “like a thief in the night” she said.
“For all of us we have fought to hold on to our mental health. Who has helped us? Each other. There were five of us who worked together. Two have moved away, and the three of us have stuck together. When we feel we are struggling we contact each other, it has been self-help.”
Ms Shoesmith, who is currently doing a PhD drawing on her experience, said she has hundreds of damning email exchanges between Number 10 and Ofsted.
“Some of them are very revealing. Talk about the vilification of social workers, my God, it is institutionalised. Far more than I would ever have understood.”