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April 2, 2010

Sharon Shoesmith was the head of Children’s Services in Haringey when Baby Peter was killed by his carers. In the subsequent furore the responsible government Minister, Ed Balls publicly sacked Shoesmith at a press conference. His action was later justified by a report from Ofsted which was highly critical of the management of Children’s Services in Haringey. Shoesmith, sacked without compensation, jobless and with her reputation ruined then sued Haringey Council for wrongful dismissal. That action should have been concluded some months ago but at the last moment a whole lot of documents about the Ofsted inspection, which Ofsted had earlier denied existed, were suddenly discovered. Only yesterday did those documents enter the public arena following applications by various media organisations.

Shoesmith’s representatives say the documents reveal that senior Ofsted officials systematically beefed up the inspectors’ report which was then used by Ed Balls to justify Shoesmith’s sacking. Lawyers for Ed Balls strongly deny that the writing of the report was influenced by his officials. Probably the fullest report about all this is to be found in the Guardian. Within the next few weeks we should learn what the Judge makes of all this. The judgement will be crucial to Shoesmith’s reputation and future but there may well be much wider implications especially for Ofsted if the Judge finds their much trumpeted independence and impartiality to be flawed and that their report was essentially yet another dodgy dossier.

What I find fascinating is the way different newspapers have reported this. Surprisingly, the Mail provides a full, detailed and reasonably balanced report. Even more surprisingly the Sun, which led the mob against Shoesmith at the time, provides a report which although brief, deals with both sides of the story. However a piece in the Telegraph by Caroline Gammell and Martin Evans emphasises that Shoesmith could be in line for a £1m payoff and ends by quoting “a source close to the case” who  “said a payment would provoke a public backlash”. I just wonder if that “source close to the case” might also quite close to the Right Honourable Ed Balls MP and, why the Telegraph of all papers, should come to the aid of a Labour minister?

Image Beau Bo D’or

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