Sharon Shoesmith, sacked after the death of Baby P, received £680k compensation

Why has Shoesmith received a pay-off? Is it fair?

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Shoesmith appeal over Baby P

Sharon Shoesmith was head of Haringey council's children's services department when 17-month-old Peter Connolly, known as Baby P, died. His death caused a scandal, as Peter had been visited by social workers, police and health professionals 60 times in the eight months before his death, and yet they failed to protect him. A report in 2007 was highly critical of the service, and in 2008 Ed Balls, who was Children's Secretary at the time, sacked Shoesmith.

The court awarded her a payout, after deciding that the sacking was unfair, and the full extent of the compensation has now been reported.

The case shocked the country, because Peter was on the child-protection register, and visited regularly by social workers, and yet he had been subjected to months of abuse before his death. The subsequent report by Ofsted criticised the department for significant failings - although it did not specifically criticise Shoesmith.

Sacked

Balls made the decision that the report justified the sacking of Shoesmith. However, the way he went about it was central to the case. Shoesmith heard about her sacking from a press conference given by Balls. She was given no right to respond to criticism, which was a flagrant breach of employment law.

She launched a case for unfair dismissal against Haringey council. The council lost, then appealed, and the appeal court ruled in 2011 that her sacking had been "intrinsically unfair and unlawful". At a further hearing in 2013 she was awarded compensation, but details were kept confidential.

Now the BBC has claimed that Haringey's draft accounts for the year reveal the payouts. Newsnight reported that Shoesmith has received £377,266 in lost salary, fees and allowances, £217,266 in compensation for the loss of office, and £84,819 for lost pension contributions. Haringey and Shoesmith both said the terms of the settlement were confidential and Shoesmith told the BBC she did not recognise the figure being claimed.

Reaction

The payout has received strong reactions from those appalled by Peter's death. At the time of the payout, when it was being reported as 'six-figures', Ed Balls said it left a "Bad taste in the mouth" given the criticism of management in the Ofsted report.

Social media is awash with criticism of the payout, and of Shoesmith herself. Prolific commentator Katie Hopkins has taken to Twitter to question whether she deserves the money. The death threats Shoesmith has spoken about before are likely to continue, and it remains to be seen whether she will succeed in finding work after completing her PhD.

However, while no-one has denied that the department failed Peter, subsequent inquiries have shown that hospital doctors and police officers all made serious mistakes and errors of judgment, for which she cannot be blamed. Meanwhile, many of those who worked with Shoesmith have spoken out in her defence. During the hearing, in a statement read to the court, the council's chief executive said: "I would like to make clear that [she] had enormous respect and credibility within Haringey council generally (and with me in particular)".

And there are those on social media who point out that Shoesmith was never guilty of harming a child, and that the payout has come because of a decision made by Ed Balls not to hear her side of the story. As one Twitter user puts it: "Ed Balls used Sharon Shoesmith as convenient scapegoat, it cost public purse a lot in compensation, surely scandal lies with Balls not her?"

Shoesmith Payout Over Baby P Sack