Former Baby P boss: ‘I don’t go on to the platform when the tube’s not there’, Ham&High
Sharon Shoesmith on still being fearful in public and why she will not take the blame for a child’s death.
By Anna Behrmann
Sharon Shoesmith, former head of children’s services at Haringey Council, was demonised after seventeen-month-old Baby P, or Peter Connelly, was found dead in his cot in 2007, under her watch.
She took precautions when travelling on the tube to the Ham&High for her interview about her book following her PHD, Learning from Baby P.
She said: “Because I’ve been back in the media, even when I came here today, I was in the tube station and right back against the wall. And then when I changed tube, I was still aware that people might recognise me again.
“I don’t go on to the platform when the tube’s not there, I stay right back in the corridor until it comes in. I don’t go anywhere near the edge.”
At the time of the Baby P tragedy, Dr Shoesmith received death threats and was afraid her house would be set on fire.
She said her two daughters, then in their 20s, “were really quite shocked and traumatised”.
Dr Shoesmith argues herself and other social workers were scapegoated.
Tragic Peter Connelly was visited more than 60 times by various agencies, including social workers and the police.
Peter’s mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker, and his brother Jason Owen were convicted of “causing or allowing” Peter’s death and sentenced in 2009.
Dr Shoesmith was sacked in 2008 but the Court of Appeal ruled in her favour in 2011, finding she was unfairly dismissed by Haringey Council.
She says the public are in denial and another Baby P tragedy will inevitably happen again.
“We understand a lot of other things about our world, the number of women who get breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, but we seem to just bat this one away.
“We can’t face this one.”
She estimates at least one child is killed a week by a family member or person known to them, in cases of “familial child homicide”.
Dr Shoesmith examined convictions for the murder or manslaughter of children under 16 in England and Wales from the Office of National Statistics.
When neglect is taken into account, the number of deaths increases to three or four children a week, she argues, quoting from NSPCC and Ofsted figures.
“If we could raise our awareness, that’s the only way we can begin to tackle that statistic.”
Appearing relaxed during her interview, she is most forceful when she says that she will never take the blame for 17-month-old Baby P’s death.
Her voice raised slightly when she said: “I wasn’t culpable.”
She said: “There’s absolutely no way in which I’d take personal responsibility for the murder of a child, no way I’d ever do that.
“And I don’t think social workers should ever do that either, take personal responsibility, they aren’t personally culpable.
“I didn’t know Peter, I wasn’t there. The social worker knew him but she in no way would have been party to a child losing his life.
“As far as I’m concerned, I carried out my responsibility, as many other directors have done before and since, because one child a week dies at the hands of their family.
“And if you’re going to sack social workers and directors, every time that happens, you’re just not going to have a service.”
Dr Shoesmith now fills her time with consulting work for social workers, including volunteering with iamsocialwork and Social Workers Without Borders.
Book royalties will support Dr Shoesmith in her volunteering work.
– Learning from Baby P – The Politics of Blame, Fear and Denial is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.