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Haringey's handling of Baby P tragedy has been truly shocking

PUBLISHED: 10:39 21 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:39 07 September 2010

I ve been receiving much correspondence from Haringey Council about the horrifying Baby P case. Or to be more precise, about what the council s legal services department has been doing in the High Court to prevent the reporting of the full story . The up

I've been receiving much correspondence from Haringey Council about the horrifying Baby P case. Or to be more precise, about what the council's legal services department has been doing in the High Court to prevent the reporting of 'the full story'.

The upshot is that I know who little Baby P was, but I cannot tell you. I know the identities of the vermin who tortured him to death, but I cannot tell you who they are. There is a great deal about this horrific case that cannot be shared with an outraged public.

Often, there are good reasons why judges impose reporting restrictions, especially when children are involved. There is a strong argument for ruling that if other innocent youngsters are involved, such as brothers or sisters, nothing should be published which might identify them - even if it means that as a consequence, people guilty of the most heinous crimes cannot be named and shamed.

It is right that other children involved in this real life horror story should have every chance to live normal lives, free from any association with the tragedy - though a moment of truth may still arrive when they become adults and all reporting restrictions expire.

But in addition to trying to protect children, I have also become very aware of Haringey's efforts to do everything it could to selfishly protect its own reputation and prevent 'the full story' from being told.

I can only assume that this was in the naive and foolish hope that a shameful episode in its history would somehow be glossed over.

But any hope that the media might simply raise an eyebrow and move on to the next big story disappeared last week in a disastrous stage-managed press conference from which children's services director Sharon Shoesmith somehow managed to emerge as the most reviled woman in the country.

The media arrived expecting heartfelt and solemn apologies, but instead was treated to the macabre spectacle of a steely council official referring to her department's statistical triumphs in the face of adversity, as if she was making a presentation to senior management.

But a child had died. Seasoned reporters couldn't believe what they were seeing and hearing. From that moment, they were out to get her. I'm bound to say that some of what followed was unfair. Pictures of Ms Shoesmith on a social outing, some weeks after Baby P's death, were deemed worthy of the front pages. Did we really expect her to go into a lengthy period of official mourning?

The backlash against Haringey Council and in particular Ms Shoesmith was furious. It might all have been very different had she received sensible advice from people in touch with public opinion, and been encouraged to show a more human face.

To fail to apologise when the occasion - and indeed the nation - demanded it, was a gross error of judgement.

But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Unforced apologies weren't in Haringey's vocabulary when Victoria Climbie was murdered under its watch, and sadly it seems no different today.

Geoff Martin


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