Disciplinary procedure into Baby P social workers “flawed”

TWO social workers involved in the protection of Baby P initially escaped the sack because of a “deeply flawed” disciplinary process, a tribunal heard yesterday.

Sharon Shoesmith, the then director of Haringey’s children’s services, concluded that Maria Ward and Gillie Christou should not be sacked for failures in the safeguarding of Peter Connelly, the tribunal heard.

The 17-month-old boy was found dead in his blood splattered cot in August 2007 after suffering horrific cruelty at the hands of his mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owen.

Ms Ward, 40, was Peter Connelly’s nominated social worker and Mrs Christou, 52, was her team manager.

The pair both received written warnings after undergoing internal disciplinary proceedings, following Peter’s death, under Ms Shoesmith’s command in May 2008.

But their mistakes were only exposed after Ms Shoesmith was herself dismissed as Haringey’s director of children’s services over the tragedy in December 2008, the tribunal was told.

Stuart Young, an assistant chief executive at Haringey Council, told the tribunal that grave failings they made concerning Peter’s care were known to senior managers at this time.

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“This process was one that was closely managed by Ms Shoesmith,” he said in a witness statement.

“It was only when I looked at the cases following Ms Shoesmith’s dismissal in December 2008 that I became aware of the deeply flawed nature of the

disciplinary investigations and hearings that had taken place in or around May 2008.”

Mr Young led Haringey’s second inquiry into Mrs Christou and Ms Ward’s conduct in Peter’s case, which resulted in their sacking in April last year.

Gillie Christou and Maria Ward were fired by Haringey Council for “gross misconduct’” after a second investigation found they committed serious failings in protecting the vulnerable child.

Both women claim they were unfairly dismissed following the public outcry over the case.

Nick Toms, counsel for Ms Ward and Mrs Christou, alleged that Haringey Council only sacked the social workers in response to political and media pressure.

He said: “Heads had to roll - regardless, I suggest, of the evidence.”

Mr Young replied: “That’s not an assertion that I would agree with.”

Haringey’s second disciplinary investigation found that Ms Ward accepted the word of Peter’s mother, Tracey Connelly, after the toddler’s child minder reported that he had a bruise on his chin, the tribunal heard.

Mr Young said in his statement: “Ms Ward accepted the explanation for the bruise given by Tracey Connelly, Peter’s mother, without challenge...

“The issue here was an insufficient level of challenge made by Ms Ward to a situation which should have been of more concern.”

In May a General Social Care Council (GSCC) disciplinary committee suspended Ms Ward for two months and Mrs Christou for four months for their misconduct in the case.

The pair admitted failing to ensure Peter was visited regularly enough, not keeping adequate records and even losing contact with him for a time.

But the GSCC panel ruled they could remain on the social care register, allowing them to resume working with vulnerable children after the end of their suspension.

Mr Young told the tribunal: “The likelihood is that they would have been dismissed following the GSCC proceedings.”

Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker, and his brother, Jason Owen, were jailed in May last year for causing or allowing Peter’s death.

The employment tribunal in Watford, Hertfordshire, continues.