LYNNE FEATHERSTONE: Why heads must roll over Baby P failures
PUBLISHED: 10:24 21 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:38 07 September 2010
THE tragedy of Baby P s death has hung over all our lives during the last week. The depth of public anger and outrage is enormous – reflected in my postbag, email inbox and phone calls to my office. Our justice system has done its part with the prosecutio
THE tragedy of Baby P's death has hung over all our lives during the last week. The depth of public anger and outrage is enormous - reflected in my postbag, email inbox and phone calls to my office.
Our justice system has done its part with the prosecution of those responsible, but we also need to be sure that we learn what can be learnt. There is much we do not yet know - such as why there was a four-month gap between the decision to have Baby P checked over by a paediatrician and the appointment actually taking place.
But we do know how Haringey Council has been responding to warnings about how it was looking after children. For all the good work done by many front line staff, at the most senior levels the reaction to concerns and warnings has been one of delay, hostility, failure to act and unwillingness to accept responsibility.
There is much over-blown rhetoric in politics, but grotesque really is the right word to describe Haringey's initial press conference at the start of last week - repeatedly refusing to admit responsibility or to apologise or admit to the possibility that those in senior roles had a responsibility for things having gone wrong.
If that had been just one press conference, perhaps we could conclude that while it was a case of bad judgement, an apology had now been made and an inquiry is happening, so let's move on.
But it wasn't a one-off. It is the same attitude that has met repeated attempts by myself and others to raise concerns over the last few years.
To give you just a flavour. I personally met with George Meehan and Ita O'Donovan, Haringey Council's leader and chief executive - to raise with them three different cases, where the pattern in each case was one of Haringey seeming to want to blame anyone who complained rather than looking at the complaint seriously.
I was promised action but, despite repeated subsequent requests for news on progress, I was just stonewalled.
Gail Engert, a Haringey councillor, had several serious, credible contacts from residents concerned about how Haringey was looking after children and whether the lessons from Victoria Climbie's death had been learned. And when she raised one of these with senior council staff, she was berated for having the temerity to raise such issues.
When another councillor, Martin Newton, then raised the issue through the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Haringey Council's political leadership stonewalled again.
After eight months, all they decided was to have a feasibility study into whether a review was needed.
Neil Williams, who was leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Haringey at the time of Baby P's death, issued a very mild press statement expressing sorrow and saying that Haringey needed to look at any lessons to learn. The council's reaction? To put pressure on him to withdraw the statement. To Neil's credit, he refused.
And Haringey Council's reaction to Baby P's death last year? It was to put round a memo with already closed minds saying that concerns about parallels with the Climbie tragedy were misplaced. In January the senior staff decided - again - that they did not think any further investigation of Baby P's death was needed. When finally there was one - a statutory one that is mandatory upon such a death - the lawyer conducting it was not given independent access to evidence.
When prosecutions proceeded, evidence was withheld from the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for much of the process, as the CPS has now confirmed.
Looking at that record, I am in no doubt that there has been persistent failure at the most senior staff and political levels of Haringey Council to act appropriately. And when Baby P died the reaction for a long, long time was to put up the shutters and refuse to countenance that there may have been serious mistakes.
Regardless of what further inquiries may reveal, those persistent misjudgements and failures should be enough for heads to roll.
q Lynne Featherstone is the
Lib Dem MP for
Hornsey & Wood Green
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