The Peter Connelly case, also known as the “Baby P” or “Baby Peter” case, and the subsequent dismissal of Haringey Council’s director of children’s services, Sharon Shoesmith, fundamentally changed child protection in England. Referrals have increased hugely and social workers have been faced with a level of scrutiny and rage not encountered since the Victoria Climbié case.
On 3 August 2007, Peter Connelly was found dead in his cot 48 hours after a doctor failed to spot the child’s severe injuries, including a broken spine. The toddler was on Haringey Council’s child protection register throughout eight months of abuse in which he suffered more than 50 injuries. His family had been seen 60 times by agencies, including social workers from the council, which previously found itself at the centre of a national outcry over the murder of Victoria Climbié by her great-aunt and her boyfriend.
Baby P was 17 months old when he died. On 11 November 2008, Peter’s step-father, Steven Barker, and Barker’s brother, Jason Owen, were convicted of causing or allowing the child’s death. Peter’s mother, Tracey Connelly, had already pleaded guilty to this charge. This complex case took many twists and turns – both in and out of the courtroom, as explained in the timeline (below).
Reports published about the case
● Joint Area Review of Haringey, ordered by children’s secretary Ed Balls in November 2008 and published July 2009
● Damning Joint Area Review, published December 2008
The “Baby P” effect: rising referrals
Many local authorities have reported an increase in referrals since the Baby P case broke, leading to high pressure on social workers and their departments. It has also put pressure on budgets, with the Local Government Association predicting a significant rise in the cost of children in care.
Social workers demonised
The media furore around the Baby P case was monumental. Although there was a lot of coverage, The Sun newspaper’s demonisation of social workers stands out. The tabloid delivered more than one million signatures to Ed Balls calling for the sacking of all social workers involved in the case and used the headline “Blood on their hands”. The paper’s editor later denied the instigation of a “witch hunt”, saying The Sun’s campaign forced the government into necessary action.
Maria Ward, one of the social workers who oversaw the Baby P case, said she had to go into hiding after death threats.
Sharon Shoesmith, director of children’s services at the time of Baby P’s death, was sacked by a panel of councillors on 8 December 2008 over the case. In October 2009, judicial review proceedings were issued on behalf of Shoesmith against Ofsted, Ed Balls and Haringey Council.
The judge’s verdict was delayed when Ofsted announced it had discovered thousands of pages of undisclosed evidence relevant to case, including numerous drafts of the disputed Haringey inspection report.
On 23 April 2010, Mr Justice Foskett ruled against Shoesmith at the end of her 17-month battle for compensation.
Despite this ruling, the judge criticised Ofsted’s role in the case, particularly its failure to disclose key documents until after the hearing, and planned to take up his concerns with the Treasury Solicitor.
Shoesmith was presented with the right to appeal against this ruling, though on 6 July 2010 she told a Community Care journalist that “the question of appeal is ongoing, nothing is settled yet”.
In November 2010, it was announnced that Sharon Shoesmith would go through with her appeal against the High Court ruling and continue her legal battle against Ofsted, the government and Haringey Council.
Social worker misconduct
On 29 April 2009, Haringey council dismissed a social worker and three managers for failings in the care of Baby P. In May, Maria Ward, Peter’s social worker, Gillie Christou, Ward’s manager at the time of the case, and Cecilia Hitchen, who was deputy director of children and families, appealed against their sackings. In July Clive Preece, former head of children in need and safeguarding at Haringey, also appealed against his sacking.
In April 2010, the General Social Care Council (GSCC) issued conduct proceedings against Ward and Christou. At the GSCC hearing in May, Ward and Christou admitted their failure to protect the boy amounted to professional misconduct.
Following a damning joint area review of Haringey’s safeguarding services published in December 2008, Ed Balls ordered an emergency inspection after the Baby P case came to wider attention during the court hearing.
The second review said Haringey had made “limited progress” since the 2008 joint area review. Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said in a letter to Ed Balls that she believed the second inspection had happened too soon.
What would you have done in the Baby P case?
In the wake of the full publication of the second Baby P serious case review, child protection consultant and trainer Perdeep Gill looks over the case history and re-examines the options that professionals on the case faced.
1 March: Peter born to Tracey Connelly.
November: Connelly’s partner Steven Barker moves in.
December: Connelly arrested after bruises spotted on Peter’s face and chest by a GP.
January: Connelly released and Peter returned home.
February: Former social worker Nevres Kemal alerts DH to her worries about child protection in Haringey.
1 April: Ofsted takes over responsibility for inspecting children’s services from the CSCI.
April: Peter is admitted to North Middlesex hospital with minor injuries.
May: After seeing marks on Peter’s face, a social worker sends the toddler to North Middlesex hospital where bruises and scratches are found. Connelly is re-arrested.
June: Barker’s brother, Jason Owen, moves into the home.
30 July: Injuries to Peter’s face and hands are missed by a social worker.
1 August: Peter is examined at a child development clinic, where severe injuries, including a broken back, are missed.
2 August: Police tell Connelly she will not be prosecuted.
3 August: Peter is found dead in his cot.
1 November: Owen and Barker are found guilty of causing Peter’s death. Connelly had pleaded guilty to the same charge. Lord Laming commissioned to review progress on his recommendations after Victoria Climbié’s death.
13 November: Children’s secretary Ed Balls orders a joint area review of safeguarding in Haringey, later criticised by the sector.
November: Balls brings in John Coughlan, Hampshire Council’s director of children’s services, to provide support to Haringey’s senior management in children’s services and appoints Peter Lewis as the new director.
Ofsted finds Haringey’s initial serious case review on the case inadequate.
1 December: Balls states the joint area review reveals a catalogue of safeguarding failings in Haringey. Haringey Council leader George Meehan and cabinet member for children and young people Liz Santry resign. Sharon Shoesmith is removed as the council’s director of children’s services.
8 December: Shoesmith is sacked by a panel of councillors.
19 February: Dr Jerome Ikwueke, a GP who saw Peter more than a dozen times, is suspended by the General Medical Council.
15 March: A leaked report into Peter’s death suggests there were further missed opportunities to save him from abuse.
May: Peter’s name is revealed at the request of his family.
The final serious case review is published, concluding that Haringey child protection agencies should have saved Peter.
22 May: Connelly is jailed indefinitely with a minimum five years for her part in her son’s death. Barker is jailed for life with a minimum of 10 years for raping the two-year-old and 12 years to run concurrently for his role in Peter’s death. Owen is jailed indefinitely with a minimum term of three years.
October: Connelly decides against going through with an appeal to her sentence. Owen’s appeal is approved.
14 July: Dr Jerome Ikwueke, the north London GP who failed to see signs of abuse when examining Peter Connelly in the months leading up to the child’s death, is deemed to have his “fitness to practise impaired” by a disciplinary panel.
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