Tonight’s Baby P documentary must address the media and political witch hunt against social workers

The author of The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight lays out the three issues the BBC must tackle in this evening’s documentary

Baby Peter died in August 2007 (Image: Rex Features)

By Ray Jones

It is seven years since 17-month-old Peter Connelly died and six years since the ‘Baby P’ story was generated by the media.

The story was strongly, but wrongly, shaped by Rebekah Brooks and The Sun’s ‘campaign for justice’ that demanded the sackings of social workers and their managers – a demand which was speedily actioned by Ed Balls, the children’s secretary at the time, and Haringey Council.

This evening BBC One are broadcasting a documentary about Baby P.

In 2012 the film producers had the first full draft of my book The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight, access to all the collated papers and reports which were the source materials for the book, and over the next two years several briefing meetings and numerous phone calls with me.

I do not, however, know what editorial line the producers have taken in the film.

My hopes for the film are that it will cover three significant concerns, each of which are discussed and detailed in my book.

First, the bullying behaviour of the media, which endangered the lives of social workers, and saw politicians of all major political parties, led by David Cameron, falling in line with the media’s hue and cry that vengeance and vilification be targeted at social workers and their managers.

The Sun headline of ‘Blood on Their Hands’ was the disgraceful pinnacle of the hatred and harassment the media generated.

Second, I hope the film will cover how the Baby P story became focused on Haringey Council, its social workers and their managers, and how significant concerns about the council’s legal services, the police and the NHS were quickly airbrushed out of the story.

This focusing of the story on the social workers and their managers was assisted by a rushed Ofsted-led joint area review and the hasty second serious case review.

Finally, and most importantly of all, the film will hopefully tell viewers about the impact of the Baby P story on child protection and welfare services, with an immediate increase in child protection activity in November 2008 when the media story started and a 45% increase in child protection workloads for social workers, police officers and health workers over the past six years.

This deluge of child protection concerns has taken place amidst public sector cuts, families moving from deprivation to destitution, and chaos created by reorganisations in the NHS, schools and probation.

There is now chaos and unnecessary complexity being introduced into children’s social services, including child protection, through marketisation and privatisation.

Nowhere in the world has privatised child protection investigations and assessments. Elsewhere they are always undertaken within the state and public sectors. In England they are already being taken outside of the state and public sector. This is all being pushed ahead by the coalition government unopposed by Labour.

In his foreword to The Story of Baby P, Patrick Butler tells how those who were cast as the villains in the Baby P story – Sharon Shoesmith and the social workers – are now increasingly recognised as being vilified by the real villains: the press and politicians.

The measure of the BBC film will be whether or not it tackles each of the three issues noted above, including the dismal consequences for the protection of children that resulted from the press and political shaping of the story and its disastrous ramifications, which are still with us today.

Ray Jones is the author of The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight and professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London

More from Community Care

9 Responses to Tonight’s Baby P documentary must address the media and political witch hunt against social workers

  1. Lynne Brosnan October 27, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    A defenseless toddler lost his life and those that ignored him should take responsibility. It is so unfair that agencies are passing the buck so to speak. Baby Peter is not with us his little life was so cruelly cut short and all we hear is stories from agencies passing the buck.
    Those at fault should take responsibility with reassurances that this will not happen again.

  2. Pauline Bradley October 27, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    I am looking forward to seeing the documantary. I worked in Haringey when Victoria Climbie died and tried to combat the witch hunt of social workers then. It is madness (and I’m using that word carefully) to privatise child protection, its a sure way of putting more children at risk and create more baby Peter Connolly’s. However its driven by ideology with no wisdom or care about how social services works or how poor people live.

    • Jazz October 27, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

      Well I’ve watched Panorama and it highlighted the abuse of power and the power of the press. But categorically the abuse of power wielded by those who want it. All Cameron and his cronies’ changes to social work and its partner agencies, i.e., police, education, probation and health need to be repealed. Dividing and conquering by applying market strategies to PUBLIC SERVICES is the beginning of the end to the welfare state in post war Britain as we know it. Where have all the brave and honest leaders gone?

  3. Jon Montana October 27, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    How can you explain every Serious Case Review since Baby P when there is no media spotlight ?

    Month after month another and another and another SCR is published – rarely publicised at all – and all cataloguing the same failings of social workers and social services again and again and again.

    When will you “learn the lessons” from all of these tragic reports ?

  4. ME October 27, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    I will be watching! I was there when Peter was murdered by that vile man and neglected by his mother. I will never forget being informed by Sharon, the devastation to hear such news. It was horrible for a long time after being reminded over and over again by management with them saying “do you want another child to die”….

    There has always been more to this story that was either glossed over or just not reported because it didn’t fit the “blame the social worker” mentality! There is one person in this story that managed to fool many and not have to take responsibility! They knew the family well, made key decisions and yet, managed some how to slink away! Too bad! The full story will never truly be out there until that person comes clean….lets see if the BBC has included them in this horrible narrative on what was (and could still be) an overworked, overwhelmed, stressful system!

  5. Crispin October 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    Excellent programme.
    Balancing the shortcomings of organisations and professionals.Highlighting how press, police and politicians blamed social workers and doctors, while they ducking responsibility.

  6. john Townsend October 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    Having just watched the program it is evident that the sun newspaper among others are responsible for stoking up public opinion almost to the point of Mob hysteria with Rebekah Brooks leading the charge. It’s a pity these newspapers do not do real investigative journalism. Social worker cannot win but the real looser’s are the 260 children that have died as the result of abuse since Baby ‘P’ was killed.

  7. Dr David Hill October 28, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    After watching one of the best informative programmes that the BBC have produced (a long time since the BBC transmitted something that gave the overriding facts and the other side of the media story), it became clear that the destroying of highly sensitive files has to become a criminal offence with a mandatory prison sentence of 5 years for the perpetrators and heads of these authorities involved. Indeed what was seen also that has to stop, is the buying off of the silence of people with ‘public funds’. In the Baby P case £120,000 by lawyers acting for the Authority concerned. Taxpayer’s money also if used to silence people therefore should also be a criminal offence with the same penalties, as the people who are using public funds to cover their tracks are criminals also. This also happened at Rotherham Council where at least 1400 young people and children were violated (estimated by some to be far in excess of these numbers), but where these people who destroy files just get off scot free. In any civilised society this cannot be allowed to continue or are our politicians duplicitous in all this corruption it has to be asked? Indeed, ‘actions’ have to taken and quickly to bring the true feeling of justice back into Britain and where presently it is totally missing where protection of our most vulnerable people are concerned.

    We call countries like China for their so-called criminal activity but where only today it has been announced that they have set up a system where the Chinese people can ring and tell of the wrong doings by their authorities et al…to stamp out corruption(indeed, Baby P and Rotherham Council’s actions are also corruption on a grand scale and no different to China). It’s about time therefore that the British people had this mechanism to bring to justice the criminal activities that abound in our government authorities and agencies.

  8. Chris October 28, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    I spent ages compiling a reply and have just lost the lot! Just about sums up what this job is all about, taking your time to do something properly and then the tools we have crash\fail and people wonder why we are stressed and work 12 hour days!

    In brief, I would urge everyone to watch the programme on catch up TV and read Prof Ray Jones Book, ‘Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’ for a truly unbiased, honest account of the FACTUAL events of the failings of those involved and the ultimate death at the hands of his MOTHER and her PARTNER, not caused by the social worker, her manager or the director for children’s services and how Murdoch’s Newsagency, particularly Rebekah Brooks; Ed Balls and David Cameron whipped the public into such a heightened state of moral panic, that the workers who did everything they could to protect Peter Connelly, were vilified and hounded to the point that the doctor even contemplated suicide and was placed in a psychiatric unit, because of the immense public outcry and what the Sun and NoW published inaccurately about their involvement in Peter’s death.

    How can we have faith in other departments such as the police, Ofsted and health – shame on GoSH for attempting to silence a consultant paediatrician who had raised significant concerns for the safety of children; shame on the police, who could have brought a prosecution of Tracey Connelly, but had ‘lost’ the paperwork and had missed the deadline for doing so; shame on OfSted for what can only be seen as complete COA (Covering of Arse) and removing\deleting documents, stating these are generally deleted within 3 months of completion of an inspection\review – utter B@*%$ks! In a department that works directly with children and families, storage of electronic files would be indefinitely, unless otherwise specified. Why is there no public outcry now? Where is The Sun newspaper now, whipping up the public into a frenzy about those other agencies and apologising to Maria Ward, Gillie Christou and Sharon Shoesmith? They are no doubt licking their wounds and hobnobbing with the current Tory government, and patting themselves on the back for bringing the story to the attention of the public, and giving themselves credit (where none is due) for last night’s investigation. It was noteworthy that Rebekah Brooks declined to be part of the documentary, when her picture was everywhere at the time of the press coverage of the trial.

    Social work is a thankless profession, in terms of public perception, but is one that I am proud to work in. I see excellent work undertaken with families; their trust in the profession is being restored; they believe us when we say we are being open, honest and transparent with them, as they all fear the worst from this moral panic – that we will remove their children. No we won’t, unless that child is placed in the most dangerous situation possible and the risk cannot be managed and that is what we do on a daily basis. We need to get families back on board, so that those children we strive to protect, we can continue to do so and those ‘hidden’ families are brought to our attention, and let us work with them to achieve best outcomes.