Those who speak out must be protected

Carole Baptiste, a former social services team manager at Haringey
Council, involved in the case of Victoria Climbie, has claimed that
she is a victim too, having been fined £500 for repeatedly
refusing to appear before the public inquiry. Baptiste’s lawyer,
Peter Herbert, argued that racism had “delivered” his client to the

A number of those who worked under Baptiste have said that she was
more interested in her Christian beliefs and her position in
society as a black woman than the job in hand – but they spoke out
only after Victoria had been murdered.

An internal investigation into the 1999 joint review of Haringey
social services department concluded that it failed to reveal what
was really happening in children’s services. In 2004, the
Commission for Social Care Inspection will take the place of
reviews. No matter how thorough the new system, what will also be
required on occasion is the input of individuals who have been
either ignored or patently absent from the sad life of Victoria
Climbie – the whistle-blowers.

These are men and women who risk careers and friendships to insist
to their seniors that much is amiss in the organisation of which
they are a part. Three years ago, the Public Interest Disclosure
Act 1998 came into force, improving whistle-blowers’ rights. Under
a High Court ruling, once a potential whistle-blower had made an
application to an employment tribunal, the basis of his or her case
was protected by qualified privilege, and therefore it could be
reported in the media.

In July 2000, the government, trumpeter of more transparency,
overturned that ruling. Secrecy was once more restored. The general
impression remains that he or she who blows the whistle becomes a
martyr, while little changes.

Last week, Marta Andreasen, the European Commission’s chief
accountant, was suspended. She had been appointed by Neil Kinnock,
the commissioner in charge of rooting out corruption. Andreasen
discovered that the EC budget was “massively open to fraud” and
refused to sign the accounts. As a result, she has been sidelined
by her alleged protector.

For the voice of truth to be heard in a workplace mired in bad
practice and mismanagement if not outright criminality, it requires
more than legislation, no matter how strong. We need a cultural
change too, so that the moral compulsion to speak out receives a
positive and constructive response without recourse to lawyers, and
long before a major tragedy occurs, like the death of a child.

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