Children’s secretary Ed Balls’ interference in the Shoesmith case has been heavily criticised by a High Court judge, despite the ruling that Balls’ overall conduct was lawful.
Mr Justice Foskett said he was “concerned” by Balls’ comments at a press conference that Shoesmith should be dismissed without compensation.
“That, as he said himself, was a matter for Haringey [Council] and it was wrong to give support to that position no matter how strongly some people might have felt about it,” the judge stated.
He also criticised the children’s secretary’s comments about Shoesmith at subsequent press conferences as she “had not had a proper opportunity to refute what was to be said”.
However, the judge said the importance of the case meant that Balls legitimately made fairness a lower priority than would normally be the situation in employment cases.
The result was that Shoesmith received a level of fairness which was “by no means at the level normally to be expected where a disciplinary or similar process was being pursued”.
Lead opposition politicians have called into question Balls’ handling of the case.
Shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton expressed relief that, for the time being at least, “public money is not going to be used to compensate failure”.
“But this also leaves some very serious questions to be asked about the relationship between the secretary of state, the government, Ofsted and Haringey Council over who was responsible for what for what and when,” he said.
“Rather than just pursue a witch-hunt, we need to find out what support was given and what reports were changed to introduce any element of spin, which would be completely unforgivable in this tragic case.”
He called on Balls to take responsibility for what happened.
“I want to have an inquiry into the role of the secretary of state and what he knew when.”
Shadow secretary of state for children, schools and families Michael Gove said the case showed the need for transparency and demanded that serious case reviews were published in full.
“Dismissing Sharon Shoesmith was the right thing to do and she should not have brought this case to court, but what matters here is not the adults but the children. I have been campaigning for years for the Government to reform child protection and publish the secret inquiries so that we can learn from mistakes and ensure child safety. Sadly Gordon Brown and Ed Balls have refused.”
Judge rules Sharon Shoesmith case was lawful