12:35pm Tuesday 29th October 2013
© Press Association 2013
A payout to f ormer child protection boss Sharon Shoesmith over her unfair dismissal following the Baby P tragedy "leaves a bad taste in the mouth", former children's secretary Ed Balls has said.
A settlement which could reach up to £600,000 has been agreed, though Ms Shoesmith may receive a lower sum, according to BBC2's Newsnight.
Some of the cash will come from central government coffers but Haringey council, in north London, will foot most of the bill, it reported.
Mr Balls removed Ms Shoesmith from her £133,000-a-year post as Haringey Council's director of children's services after a damning report on the death of Peter Connolly.
She was then fired by the council without compensation in December 2008, after a report from regulator Ofsted exposed that her department failed to protect 17-month-old Peter - then known publicly as Baby P. She has reportedly not worked since.
Mr Balls, now shadow chancellor, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "An independent report said there were disastrous failings in Haringey children's services.
"They said the management was at fault. Sharon Shoesmith was the director of children's services and so of course it leaves a bad taste in the mouth that the person who was leading that department and responsible ends up walking away with, it seems, a large amount of money."
Downing Street said the Department for Education's contribution to the payout would be made public.
At a regular Westminster briefing the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "With regard to the amounts, that's a legal agreement between Ms Shoesmith and Haringey so I don't propose to comment on that.
"With regard to confidentiality clauses, that's again one that has been agreed between the council and Ms Shoesmith. It would be for the council to justify that.
"As part of the Court of Appeal ruling the Department for Education was ordered to pay a contribution to her payout.
"Whilst that contribution hasn't been agreed the Department for Education will make public the amount that it is contributing."
Mr Balls said: "The payout is something that will appal people across the country. What it can't do is bring back a little boy who lost his life because he was failed by Sharon Shoesmith and that department. That's the truth and that will never change."
Ms Shoesmith's lawyers argued that she was the victim of ''a flagrant breach of natural justice'' fuelled by a media witch-hunt.
In May 2011, the Appeal Court concluded she was unfairly sacked because Mr Balls and Haringey did not give her a proper chance to put her case before her removal.
The Department for Education and Haringey sought permission to attempt to overturn the ruling in the Supreme Court, but judges rejected the applications, clearing the way for her to receive compensation, which some experts predicted could be in the region of £1 million.
Mr Balls said: "There was a legal process and the courts have taken one view which I, and the Department for Education, have consistently taken a different view of.
"At every stage my responsibility was to keep children safe in Haringey and across the country. In law I had the right to remove a director of children's services from his or her post if they had failed.
"The independent report showed clearly there had been a terrible failure and I acted in the public interest."
Mr Balls said the Appeal Court had concluded he should have held a meeting with Ms Shoesmith before his decision, but the advice he had been given was that would have been "quite wrong".
He added: "I made the decision to remove the person who had failed, I did so in the best interests of children across the country. Faced with the same situation I would do the same thing again.
"Of course the idea that Ms Shoesmith walks away with a large amount of money sticks in the craw for me and, I think, for millions of people across the country."
A Haringey Council spokeswoman confirmed that a settlement had been reached but the terms of the agreement were confidential.
She said: "Following the decision of the Court of Appeal in favour of Ms Shoesmith, and the court's direction that the parties seek to resolve the issue of compensation, the London Borough of Haringey and Ms Shoesmith have reached a settlement in this case.
"The terms of the settlement are confidential. We are unable to comment further on this matter."
Baby Peter died in Tottenham, north London, on August 3 2007 at the hands of his mother, Tracey Connelly, her lover, Steven Barker, and their lodger, Jason Owen.
He had suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over the final eight months of his life.
A series of reviews identified missed opportunities when officials could have saved his life if they had acted properly on the warning signs in front of them.
Tory former children's minister Tim Loughton told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We published the full serious case review - both of them - into this whole case so we could get some transparency into all of this, so we can put things out into the open.
"And yet, several years on from this tragic death in 2007, we are effectively rewarding failure.
"When you are appointed a director of children's services - this is the whole point of the reforms after Victoria Climbie, which again happened in Haringey - is that the buck has to stop somewhere and someone has to take responsibility.
"You don't expect that person accepting responsibility, reluctantly in this case, to get a very large cheque on the back of it as well."
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said the reported payout was "pretty shocking".
He told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "It was an extraordinary story that, about what happened in the aftermath of that tragedy and I'm not in a position to judge all of the decisions that were taken by the authority.
"But it is pretty shocking, the scale of the reported payout, given what tragedy unfolded in that particular borough."
The programme reported that Ms Shoesmith had posted a statement online saying she hoped to resume work with children.
It quoted her as saying: "A final farewell to Haringey as my case concludes.
"I wish those of you in children's services, especially in Haringey, success, strength and courage in all that you do.
"Children have been my life's work and I hope to continue in some capacity soon now that my PhD is almost complete."
The settlement was condemned by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who said Haringey Council was "bankrolling a state-sponsored cover-up".
He said: "There should be no rewards for failure in the public sector or the private sector.
"We've been very clear that legal devices like non-disclosure or compromise agreements should not be used to gag staff or brush under the carpet golden goodbyes to senior staff.
"I fail to see how Haringey Council's secretive actions are in the public interest, given the astonishing sum of taxpayers' money involved and the immense public concern and upset at the Baby P scandal.
"Bankrolling a state-sponsored cover-up is a massive error of judgment by Haringey Council, and compounds their mishandling of the whole affair."
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