As readers will recall, 17 month old Peter Connelly (baby P) died after suffering abuse at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s brother. They are now all serving sentences in prison for causing or allowing Peter's death.
Ms Shoesmith held the statutory post of Director of Children’s Services (DCS) at Haringey at the time of P’s death. The day after the conclusion of the criminal trial, the Secretary of State requested that the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED) together with the Healthcare Commission and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary produce an urgent report into child safeguarding arrangements in Haringey. The report concluded: ''In this case the practice of the majority, both individually and collectively expressed as the culture of safeguarding and child protection at the time, was incompetent and their approach was completely inadequate to meet the challenge presented by the case of child A (Peter).''
The day after the report was published; the Secretary of State announced that he would be appointing a new DCS for Haringey. He also said that, as Ms Shoesmith was employed by Haringey it would be for them to make the decision about her employment but nonetheless he made clear his view that she should not be rewarded with compensation. Ms Shoesmith was summarily dismissed by Haringey Council without compensation. Ms Shoesmith subsequently applied for, and was granted leave to bring a claim seeking judicial review of the following:
- the OFSTED report and the process that led to it;
- the action of the then Secretary of State, to remove the claimant from her statutory office based upon the report (a direction was made under the Education Act 1996 s.497A(4B)); and
- the actions of Haringey in dismissing her from her employment.
Ms Shoesmith sought a declaration that each of these resulted from legally actionable unfairness. In the High Court her claims were not successful and eventually she obtained leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal in relation to OFSTED but held that the directions of the Secretary of State were procedurally unfair and that she is entitled to a declaration that her dismissal by Haringey was unlawful. She is therefore entitled to claim compensation from Haringey although the court recognised that it would be appropriate for the local authority to seek a voluntary contribution from the Secretary of State. Ms Shoesmith could be in line for a £1 million payout.