Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 19:12 UK

Baby P 'witch hunt led to sack'

Sharon Shoesmith
Ms Shoesmith claims her dismissal left her financially ruined

The children's secretary bowed to a "media witch-hunt" when he dismissed a senior council executive following the death of Baby Peter, a court heard.

The High Court heard Ed Balls ordered the removal of Sharon Shoesmith from Haringey Council following "uninformed prejudice" by tabloid newspapers.

A judicial review is looking into Ms Shoesmith's claims she was removed as head of children's services unlawfully.

Peter Connolly died at the hands of his family in August 2007, aged 17 months.

He had suffered 50 injuries despite receiving 60 visits from social workers, doctors and police over the final eight months of his life.

'Party politics'

James Maurici, appearing for Ms Shoesmith, said the extent of public concern about the death of Baby P was a legitimate consideration for the minister.

What was not legitimate was that he had regard "to the media storm and witch-hunt against my client" and removed her without giving her a proper opportunity to defend herself.

Lawyers for Mr Balls argue that the minister had to intervene in the Baby P tragedy to restore confidence nationally in the child protection system.

We say we are dealing with a flagrant breach of natural justice
James Maurici

It was not to win party political points, or a knee-jerk response to media pressure, he said.

Ms Shoesmith, 56, was dismissed without compensation in December after a damning Ofsted report into her department's failings.

Mr Maurici told Mr Justice Foskett: "We say we are dealing with a flagrant breach of natural justice."

In particular, a petition calling for Ms Shoesmith's removal, containing more than one million signatures, was delivered to No 10 by The Sun newspaper.

The petition was not expressing public opinion, but directly calling for Ms Shoesmith's dismissal on the basis of uninformed prejudice, the court heard.

Mr Balls met a journalist from the newspaper to discuss the issue.

Mr Maurici said the irony was that The Sun was granted this audience with the secretary of state, but Ms Shoesmith, whose career was being ended, was never given the opportunity to make any submissions to him.

The hearing continues.

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