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Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Thursday, 1 April 2010 12:34 UK
Ofsted 'beefed up' Sharon Shoesmith criticisms

By Tim Donovan
BBC London's Political Editor

Sharon Shoesmith

Ofsted inspectors 'beefed up' criticisms of former Haringey children's boss Sharon Shoesmith under pressure from the government, her lawyers claim.

They also allege that Ofsted inspectors may have broken the law by deleting material on the Baby Peter case after requests had been made under the Freedom of Information Act

They say documents - which Ofsted originally failed to disclose to a High Court hearing - reveal how the official report into Haringey was manipulated by senior officials and made more negative to give Children's Secretary Ed Balls grounds to sack Ms Shoesmith.

But Ofsted say the documents were 'immaterial' , containing no 'smoking gun', and none of the allegations on the deletion of emails and failure to disclose documents were "remotely made out."

Baby Peter's mother, Tracey Connelly, 28, her partner Steven Barker, 33, and Barker's brother Jason Owen, 37, were all jailed for their part in his death.

Ms Shoesmith is taking action against Children's Secretary Ed Balls, Ofsted and Haringey Council over her sacking for failing to prevent the death.

Baby P
Baby P died after months of abuse despite being monitored by officials

After a ruling by the judge Mr Justice Foskett in the autumn, Ofsted was forced to hand over more than 2,000 pages of material not made available to Ms Shoesmith's original judicial review hearing.

It included all the earlier drafts of the Joint Area Review, which government lawyers had first said were not relevant and then later insisted had not been kept.

'Measured' to 'damning'

In a written submission to the High Court James Maurici, Ms Shoesmith's barrister, claims the official report changed dramatically from its first 'measured' draft containing some criticisms, to the final published version described as 'damning' by Mr Balls.

Criticisms specific to Ms Shoesmith - not in the original draft - were added at a later stage, and several recommendations dealing with failings by the police and NHS were removed.

He claims the case was hardened against her after interventions from Ed Balls' officials including his permanent secretary David Bell who requested the report be "clear in its judgments and attribution of responsibility" and provide "definitive evidence on which the minister can act."

Mr Maurici writes, "The final report is far more negative, stripping out much of the positive, turning mixed findings into negative ones and emphasising/strengthening the negative further. Moreover, new negative findings are introduced later in the redrafting process specifically focused on the Claimant (Ms Shoesmith)."

The final report is far more negative, stripping out much of the positive, turning mixed findings into negative ones
James Maurici
Ms Shoesmith's barrister

In the original draft of the Ofsted report, the first main finding was that "the contribution of local services to improving outcomes for children and young people at risk, or requiring safeguarding is inadequate."

But when the report was published, criticisms of "strategic leadership and management' - which Ms Shoesmith claims were directly aimed at her - had found their way in.

In its main findings of the final report was the claim that "the arrangements for the leadership and management of safeguarding by the local authority and partner agencies in Haringey are inadequate."

Unfair and unlawful

Ms Shoesmith's central claim is that Ofsted's inspection was unfair and unlawful, because she was not given feedback nor the nature and seriousness of its findings nor given a chance to challenge them. Ofsted claim the 'gist' of the 'central concerns' was conveyed to her during the inspection.

In their response, Oftsed lawyers say there was 'nothing remotely sinister or improper' in refining the findings of the inspection through discussion over the week the final report was drafted.

"All the main findings (of inadequacy) in the final report are in substance reflected in the final draft," they say.

"The issue in this case is procedural fairness, not the substantive merits of the Joint Area Review report."

Lead inspector Heather Brown told the High Court last year that the quality of social work in Haringey was the worst she had ever seen, and 'the evidence of inadequate safeguarding practice was overwhelmingly strong.'

But Mr Maurici accuses her of 'misleading' the court when she claimed she had "written every word" of the report, something Ofsted now accept was not 'literally' true. And he says Ms Shoesmith was left in the dark.

"If the first draft report did not record central concerns that later found their way into the final report, that undermines very seriously the credibility of any suggestion that these concerns were communciated to (Ms Shoesmith) just a few days before that first draft report was produced."

Deleted emails

During the process, a senior Ofsted official Phil Pullen instructed inspectors to delete emails relating to Baby P or Haringey.

Mr Maurici says the day before Ofsted had received a request for material under the Freedom of Information Act. Several other FOI requests came in during the inspection.

It is a criminal offence to delete or destroy requested information after an FOI request is made.

Mr Maurici says 'extensive deletion' did take place.

"If material was being deleted after these (FOI) requests were made then criminal offences... would have been committed."

Ofsted admits the instruction to delete was an "error" but was retracted the same day, making it unlikely any significant material was removed.

In his submission, Ofsted barrister Tim Ward says Ms Shoesmith's concerns about deleted material was "exaggerated" and an offence under the FOI Act was only possible if there was "specific intention to thwart" an FOI request.

He concludes: " There are suggestions in the claimant's response that Ofsted may have simply manufactured manufactured evidence, deliberately destroyed documents to thwart proceedings, succumbed to political pressure, and may even have committed criminal offences.

"None of these allegations - or rather suggestions - are remotely made out."

In his written submission James Eadie, for Children's Secretary Ed Balls, said: "There can be no suggestion but that the JAR (Joint Area Review) was independent and acted at all times as such - no political interference with process, or conclusions, is or could be alleged."


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