Sharon Shoesmith and the ‘Polkey’ principle

May 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm (child abuse, crime, Jim D, law)

“I don’t do blame.. you cannot stop the death of children” – S. Shoesmith, BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, 28 May 2011

If I was a friend of, or adviser to, Sharon Shoesmith, I’d strongly urge her to stop giving interviews. Radio interviews in particular. Every time she opens her mouth, millions of listeners are antagonised and enraged. Her former colleagues and other professionals who’ve worked with her say she’s a highly capable manager with a strong commitment to children’s services. On the radio, she comes over as spectacularly arrogant, self-righteous and lacking in even a scintilla of  self-awareness. Her extraordinary performance on this morning’s Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme is not the first time she’s displayed an alarming lack of humility, remorse or compassion. She put on a similar performance when interviewed on ‘Women’s Hour’ in February 2009, much to the consternation of Mumsnet commenters at the time.

This outstandingly unsympathetic woman emerged from her victory in the appeal court yesterday with a disgusting display of triumphalism (“‘I’m over the moon. Absolutely thrilled’) and only a passing mention of her “sorrow” at the death of baby Peter Connelly, thrown in almost as an afterthought.

Having got all that off my chest, I have to say that there is no doubt that Shoesmith was unfairly dismissed. Prior to her dismissal she was denied due process. No disciplinary procedure was followed. Her dismissal was announced on TV by Ed Balls, thus forcing the hand of her actual employers, Haringay Council. As Lord Justice Kay said after the judgement, “This is not to say that I consider Ms Shoesmith to be blameless or that I have a view as to the extent of her or anyone else’s blameworthiness. That is not the business of this court…Whatever her shortcomings may have been (and, I repeat, I cannot say), she was entitled to be treated lawfully and fairly and not simply and summarily scapegoated.”

In other words, this was what employment lawyers call a “Polkey” victory, after the landmark case of Polkey v A.E. Dayton Services Ltd, which established the principle that a failure to carry out a reasonable and proper procedure alone can constitute an unfair dismissal, even if carrying out a proper procedure would have made no difference to the final outcome.

Ms Shoesmith will not be re-instated, but is now widely expected to receive arrears of her £133,000 pa salary from the date of her dismissal in December 2008, plus pension contributions for that period.

I’m not familiar with Court of Appeal compensation rules, but at an employment tribunal, a case won purely on the “Polkey” principle, where the tribunal believes the dismissal would have happened even had a proper procedure been followed, will result in massively reduced compensation: usually down to six weeks’ pay (the time, it is estimated, that a proper procedure would have taken).

As Ms Shoesmith has stated that it was “justice not money” that lay behind her legal challenge, perhaps she’ll now publicly announce that she is willing to accept compensation of, say, £15,346 plus pension contributions?

Baby Peter Connelly Peter Connelly died with more
than 50 injuries on Shoesmith’s watch. But she refuses to accept responsibiliy.


  1. Rosie said,

    The Guardian’s leader on this:-

    “The court of appeal was extremely clear where blame lay for the way Ms Shoesmith was dismissed. It lay with Mr Balls for rushing his fences too eagerly and Haringey for following him over them too blindly. As soon as the horrific Baby P criminal case ended in November 2008, Mr Balls got Ofsted to conduct an urgent report on the state of the obviously compromised child safeguarding arrangements in Haringey. That was sensible, given the seriousness of the case and Haringey’s reputation, though it was inevitably a bit of a rushed job. But, three weeks later, as soon as he received Ofsted’s critical report, Mr Balls threw judgment to the winds. He called a press conference at which he publicly dismissed Ms Shoesmith. Haringey immediately suspended her and then, a few days later, fired her without compensation or payment in lieu of notice.

    Very few people who have studied the Baby P case in detail will be in much doubt that Ms Shoesmith bears a very serious share of responsibility for the Baby P case failings and for the unacceptable state of child services in her borough at the time. If proper procedures had been followed it is unlikely she would have remained long in her post or have had any case against her dismissal. But Mr Balls, with Haringey in his wake, should not have blundered in the way that they reacted to the scandals. Ms Shoesmith was entitled to be treated in a procedurally proper way. Mr Balls brushed all that aside. He was too ready to do the bidding of the media, which wanted Ms Shoesmith’s head immediately on a platter. He put his political convenience above his ministerial responsibility. Haringey followed where Mr Balls led. Incredibly, their cavalier approach to law has turned Ms Shoesmith into a victim. If Mr Balls had still been in office, yesterday’s ruling should have forced his resignation. Instead, he insisted that he would have handled the case in exactly the same way if he had his time over again. This is not just foolish but worrying.”

    The media proposes, the politician disposes. As you say, Shoesmith doesn’t do herself any favours and probably she should have resigned at once. On the other hand I can see why she’s digging in her heels against public and political pressure of that kind.

  2. maxdunbar said,

    She is an absolute disgrace, and so are the union spokesmen defending her. The case is not about protecting social workers, it is about protecting the six figure salaries and pensions of the public sector management class. Shoesmith deserves pretty much all the vilification heaped upon her criminally negligent head

  3. jack haslam said,

  4. jack haslam said,

    I’m really dismayed to see you joining in the witch hunt of Shoesmith.

  5. Mr Jolly not Jelly said,

    Dumbar as usual. an idiot

  6. Blerg Commenteryer said,

    Wot a piile os shhit. LLike tha DAILy MAIL orf suM shit. buRN TH E WIITCH!

  7. Rosie said,

    I liked Joan Smith’s take on this. I find the politicising of this affair pretty repugnant.

    Let’s be clear: what happened to “Baby P” was unspeakable. He was on Haringey’s child protection register when he died at the hands of his mother, Tracey Connelly, her lover Steven Barker and Barker’s brother, Jason Owen, in 2007. It was one of those shocking cases which raises questions about child protection procedures, but that doesn’t mean the professionals involved lose their right to due process. Indeed, one of the consequences of Balls’s conduct is that Shoesmith may be entitled to reinstatement of her pension rights, her salary since her sacking and compensation.

    I’d much rather live in a world where public employees are given the chance to defend themselves at an impartial hearing, but it’s also clear in this case that such a course of action would have been cheaper for taxpayers. Bizarrely, the Department for Education and Haringey Council announced on Friday that they would now take the case to the Supreme Court, racking up the costs even further.

    I know Ofsted’s report exposed failings in Shoesmith’s department and she didn’t succeed in her legal bid to have it quashed, even though it emerged at the High Court last year that the report had been “beefed up” at the request of Balls’s department. He was a minister in a Labour government that took the much-criticised decision to merge child protection and education services, which meant that people whose experience was in education (like Shoesmith) were suddenly in charge of social work departments with huge case-loads.

    Shoesmith’s lawyers said in court that the impact of her dismissal and the hate campaign against her had been “catastrophic”. She has been unable to work for two-and-a-half years, she’s had suicidal thoughts and she’s still hounded by the media. Even after the judgment, Balls and was unrepentant, while indignant commentators toured the TV studios, claiming to speak on behalf of the entire nation.

    Not for me, they don’t. I’m sickened by a public appetite for vengeance that will be satisfied only by this woman’s total ruin and humiliation.

  8. maxdunbar said,

    Yeah, because criticism of an executive who presided over horrific failings is EXACTLY like what happened to ‘witches’ in medieval England.

    Fucking grow up.

  9. Mr Jolly not Jelly said,


  10. Sharon Shoesmith and Corporate Accountability « Max Dunbar said,

    […] as public services come under unprecedented attack, up comes Sharon with her £1 million payoff and her list of self justifications and excuses. The story could have […]

  11. Esther said,

    I am not surprised at all as to what Ms Shoesmith encountered at the hands of her employers & the secretary of state. This is a drop in the ocean to what I had & continues to endure at the hands of the same government agents/ offices.
    What concerns me now is the same predicament I had faced had gone to the same judiciary since 1978 & is still on going. Surprisingly my evidence of having been unlawfully scapegoated set up & dismissed on 3/2/78 with no prospect of a job whatsoever since then, did not have any impact on the Judiciary.
    When employers fail to correctly apply the law they should face the music in the same way that employees do most of the time.
    I believe the public should be educated the more as to the existence of liability in employment law. If they do they will understand its application & not be so upset about the outcome of Ms Shoesmith’s case.
    Undoubtedly. what happened to baby P was horrific & with hindsight should never have happened. We all have a duty to raise concerns about situations of such nature & not shy away until it is too late.

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