The torture murder of tot Peter Connelly in 2007 slammed many in the emotional solar plexus. For long referred to only as Baby P, Peter was slowly tortured to death by his mother’s boyfriend in his London home while the mother looked on and allowed the child to die. In terms of human cruelty against children this case is hard pressed to find a rival.
Later jailed, the killer and the mother are now said to have found god in their prison cells. Stephen Barker, the prime mover in the child’s death, is reported to have said Jesus has forgiven him. None who buy into that sort of thing should forgive Jesus if he has.
Peter was visited 60 times by authorities during his torture but nothing was done to protect him from his tormentor. Time after time he was handed back to the 6 foot four brute where he was forced to endure his hellish existence over and over again. Merciless and murderous, Stephen Barker, with an addiction to sadism, plied his vicious trade to the helpless child.
At the time the authorities, including police, social workers and medical staff were accused of gross incompetence. Yet with some measure of asymmetry the only serious head of note to roll was that atop the brass neck of Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey's former director of children's services, who recently won her appeal against unfair dismissal. The judges said she had been a sacrificial scapegoat. That verdict is being appealed by the British government. Ed Balls British Children Secretary at the time he dismissed her said he would do the same again.
Now, according to the BBC, it has emerged that ‘detailed criticisms of the failings of Great Ormond Street Hospital over Baby Peter were never disclosed to the original inquiries into the toddler's death.’ Two days before he died, Dr Sabah Al-Zayyat, a consultant locum working at Great Ormond Street Hospital, examined the child only to miss a broken back and return him to his lonely hell.
An independent report by Professor Jo Sibert and Dr Deborah Hodes into this doctor ‘concluded that the unusual bruising to his back and neck and an infected lesion on his head should have alerted her to abuse, and she should have removed him to a place of safety.’ The report called into question the professional competence of the doctor concerned, cast doubt on her experience in the field of child protection, and asked why she had ever been hired given that she did not have the necessary certification. Great Ormond Street Hospital had initially claimed that there was no course of action that its staff could have pursued which would have preserved the life of Peter Connelly. This was patently untrue.
The Sibert-Hodes report was never handed over in full to the Joint Area Review. Ed Balls had used that review as the basis for sacking Sharon Shoesmith. Yet the Joint Area Review was woefully incomplete because Great Ormond Street had airbrushed out its own failings. Shoesmith’s lawyers are now claiming that the case against the social services was ‘beefed up’ while the police and the National Health Service were allowed get out of jail free pass. She has a point. Dr Jane Collins of Great Ormond Street Hospital at least should have been sent packing along with her.
Shoesmith was hard done by only to the extent that she walked the plank alone. The shortcoming of Ed Balls was not that he sacked her but that he did not abide by proper procedure and failed to apply the same sanction to a few more. As a Guardian editorial claimed:
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.
Technicalities should not be allowed to mask the systemic failure to protect a child from torture and murder. Sharon Shoesmith was not alone. Her culpability is therefore shared not absolved.