Baby P social workers lose appeal

In the UK, two of Baby P’s social workers have lost an appeal against an employment tribunal ruling that they were fairly sacked.

Gillie Christou and Maria Ward claimed they were unjustly fired by Haringey Council in north London in response to a public outcry about the little boy’s horrific death.

A Watford employment tribunal panel previously concluded that the local authority acted reasonably in dismissing them because of serious failings in their care of the toddler.

At a brief hearing today at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in central London, at which neither woman appeared, Mr Justice Wilkie announced the pair’s appeal was dismissed.

Speaking after the short hearing, solicitor Riz Majid, representing the women, said they plan to appeal.

"Maria Ward and Gillie Christou are disappointed by the result.

"We will be studying the judgment carefully with a view to going to the Court of Appeal."

The women's lawyers previously argued that their case had been bolstered by a landmark Court of Appeal ruling in May last year that Haringey's children's services director Sharon Shoesmith was unfairly sacked over the Baby P tragedy.

Senior judges found the council and former children's secretary Ed Balls acted in a way that was "procedurally unfair" when Ms Shoesmith was first removed from her post and then fired without compensation in December 2008.

Mrs Christou and Ms Ward's legal teams claim they suffered "double jeopardy" because they faced two Haringey misconduct panels looking at the same allegations against them.

The first disciplinary proceedings, overseen by Ms Shoesmith, concluded that they only needed to receive written warnings, but the second resulted in them being fired.

Their lawyers also argued that the original employment tribunal should have taken into account the fact that Haringey social services were "under-resourced and under-supported" at the time.

Baby P, now named as Peter Connelly, was just 17 months old when he died in Tottenham, north London, on August 3 2007.

He had suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over eight months.

Ms Ward was Peter's nominated social worker at Haringey Council from February 2007 until his death, and Mrs Christou was her team manager.

The pair were sacked after an investigation which discovered there was a period in mid-2007 when they did not know where the child was.

Peter's mother claimed she had taken the little boy to visit her sick uncle in Cricklewood, north west London, despite being told to return home.

A lawyer for Haringey Council told the employment appeal tribunal that the episode represented a "serious error of judgment" on the part of the social workers.

Ms Ward was also found to have failed to meet a requirement to see Peter at least once a fortnight.

In May 2010, a General Social Care Council (GSCC) disciplinary committee suspended Ms Ward for two months and Mrs Christou for four months - on top of a 16-month interim suspension ahead of the hearing - for their misconduct in the Baby P case.

The pair admitted failing to ensure Peter was visited regularly enough, not keeping adequate records and losing contact with him for a time.

Peter's mother Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker, and his brother Jason Owen were jailed in May 2009 for causing or allowing the boy's death.

The written judgment from Mrs Justice Slade, handed down on her behalf by Mr Justice Wilkie today, said: "The appellants, the social worker responsible for the care of Baby P and her team manager, were held not to have been unfairly dismissed by Haringey for their respective failures in dealing with this case."

The judgment said the Employment Tribunal (ET) did not "err" in finding that Haringey Council was allowed to conduct second formal disciplinary proceedings against the pair.

"It was thought that the previous record-keeping and procedural charges against them which were dealt with using a simplified procedure, under which the maximum penalty was a written warning which they received, did not adequately reflect the seriousness of their failings," it said.

"The previous proceedings were rightly taken into account in determining the fairness of the dismissals.

"The ET did not misdirect themselves or come to a perverse conclusion in deciding that the delay between the events which formed the basis of the complaints against the appellants and the second disciplinary proceedings did not cause them prejudice or render the dismissals unfair.

"The ET did not err in law or come to perverse conclusions in dismissing the appellants' claims for unfair dismissal."

The judgment said the women had failed to surmount the "high hurdle" of proving the original tribunal decision was "perverse".

"The ET heard the cases of Mrs Christou and Ms Ward over eight days," it said.

"The appellants were represented by counsel. In concluding that the dismissals were within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer in the circumstances the ET addressed the right questions of law and reached a conclusion open to them on the evidence."

It said taking all relevant matters into account, the employment tribunal "did not err in law or come to perverse conclusions" and added: "These appeals are dismissed."

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