Balls denies Baby P chief’s ‘reckless’ claims

Ed Balls has denied claims from the sacked head of Haringey children’s services that his handling of the Baby P case was “breathtakingly reckless”.

In her first interview since being dismissed from her £110,000-a-year post after a damning report into her department’s failings in the death of Baby P, Sharon Shoesmith claimed she was a victim of a media “witch hunt”.

However, children’s minister Mr Balls has denied Ms Shoesmith’s claims, saying he did not “jump in”.

Baby P died after suffering more than 50 injuries by August 2007, despite being under supervision from council workers in the north London district.

Ms Shoesmith, 55, stressed she “grapples” with concerns over her personal responsibility for the child’s death on a daily basis and had had “many sleepless nights over it”.

She added: “But if there’s a young person killed through knife crime this weekend, and I hope there isn’t, do we expect the borough commander of that London borough to resign? We don’t, we don’t.”

Ms Shoesmith, who lost an appeal against her dismissal last month, attacked the release of a 16-page Ofsted report which criticised ever level of Haringey children’s services.

“The first time I saw that report was when it was already published on a website accessible to the public,” she told the Guardian and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

“The first time I knew any inkling of the degree of criticism in it was watching the Secretary of State live on television.”

“I was shocked at how fast it became a party political issue, both locally and nationally,” she added.

“It has just been deeply reckless, breathtakingly reckless, and I don’t think people really understood quite what the impact could be.”

In response Mr Balls stressed he “wasn’t reckless”.

“I didn’t jump in, even though I was pressed to do so, I waited for an independent report,” the children’s minister said.

“I sent in inspectors – the experts – to do the work. In a devastating report, they said there were real failures in management in Haringey.

“In the end the director of children’s services has to take responsibility.”

Ms Shoesmith admitted she mishandled a press conference after the convictions of Baby P’s mother, her boyfriend and her lodger Jason Owens over the child’s death.

At the time Ms Shoesmith said: “The very sad fact is that we can’t stop people who are determined to kill children.”

Questioned about her reaction this week, she told the BBC: “Maybe one of the things we misjudged was the public opinion in this… interviewers are going to ask me ‘can you guarantee there won’t be any more deaths?’ and that’s a very difficult question.

“In many ways I had to answer it honestly and the public didn’t want to hear that honest answer.”