In October, we learned that the long running dispute between Sharon Shoesmith, former director of Children’s Services and her employer, Haringey Council has ended with a final settlement in her favour.
In August 2007, baby Peter Connelly was tragically found dead in his cot. Following a criminal investigation, his mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and brother Jason Owen were charged and subsequently convicted of causing or allowing his death.
Ed Balls, then Children's Secretary, instigated an investigation to determine whether the Local Authority was at fault or could have taken action to prevent this. On 8 December 2008 Ms Shoesmith’s contract was terminated with immediate effect, a decision taken by Mr Balls.
In 2011 the Court of Appeal concluded that Mr Balls’ actions were intrinsically “unfair and unlawful”. While the Judge acknowledged that Ms Shoesmith was not entirely faultless, he concluded that she was denied the opportunity to put forward her side of the case because Mr Balls had hastily decided that she was to blame.
Since the Court of Appeal finding, the parties have been in discussions to settle the claim in order to avoid any further court action. They have now agreed the settlement which has not been disclosed.
Many politicians, including Mr Balls himself, have condemned the settlement. However, there has been little acknowledgement of the fault of Haringey Council and Ed Balls. Mr Balls can be criticised for making a knee-jerk decision without considering the proper legal process and the need for that employer to have conducted a fair legal process.
The case serves as a timely reminder to employers of the need to follow a proper procedure. Employer should analyse all the facts and hold discussions with all affected parties, particularly the accused, before taking a decision to dismiss.
However sure you may be of an individual’s culpability, it is important to take an objective, measured and evidence-based approach rather than relying on a gut reaction.
We operate a tailored service to support employers when dealing with an employee’s conduct. We offer step-by-step guidance to ensure that employers avoid substantial costs and embarrassment in the future.