Former Director of Social Services, academic and Policy Press author Professor Ray Jones follows up his blog on last week’s BBC documentary Baby P: The untold story on the 7 questions to ask when watching the programme. Here he offers his insight into what the programme revealed and what should happen next.
The recent BBC documentary ‘Baby P: The Untold Story’, made by Henry Singer and Jenny Saunders, held few surprises for those who had tracked the media’s creation and peddling of the ‘Baby P story’. But it very helpfully profiled and put into the public arena what the press, politicians and the police preferred to keep secret and unknown. Singer and Saunders deserve thanks for their commitment, indeed bravery, in the face of powerful forces, in confronting a wrong which still needs to be properly righted.
The documentary told a ghastly tale of how those with power worked together for their own ends and purposes to focus blame for the terrible death of a little boy, Peter Connelly, on social workers and their managers and on a paediatrician. She, the public now know, was left exposed and unsupported in a role for which she was inexperienced and not appropriately qualified.
The testimony from her husband about the devastating impact on her and her family of the press and political vilification, which was misplaced and misinformed, that she failed to identify a child with a broken back, was one of the most emotionally moving moments in the programme. Alongside Dr Al-Zayyat’s husband, it was the humility and humanity of Maria Ward, Gillie Christou and Sharon Shoesmith, the social worker and her managers, which shone through and illuminated what otherwise was a dark tale of powerful people behaving badly.
So where and what now? The documentary exposed a number of issues but left others floating in the air. They need to be grounded and those who chose to create personal danger by whipping up wrongly targeted anger and hatred should be held to account.
First, the Metropolitan Police. The two criminal investigations they undertook before Peter died have never been properly scrutinised and reported in the public arena. They may have sought to deflect attention from themselves onto the social workers. It is time now for their own actions to be the subject of public review.
Secondly, Ofsted and Mr Balls. Both seemed to have been heavily influenced by the hate campaign, the so-called ‘Campaign for Justice’, generated by Rebekah Brooks as editor of The Sun, demanding the sackings of social workers and their managers. It should also be the subject of further review and reflection that a Secretary of State, and what was presented as an independent national inspectorate, should apparently be so cornered by a tabloid newspaper.
There has never been an inquest into Peter Connelly’s death, but one should now be held. It would explore, amongst other issues, the actions of the police and the NHS which to-date have been left largely without scrutiny. It may also clarify how a case of chronic neglect spiralled into horrific abuse in a very short time before Peter died.
Given what has increasingly become known about Ofsted and its engagement with Mr Balls’ senior civil servants, there is now a need to consider again the rushed, selective and skewed Ofsted-led Joint Area Review, commissioned by Mr Balls, and the second Serious Case Review, both of which were undertaken and delivered at the height of The Sun’s campaigning.
The House of Commons Education and Children’s Select Committee should see it as a priority to consider whether a major national inspectorate, with a key and crucial role in overseeing services to protect and care for children, itself became compromised amidst the heat and hatred generated by the press and politicians, and with our current prime minister, Mr Cameron, allied to The Sun’s campaigning.
In 90 minutes the BBC documentary raised a number of major concerns which should not remain unaddressed. They are concerns which are also raised, with more time and in more detail, in ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’ book. A new, and more accurate, telling of the ‘story of Baby P’ has now emerged. Its implications and import have still to be followed through.
Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and the author of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’, published by Policy Press in July. The book is available for just £10 (+p&p) on the Policy Press website.
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