'I should have said sorry in Baby P press conference' - Press Gazette

'I should have said sorry in Baby P press conference'

The former director of children’s services at Haringey Council who was sacked over the killing of Baby P has admitted that she thought about killing herself at the height of the press speculation over her future.

Sharon Shoemsith was sacked in December after it emerged at an Old Bailey trial that Baby P died after suffering more than 50 injuries at the hands of his abusive mother, her boyfriend, and their lodger, and that despite 60 contacts with the authorities over eight months, Haringey Council failed to step in to save the child.

Shoesmith admitted in a Guardian interview this weekend that her failure to apologise when making a statement to journalists after the verdict was a major mistake.

She said: “You know, I’ve thought and thought about that and I thought, well in some ways we were so sorry and distressed about this, we almost did not say that.

“Nobody, you know nobody was more sorry and distressed than I was, to be sitting there telling this to the public through the press representatives.”

She said that, after the press conference, “Haringey’s team, who were with me, said you need to deal with this thing of, of sorry, and what I was saying back was: ‘Well of course we’re sorry’ and I said right, OK, I need to say that better than I was doing.”

But she added that in 15 interviews after the press conference, three of them live, she did say she was sorry, and deeply distressed.

The Sun launched a campaign for Shoemith’s sacking and urged readers to phone up Shoesmith and her colleagues – publishing their telephone numbers.

Shoesmith told The Guardian that one man called her at 5am every morning with a different suggestion for how to kill herself.

She said: “You do consider how to stop it all, you know. You can just walk off the end of the tube platform and stop it all and I certainly did think about that on occasion, and there was certainly another occasion in the middle of the night when I gathered up all the paracetamol that existed in the house and there was nothing like enough.”

In an editorial, The Guardian said: “What really did for Ms Shoesmith was her abject failure in media-handling, hardly a core professional competence for a bureaucrat.

“If she had been savvy enough to look the cameras in the eye and utter a personal apology, would the Sun really have collected one a half million signatures calling for her head?

“And without the head of steam on Fleet Street, would children’s secretary Ed Balls really have taken the exceptional step of personally insisting upon her removal?

“Even if he had, without pressure from the press he would surely not have sought to micro-manage the financial terms of her severance from the council.”

Sun editor Rebekah Wade defended her paper’s coverage of the Baby P case in a lecture last month.

She said: “Campaigns provide a unique connection to the public especially when the subject matter is of a serious nature.For me, nothing can illustrate this connection better than our recent Baby P campaign.

“The public outcry was deafening. And we began our fight for justice with a determination to expose the lack of accountability and responsibility for Baby P’s brutal death.

“We delivered 1.5 million signatures to Downing Street and the collective power worked.

“Children’s secretary Ed Balls was forced to use emergency legislation to ensure that those responsible were held to account. We received many many thousands of letters at The Sun about our Baby P coverage.

“I’d like to read you one: ‘I have never been a huge fan of The Sun, however I thank you for the coverage of Baby P. I am so grateful for the campaign. This is not a modern day witch-hunt but a petition for justice. Please, please do not relent.’

“In contrast, I’d like to quote from an article in… The Guardian. ‘Full of fury and repellent hysteria, but isn’t that part of the game? This is less about the creation of public emotion and more about its manipulation.’

“This knee-jerk tabloid kicking reaction is just dull. But total disregard and respect for public opinion never ceases to amaze me.

“They demanded accountability. And as a result of the campaign, some, just some, of those responsible were removed from office without compensation.

“Or as this Sun reader wrote: ‘The tabloid press, which the arty-farty press like to look down on so much, has shown that it prides morality over political correctness.'”

Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette