Sacked children’s services chief loses claim for unfair dismissal

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A COUNCIL council children’s services boss sacked after the death of a toddler has lost her claim for unfair dismissal, leaving taxpayers with a £175,000 legal bill.

Jill Baker, 56, was dismissed from her £120,000-a-year director of children’s services job by Salford Council in December 2009 following the death of two-year-old Demi Leigh Mahon.

An inquiry found the youngster was let down by social workers before being murdered by her 15-year-old babysitter in July 2008.

After a damning report into the child’s death, Mrs Baker, before consulting senior councillors, told the media that no-one would be disciplined in connection with her department’s failings.

She was then sacked by the council for gross misconduct.

In a case with echoes of the Sharon Shoesmith Baby P debacle, Mrs Baker claimed unfair and wrongful dismissal against the local authority, saying she had done nothing wrong and was being made a “political scapegoat”.

But following a three-week hearing in Manchester earlier this year, the Employment Tribunal has said the council could reasonably conclude Mrs Baker had committed a “serious error of judgment” in telling the Press no-one in her department would be disciplined without consulting key town hall bosses.

The council also said it had lost confidence in Mrs Baker’s ability to lead the department and in particular in the children’s safeguarding service, following a number of incidents and critical external reports.

The case has cost Salford Council around £175,000 in legal fees which it is unlikely to be able to recoup.

The tribunal also found that Mrs Baker had failed to progress a review of social worker teams working in local communities “with all too obvious potential fatal consequences” caused by confusion and gaps in an inadequate service.

Councillor John Merry CBE, leader of Salford City Council, said: “We are pleased the tribunal has decided we made the right decision, but it is disappointing we had to spend so much of the council’s time and money to reach this stage.”