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Council lawyers admit mistakes over Baby Peter case

Date:22 MAY 2009

By Hugh Logue, Newswatch Editor

Haringey Council probably had sufficient evidence to justify taking Baby Peter into care days before he was killed, according to legal documents disclosed last night.

According to various newspaper reports, the documents reveal that council lawyers involved in the case privately admitted that it was "likely" that there was enough evidence to justify taking the toddler into care.

This contradicts the legal advice given to social workers a week before Baby Peter died that proceedings to remove him from his family could not go ahead because the risk threshold to trigger an application to take him into care had not been met.

The documents reveal that police and social workers sought a legal planning meeting about Baby Peter on 4 June 2007, three days after social workers found bruises and marks on the toddler's face.

However that meeting was postponed for seven weeks due to administrative errors. When the meeting was finally convened on 25 July 2007, the lawyer verbally advised the threshold for legal proceedings had not been met. Baby Peter died on 3 August 2007.

At an independent inquiry into the death, Haringey Council's lawyers said that this advice was flawed and given by an inexperienced locum lawyer and went on to say that it was "likely that the threshold criteria were met at the time [of the legal planning meeting]".

Today a second serious case review into the death, ordered after ministers dismissed the first serious case review for being inadequate, has concluded that child protection staff should have been able to stop the abuse "at the first serious incident".

The revelations also come as Baby Peter's mother was sentenced today to an indefinite jail term for causing or allowing the toddler's death. She must serve at least five years.

Her boyfriend was jailed for twelve years for causing the death and for life for raping a two-year-old girl. He must serve at least ten years.

Their lodger, Jason Owens, was jailed indefinitely for causing Baby Peter's death, and must serve at least three years.

Yesterday Baby Peter's mother apologised for failing to protect her child from the violence inflicted on him over several months by her boyfriend.

The mother presented the judge at the Old Bailey with a handwritten letter in which she wrote: "By not being fully open with the social workers I stopped them from being able to do a full job. As a direct result of this my son got hurt and sadly lost his short life. I am never going to see my lovely son grow into the lovely sweet man I believe he would have been. I have lost all I hold dear to me, now every day of my life is full of guilt and trying to come to terms with my failure as a mother."

In sentencing the mother and Mr Owens, Old Bailey Judge Stephen Kramer said: "Any decent person who heard the catalogue of medical conditions and non-accidental injuries suffered by Peter cannot fail to have been appalled". He also described the mother as a "manipulative" and "self-centred" person with "a calculating side as well as a temper".

The mother had managed to deceive social workers into believing that the injuries that led to her son's death were accidental. He had been seen sixty times by health or social workers during an eight-month period.

Last year, the mother, her 32-year-old boyfriend and Mr Owens, 36, were all cleared of murder because the jury could not agree on which of them had caused the injuries. Sentencing was postponed until the outcome of a separate case which found the boyfriend guilty of raping a two-year-old girl. The motherand her boyfriend cannot be named for legal reasons.

A paediatrician who saw Baby Peter the day before his death failed to spot his broken spine. A post mortem examination revealed he had suffered more than fifty injuries, including a broken back, ribs and severe head injuries.

Last week the Care Quality Commission published a report showing systemic failings in the healthcare provided by NHS trusts to Baby Peter and said that "the NHS must accept its share of the responsibility".

To read the sentencing remarks in full for the Baby Peter case click here.