Haringey comms team under fire

Haringey Council's comms team were made aware of the death of Baby P months ago, insiders have revealed.

Tragedy: Haringey faces criticism after two high-profile cases
Tragedy: Haringey faces criticism after two high-profile cases

The council’s comms chief Mike Browne did not deny that his 25-strong team had months to work on its response. One source noted that, last month, Browne was busy organising the CIPR’s local government conference in Bath, in his role as chair of the local government committee.

But Browne declined to discuss his team’s handling of the crisis. He subsequently sent an email to PRWeek claiming: ‘As the issue is still under way, I am focusing on dealing with it and am not able to comment on any analysis of it.’

London Borough of Hillingdon head of comms David Holdstock – who is also chair of LGComms – defended Haringey. He said: ‘This could have been any of us. Because they had the Victoria Climbié case and have now got this case five years later, people were bound to say didn’t you learn anything from five years ago?’

But crisis comms experts slammed various aspects of Haringey’s response. Bell Pottinger head of issues and crisis management Alex Woolfall highlighted the initial statement by director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith.

He said: ‘The first quote from the woman was You can’t stop people from killing their children. I thought what an incredibly naïve thing to say. It is bog standard crisis comms – the first thing you
do is you acknowledge that something has gone wrong.’

The press conference held by Haringey was criticised by the Daily Mail for being held in a four-star hotel. It also relied on graphs and charts. ‘Speak in the same language,’ advised Woolfall. ‘If people are talking in emotional terms do not reel out charts, graphs and status reports.’

Kinross + Render CEO Sara Render said that the combination of the Victoria Climbié case – which occurred in the same borough – and the fact that two of the three defendants were given anonymity should already have set alarms bells ringing. ‘People are looking for fiends,’ said Render.

One senior local government PRO said part of the problem was that comms off-icers had been excluded from the ‘top table’ in such cases.

Woolfall said: ‘If they were being given good advice, it hasn’t got through to them. Judgment seems to have gone wrong there.’

 

Timeline

19 November Haringey Council leader George Meehan apologies in a council meeting but resists calls for his resignation

18 November The Daily Telegraph reports that Meehan has not spoken to newspapers about the case

15 November Haringey social worker Nevres Kemal reveals all about team-building jaunts to Barcelona

13 November Council cabinet member Liz Santry finally issues a statement: ‘I have to say that we are truly sorry that we did not do more to protect him’

12 November Sharon Shoesmith refuses to apologise. She says ‘we can’t stop people who are determined to kill children’ and that she ‘certainly won’t be resigning’

11 November National media get wind of the Baby P story

8 Days taken for Haringey Council leader to apologise

80k Number of signatures on The Sun’s petition for sackings

7 Months that head of comms Mike Browne has been in role

25 Members of comms team at Haringey Council

4,514
Online news stories about Baby P at time of writing

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