Sun apology and damages to Baby P social worker

A social worker targeted by The Sun in its Justice for Baby P campaign has received an apology and substantial damages.

The High Court heard this morning that Sylvia Henry was one of several social workers at Haringey Council which The Sun said were partly responsible for baby Peter Connelly’s horrendous death in 2007.

She was named in 80 articles, including around 11 front pages, and the High Court was told that she also featured in a petition which was signed by 1.6m people and delivered to Number 10 Downing Street.

The court heard that Henry has been a social worker in Haringey for 23 years and spent most of that time working with families and children in need and at risk. She is said to be ‘intensely proud of the work that social workers do to support and protect families and children”.

She was the team manager of the Referral and Assessment Team at Haringey social services when, on 11 December 2006, nine-month-old Peter Connelly was referred to her team by the Whittington Hospital, where he had been taken by his mother with an injury to his head.

The court heard that the doctors had found evidence of other injuries to the baby for which no convincing, innocent explanation had been given and which were highly suggestive that he had been physically abused.

According to this morning’s statement in court, for the next six weeks – until Peter’s case was transferred to Haringey’s Long Term Safeguarding Team – his care was the responsibility of Henry and her team.

Six months later, in August 2007, Peter Connelly was dead and it would later emerge that, as this morning’s statement put it, he had been ‘horrifically beaten and abused before finally being killed, by his mother, Tracey Connelly, or by her boyfriend, a man called Steven Barker, or his brother, one Jason Owen”.

The Sun’s Justice for Baby P campaign began on 13 November, 2008, following the conviction of the three for causing Peter Connelly’s death.

According to today’s statement, various Sun articles stated that:

  • “Henry had been grossly negligent in her handling of Peter Connelly’s case
  • “that she was thereby to blame for his appalling abuse and death
  • “that she had shown no remorse for these failings
  • “that she was shameless and had ducked responsibility for Peter’s death
  • “that she was a lazy social worker who had generally shown an uncaring disregard for the safety of children, even in cases where they obviously required urgent protection.”

The Sun also referred to Henry being involved in the case of Victoria Climbie, an eight-year-old girl abused and killed by her carers, an aunt and her boyfriend, in Haringey eight years previously.

The court heard that it accused Henry of ‘lying to the inquiry into that case conducted by Lord Laming and of trying to avoid criticism for alleged failures by her in that case”.

The Sun is set to publish an unreserved apology to Henry.

Henry’s lawyer Daniel Taylor (of Taylor Hampton) told the court: “The Sun is here today to acknowledge that, however sincere and well intentioned its campaign, Ms Henry should never have been one of its targets. My Lord, The Sun unreservedly accepts that there is no justification for any of the allegations about Ms Henry to which I have referred.

“The Sun accepts that Ms Henry was not at fault or to blame in any way for anything done by Haringey social services that may have contributed to Peter’s terrible abuse and death. They accept that she did her very best for Peter and particularly that she made repeated efforts to have him kept safe by being placed in foster care rather than being returned to the care of his mother.”

Solicitor for The Sun Ben Beaby said: ‘On behalf of the defendant I confirm all that has been said by the solicitor for the claimant. The Sun fully accepts that the claimant played no part and bears no responsibility for the circumstances surrounding the death of Peter Connelly and that she did her best for him. The Sun apologises to Ms Henry.”

Henry’s solicitors declined to be drawn on the level of damages awarded to her. But the ceiling for UK libel payouts is believed to be around £200,000.

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