To the parents of Victoria Climbié, the eight-year-old girl who died in 2000 after being battered by her great-aunt and great-aunt’s boyfriend in a seedy Haringey council flat, the disciplinary procedures employed by British local government must seem to take place in a parallel universe. On Wednesday morning, listeners to Radio Four’s Today programme were treated to the pained tones of Lisa Arthurworrey, the social worker who had been responsible for Victoria’s welfare and who is now to appeal against her sacking by Haringey borough council for gross misconduct. Ms Arthurworrey complains that although she made mistakes she was misled by doctors and let down by her managers, and that therefore she deserves to have her job back.
We do not wish to damn unnecessarily the career prospects of Ms Arthurworrey, who for all we know may have some very employable qualities. But it is surely obvious to anybody outside a public sector human resources department that it would be better if she did not return to the role of protecting Haringey’s children. By her own admission, Ms Arthurworrey failed to read properly a 19-page fax from paediatricians describing the extensive bruising of Victoria’s hands, cuts on her body from a razor blade and a ‘pungent smell’. She said on the programme that she was not worried — it was the police who were. On the basis of her one meeting with the great-aunt, she said, ‘I had perceived Kouaou as a caring person who was trying to do the best for the child.’ When she did eventually knock on the door of Victoria’s aunt’s flat, where the girl was by then tied up in a bin-liner, she assumed that because there was no reply the family must have gone to live in France.
If ever there was an open and shut case for dismissing an ineffective employee, this is surely it.