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FRONT LINE FIRST - SOCIAL SERVICES

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Now Lord Laming's inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie has come to an extraordinarily erudite and well-inform...
Now Lord Laming's inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie has come to an extraordinarily erudite and well-informed conclusion, it might be instructive to be a bit invidious.

Why not cast a comparative look at another inquiry taking place into equally brutal and shocking events, which occurred 150 miles north west of Haringey LBC?

Hardly reported, and barely present in the national consciousness, Dame Janet Smith's inquiry into the Harold Shipman affair is emerging from its recess, and asking how a family GP was able, undetected, to murder 15 elderly people and possibly hundreds more.

Why is it that many, usually well-informed, people are surprised when reminded the inquiry is still continuing? Could it be that Lord Laming's inquiry has retained a higher public profile because its press office has distributed around 31 press releases over the past year, while the Shipman inquiry has put out only 16 over a slightly longer period?

Could this explain why the former has received nearly four times as many references in an average national broadsheet than the latter?

Or have we been confronted by a racism that has sneered at the role played by the black community in Victoria's life and death, and a regionalism that has prevented London-based correspondents from trekking to Manchester as frequently as they should have.

Is there something in the British psyche - and particularly in that of the media - which cannot comprehend the possibility that everything might not be as it should within the NHS structure?

The inquiry into Dr Shipman's activities has not been swept under the carpet by the media and the public. It seems to have been buried under concrete indifference and distorted priorities.

There should be no complacency or defensiveness over Victoria's death. How it came about that the agencies responsible for identifying her, monitoring her and ultimately protecting her failed to do so has rightly been the subject of the most rigorous, inquisitorial examination.

But when it comes to social workers and local government it seems the media has easy targets, stereotypes, villains, and no heroes to speak of.

As the Laming inquiry looked at the lessons to be learned from Victoria's death, one of the main issues discussed was whether local government is the best place to locate child protection structurally, or whether there should be a separate, national agency.

It is possible that Dame Janet could raise the question of whether or not the NHS is a suitable locus in which to care for elderly people who are unwell - possible, but extremely unlikely.

It is symptomatic of the self doubts and anxieties surrounding local government and social work, that a similar question can be asked of Lord Laming as though it makes more sense.

Drew Clode

Policy/press adviser,

Association of directors of social services

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