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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Panorama – unseen Tracey Connelly interview reveals missed opportunity to save Baby P

A previously unseen filmed interview with Tracey Connelly – the mother of Baby P – and a senior social work manager at Haringey Council reveals a unique insight into how the case was handled and the misplaced optimism about Tracey Connelly that underpinned the circumstances leading up to the tragedy.

The interview, conducted by Sue Gilmore, the senior team manager overseeing the case, fails to elicit information that could have protected Baby Peter. In it, Tracey Connelly talks about her "dreamboat" friend, Steven, and offers explanations as to how Peter had acquired bumps and bruises. As Peter Connelly was on the at-risk register at the time, evidence of a man being involved with his mother and with access to her home should have raised alarms. However, no checks were taken as a result of the interview. Steven Barker was later found guilty of causing, or allowing, Baby Peter's death, along with Tracey Connelly and another man.

The hour-long interview with Baby P's mother was filmed four months before his death. It was not shown to detectives investigating the child's death or the murder trial that followed. Police were instructed to seize it in February 2009 as a result of Panorama's investigation. The authors of the second serious case review investigating Baby Peter's death did not see it until after their report was written.

At the end of the interview, Sue Gilmore thanks Connelly for being "really open, completely honest" and adds: "I'm impressed, really, really impressed, with the way you have been able to come in here, sit in front of that," as she points at the camera.

At the time of the interview, Peter Connelly was being neglected and was on the at-risk register. Vital clues appear to be missed – as his mother provides explanations for his injuries.

She tells her interviewer: "So that's why when we are at a friend's house Peter fell and banged his chin and he got cut there and there and a graze and when he caught himself on the table. But my instant reaction well after initially petting him was to take photos of the table so that I can show the social services, well, I think is what happened. Because I was scared that if there was no evidence they were going to say that I done it."

She also makes it clear she wants her family left alone by social workers, saying: "I don't like having people interfere. I know. I don't mean that in a horrible way. I know that the social worker is there for a job, and I know they are there for a purpose, and at the end of all this I hope they will back off and leave me alone so that I am a caring mother. Does that make sense?"

Sue Gilmore replies: "That's a fairly straightforward thing to want."

During the interview in March 2007 – four months before Peter died with more than 50 injuries on his body – his mother talks excitedly about her "friend" Steven and their special Valentine night dinner together.

She says: "He is 6ft 4ins, blond hair, green eyes and I am sorry if I've built up a dreamboat on him, but he is every girl's dream."

Although Tracey Connelly denies they are in a relationship, it is clear she is infatuated with him and that he spends time in her home and has access to Peter. Yet this potentially crucial information is not followed up by Sue Gilmore during the interview and afterwards is not written up fully on the electronic file for Peter's case.

Graham Badman, who led the second serious case review, describes the interview as "appalling" and tells the programme that the interview reflected the misplaced optimism that seemed to underpin the way the case was handled. He said many agencies missed opportunities to protect Peter.

He said: "There are several occasions when Peter's life could and should have been saved, from the first case conference through to the paediatrician's failure to act decisively at the end of the life."

Sue Gilmore conducted the interview as a first assignment for a diploma in solutions – focused practice that was then being piloted in the office that looked after Peter. Instead of dwelling on their difficulties, the technique tries to encourage parents to co-operate by looking forward to changes and making improvements in their lives. She failed the training assignment and did not complete the course. Within months of Peter's death, she left Haringey of her own accord in January 2008. She has faced no disciplinary proceedings.

Experts, who analysed the film, criticised Sue Gilmore for not exploring during the interview other important child protection issues that emerged. As senior team manager, she had statutory child protection responsibility for Peter.

Andrew Turnell, an international expert in solution focused work in child protection, said the interview was a missed opportunity to discover exactly what was going on in Peter's life.

He says: "Solution focused therapy provides tools that are like scalpels for a doctor, but they have to be used in the context of a risk assessment framework where everybody knows we're talking about the safety of children."

Sue Gilmore said through her solicitor that the Connelly interview was not "investigative" and that she co-operated with police and answered all their questions. She added that she summarised the interview on Peter's electronic file, but admits she did not mention that the interview was filmed. She said she asked the front line social worker and her manager to check out Connelly's new "male friend". But they both denied to Panorama that she gave any such instruction.

Panorama also shows haunting footage of Baby Peter playing with Steven Barker. It shows Peter's first birthday party and his faltering steps as he walks in the park with his mother and her boyfriend.

The programme also includes details of government-backed research by Professor Harriet Ward from Loughborough University that has found that abusive and neglectful parents are often given too many chances so that families – like Peter's – can stay together.

She says: "If parents have not succeeded in overcoming substance abuse, alcohol abuse, they're still in a violent relationship... by the time the baby is six months old, then they won't change. And that should influence decisions about separation or not."

Professor Ward added: "About half the children for whom we had data were showing quite substantial development problems by the time they were three – and they weren't just a little bit backward. They had major speech and language difficulties and they had bizarre behavioural problems."

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