The crisis engulfing the law firm that sent tweets ‘boasting’ about its success in defending local authorities in special educational needs and disability tribunals has escalated further today, with three council clients cutting their ties to the firm.
The series of tweets by Milton Keynes-based Baker Small on Saturday night was originally picked up on parental blogs but has now grown into a full-blown media storm, with coverage in the national and broadcast media.
In a statement, Cambridgeshire County Council said it would not be referring new cases to Baker Small.
Adrian Loades, executive director for children, families and adults said: “We can confirm that we will no longer be using Baker Small for new cases. We recognise the damage that these tweets have done to parental confidence and by extension to the potential relationship between the county council and parents.
“There can be different views between parents and the local authority in respect of SEN support to children, and we always work hard to avoid this relationship becoming adversarial if at all possible.
“There will be current cases that Baker Small are holding on our behalf, and these will be reviewed on a case by case basis. In some instances it may be better for the all parties that Baker Small retain the case in order to avoid delay or disruption to decision making.”
Other councils that used Baker Small were being pressured on social media to follow Cambridgeshire’s lead, and as today progressed more did.
A Norfolk County Council statement said: “We have informed Baker Small today that we will be making arrangements to cease working with them as soon as possible.
“Whilst we have noted Baker Small’s apology on this matter, our view is that tweets posted over the weekend were wholly inappropriate and do not in any way reflect how this council wishes to work with families.
“There are current cases that Baker Small are holding on our behalf, and we will be in direct contact with the families concerned and the Tribunal offices to advise them of our revised arrangements for these and on a case by case basis.” It said it has spent around £120,000 with Baker Small in the past year.
Buckinghamshire County Council tweeted: “We have today suspended work with Baker Small until further notice. Plans being put in place and families to be advised as appropriate.”
Hertfordshire County Council tweeted: “Following insensitive comments made by @Bakersmall, we are meeting with them shortly to consider the terms of our contract with them.”
Gloucestershire County Council tweeted: “We’re v.disappointed w/@bakersmall tweets. We’ll consider all services provided by them at contract meeting – this top of agenda.”
Labour’s shadow children’s minister Sharon Hodgson said she was going to raise the matter in Parliament.
Baker Small’s website has crashed because of the number of people trying to get on it to read a new statement issued today by managing director Mark Small; this afternoon the firm also appeared to have removed its Twitter account altogether.
In the statement, Mr Small admitted that he was responsible for the tweets and had acted in response to some “very distasteful emails”.
He highlighted the one which provoked his tweets. It included a stream of abuse, and ended with the warning: “Your family should be vigilant… Think about it.”
Mr Small continued: “These are emails I receive all too frequently and usually I am able to deal with them. I understand the feelings behind them and the frustration caused by the SEN system and the feeling that every step is a battle.
“I recognise as a solicitor that it is not acceptable to rise to any form of provocation and certainly not via social media. A lesson painfully learned.
“That said, the episode has highlighted issues within the SEN system that should be debated and perhaps this unsavoury incident will lead to that discussion taking place.” He went on to discuss these issues.
The Daily Mail – whose headline read “Fury as lawyer hired by council to fight parents of special needs children over school places BOASTS on Twitter about ruining families’ dreams” – said Mr Small had told the paper he has referred himself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, although as we reported yesterday, the regulator is already looking into it.