Nevres Kemal was a social worker with Haringey Council between 2004 and 2007. After raising concerns with senior managers about child protection failings there, she wrote a letter in February 2007 to the Department of Health warning that children in the borough were at risk. Six months later, 17-month-old Peter Connelly (Baby P) died at the hands of his mother and two other men, despite receiving more than 60 visits from council health and social workers. Ms Kemal, who did not work on the Baby P case, eventually lost her job (due to an unrelated complaint). She has since set up a charity, the Raising My Voice Foundation, for whistleblowers in her local community.
“There’s always been an edge to me. I was born in Muswell Hill. My parents were Turkish-Cypriot, they came and settled in the late 1950s. Caring started from the age of four. I would look after people who were sick in the family. I went into social work. I had the skills, so I thought I might as well get the qualifications to match.
I’ve never been one for progressing, stepping over someone to get a better position. I never kissed arse. I would always challenge, always speak my mind, and never play games. I don’t have a lot of respect for status.
I went to a Catholic convent school. The attitude of the nuns was: ‘We have a mask, we have an outward symbol of who we are, therefore I deserve a level of respect’. I was always getting into trouble for talking back. I remember a charity week when I was 13. Pupils were putting their lunch money into the collection box but I happened to walk into the nun’s dining room and they were having a steak dinner. I called one of them a hypocrite. For that I was called to the front of assembly. The humiliation of the punishment stays with me to this day.
To whistleblow now is like a death sentence. Initially people ignored my letter to the Department of Health. Nobody bothered writing back. No one was interested. Then [the Baby P case] came out in the press.
There was no feeling of vindication. It doesn’t matter if I was wrong or right: it didn’t save that kid’s life, it didn’t save me and my family four and a half years of hell.
After the story ran in the papers many people sent me money through the post. I had over £5,000. So I decided to set up the Raising My Voice Foundation. It is for anyone – I don’t discriminate. The way I see it, people whistleblow on their lives all the time – about their job centre, about their doctor. As soon as we intervene it’s amazing the level of respect that’s given and the care that’s given.”