In August, we noted a series of stories in The Times about a five-year-old girl from a Christian family who had been placed in care with a Muslim couple. Allegedly, the girl, a native English speaker, had spent six months with Muslim foster-carers who had removed her neck-chain and cross and refused to allow her to eat bacon. It was also alleged that a social services supervisor for Tower Hamlets LBC described the child as begging not to be returned to the foster family because “she doesn’t understand Arabic”. We added that:
“No-one would suggest that placing a child in foster-care is easy: in the absence of the full facts, it would be both rash and improper to make any further comment.”
On the following day, we reported that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets had told The Guardian that there had been several inaccuracies in the reporting of the case. In particular, it rejected reports that the foster family did not speak English:
“While we cannot go into details of a case that would identify a child in foster care, there are inaccuracies in the reporting of it. For example, the child is in fact fostered by an English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement. We would like to give more details but we are legally restricted to do so. We have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member and we continue to do so.”
Tower Hamlets then complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation about the article on the front page of The Times on 30 August which had implied that a judge had ruled against the council by ordering that the then five-year-old be removed from the Muslim household and placed with her grandmother. In fact, it was the council that had requested that the girl be placed with her grandmother.
Ipso has now upheld the complaint against The Times: its ruling is published in full on page two of today’s newspaper (£). Ipso’s Complaints Committee found that the article had given a false impression that the judge had found that the placement was a “failure” by the council and that that was why it was “removing” the child from her current foster-carers and placing her with the grandmother.
The Committee ruled that this was a distortion. The complainant had been in the process of assessing the grandmother, and when those assessments were complete it applied to the court for the child to be placed with her. The complainant had, in fact, agreed at the hearing that the child should live with the grandmother. The impression given by the article was that the judge’s decision represented a finding against the complainant’s assessment of the child’s needs in organising the foster placements. This was not what the court had decided, nor an implication of what the court had decided.
The Committee therefore found that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish distorted information, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Ipso code.