We recently flagged inaccuracy in the reporting of a care case by the Telegraph, where children were permanently removed from the care of their family, apparently because of the mother’s insistence on co-sleeping. The case wasn’t really about co-sleeping at all (although co-sleeping was indeed a comparatively minor feature of the case), as anyone who has read the full judgment will know. See our round up blog post :

Family Court Reporting Watch: Weekly Round Up

The original article is here (Mother who let her two boys sleep in her bed has them taken away by judge), and you can compare it to the judgment here (C v HE/GR [2016] EWFC B109 (14 November 2016)).

We have today completed a complaints / corrections form in relation to The Telegraph article, asking for a due prominence correct and link back to the judgment on BAILII under their complaints policy and with reference to the IPSO Editors’ Code of Practice.

We have also completed complaints forms in respect of subsequent articles in the Daily Mail and Independent.

The Daily Mail article is here (Two young sons are put up for adoption after mother who ‘always thinks she knows best’ ignored advice about them sleeping in her bed).

The Independent article is here (Mother who slept in bed with her children has them taken away over fears of ‘rough handling’).

On each of the three sites we found it quite difficult to locate the relevant form / contact details for making a complaint or requesting a correction, particularly so in the case of The Independent. The Daily Mail form had a restrictive word limit and no option to attach a document, meaning we could not properly articulate our complaint and we were unable to submit our comment providing readers with a link to the judgment as the comment form would not accept our comment. The Telegraph article did not have comments open, but we were able to submit a comment on the Independent site providing readers with a link to the judgment.

Ideally, we would have contacted the individual journalists first before complaining, but there is no named journalist on the Telegraph article, no contact details for the named journalist on the Mail site, and only a twitter handle for the journalist on the Independent article. Time and resource issues mean we have had to deal with this in one fell swoop rather than expending resources on tracking down individual journalists and approaching them informally first. We will tweet the journalist whose twitter handle we have with a link to this post.

The substantive text of our complaints are below.

TELEGRAPH

On 12 February an article headlined “Mother who let her two boys sleep in her bed has them taken away by judge” was published. At the point of publication the full judgment was publicly available giving full reasons for the decision in the case. It is apparent that the unidentified journalist(s) who wrote the piece must have seen the judgment because they quote directly from it.

The headline is significantly inaccurate in that it clearly implies that children have been removed because of co-sleeping when in fact co-sleeping was not the main reason for the removal of the children.

The headline is immediately followed by the passage ” A mother who allowed her two children to sleep in her bed has had them taken away from her by a family court judge after social workers raised concerns.”

This passage again implies a causal connection between the co-sleeping and the removal. It is not accurate. Co-sleeping was mentioned in the judgment as an example of the mother’s inability to follow advice (and therefore hampering attempts to keep the children safe from future physical harm) but in itself was not the cause of the matter coming to court and did not result in the removal of the children.

The judgment makes clear this was a second set of care proceedings, issued just after the first (significant, unexplained bruising to the oldest when 4 months old) ended with the child returning home under a supervision order and intensive package of support on the basis injuries were probably unintentionally caused by rough handling by the father. Within a few weeks the new born sibling was the subject of such concern by the hospital that they didn’t discharge him for 2 weeks because the mother refused advise on co sleeping and feeding and he was losing weight. By 4 months he had 3 unexplained injuries the court later found to be probably inflicted by careless, rough handling by the mother. They included an untreated fractured wrist from yanking or twisting and a large, straight leg bruise from forceful contact with a long hard object that was still showing as a mark even by final hearing. The parents denied injuring the child, had late and inconsistent explanations and consistently dismissed concerns and professional advice, which was key in this particular context.

The article fails to identify that the primary reason for the proceedings (2 sets) and the removal was the serious unexplained injuries suffered on multiple occasions.

Whilst the injuries are mentioned, overall the article significantly minimises the breadth and severity of concerns other than co-sleeping, so as to give a distorted and inaccurate picture.

Comments are not open on the article so we cannot comment and correct it ourselves.

We rely upon 1(1) of the code.

We request a correction of the headline of the article and the first paragraph under 1(2). We request that the correction should be marked as corrected in order to give it due prominence as required and that a link to the full judgment should be included in the revised article (see : http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2016/B109.html).

For the avoidance of doubt the article does not seem to claim any public interest exemption as it does not assert any miscarriage of justice. It is in the public interest however for the public to be able to understand accurately the gist of the reasons for the permanent removal of children, whereas this article is highly likely to give readers the impression that children can be removed simply because they share a bed with a parent.

Lucy Reed
Chair, The Transparency Project

We will update this post or publish a linked post as and when we hear back.

 

MAIL

Article headlined “Two young sons are put up for adoption after mother who ‘always thinks she knows best’ ignored advice about them sleeping in her bed” (13/2). When published the full judgment was publicly available giving full reasons for the decision. It is apparent that the journalist who wrote the piece must have seen the judgment because they quote directly from it.

The headline is significantly inaccurate in that it clearly implies that children have been removed because of co-sleeping when in fact co-sleeping was not the main reason for the removal of the children. The subheadings and content of the article do not cure the distortion arising from the main headline and the headline is not properly evidenced in the article or judgment.

We rely upon IPSO Editors’ Code Section 1 – accuracy. We seek correction of the headline & clarification within the article (marked as amended) & a link to the judgment itself : http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2016/B109.html

 

INDEPENDENT

On 13 Feb you published an article entitled “Mother who slept in bed with her children has them taken away over fears of ‘rough handling’ – The two boys, who are aged under four, have been put up for adoption”.

At the point of publication the full judgment was publicly available giving full reasons for the decision in the case. It is apparent that the journalist who wrote the piece must have seen the judgment because they quote directly from it.

The headline is significantly inaccurate in that it clearly implies that children have been removed because of co-sleeping or a risk of future rough handling, without referencing the actual injuries that had already been sustained at the hands of the parents.

The headline is immediately followed by the passage “A mother who allowed her children to sleep in her bed with her has had them taken away by a judge.

The two boys, who are aged under four, have been put up for adoption, after social workers raised concerns after finding bruises on their bodies.

Judge Peter Greene said the mother, who has not been named, failed to act on advice given against “co-sleeping” and outlined his verdict at a private hearing in Cambridgeshire.”

This passage again implies a causal connection between the co-sleeping and the removal. It is not accurate. Co-sleeping was mentioned in the judgment as an example of the mother’s inability to follow advice (and therefore hampering attempts to keep the children safe from a risk of future physical harm in light of the past injuries) but in itself was not the cause of the matter coming to court and did not result in the removal of the children.

Although bruising is mentioned in the article, this significantly minimises the severity and amount of injuries sustained – in particular there is no mention of the spiral wrist fracture suffered by one child in this passage or anywhere in the article. Furthermore these injuries are not identified as the primary reason for the removal.

The judgment makes clear this was a second set of care proceedings, issued just after the first (significant, unexplained bruising to the oldest when 4 months old) ended with the child returning home under a supervision order and intensive package of support on the basis injuries were probably unintentionally caused by rough handling by the father. Within a few weeks the new born sibling was the subject of such concern by the hospital that they didn’t discharge him for 2 weeks because the mother refused advise on co sleeping and feeding and he was losing weight. By 4 months he had 3 unexplained injuries the court later found to be probably inflicted by careless, rough handling by the mother. They included an untreated fractured wrist from yanking or twisting and a large, straight leg bruise from forceful contact with a long hard object that was still showing as a mark even by final hearing. The parents denied injuring the child, had late and inconsistent explanations and consistently dismissed concerns and professional advice, which was key in this particular context.

Whilst the injuries are mentioned, overall the article significantly minimises the breadth and severity of concerns other than co-sleeping, and the significance of the injuries sustained, so as to give a distorted and inaccurate picture.

We rely upon 1(1) of the code.

We request a correction of the headline and article under 1(2). We request that the correction should be marked as corrected in order to give it due prominence as required and that a link to the full judgment should be included in the revised article (see : http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2016/B109.html).

For the avoidance of doubt the article does not seem to claim any public interest exemption as it does not assert any miscarriage of justice. It is in the public interest however for the public to be able to understand accurately the gist of the reasons for the permanent removal of children, whereas this article is highly likely to give readers the impression that children can be removed simply because they share a bed with a parent or because of mere bruising.

Lucy Reed
Chair, The Transparency Project

 

Feature pic : “dissagree” courtesy of Raymond M. on Flickr – thanks!