This is a blog post by Louise Tickle, journalist member of The Transparency Project. It relates to yesterday’s Times article by Andrew Norfolk and the blog post from our chair Lucy Reed that we published yesterday in response, and in which we indicated that we might in due course publish other posts which expressed different views. You can read that blog and link to the original Times article here :
Louise’s post has been stitched together by her whilst on a train with nothing but a mobile following some fairly challenging exchanges of emails between various members of The Transparency Project over the last 24 hours or so (we are all still on speaking terms but have agreed to disagree). She offers in that unpolished form because we recognise this is a fast moving debate and many different views are being exchanged moment to moment.
On train. Tired and doing my best despite that to make sense:
So… first up: the pitch this story has reached and the Piers Morgan explosion and the Louise Haigh MP and Victims’ Commissioner indignation and now the petition doesn’t surprise me at all.
The level of rage and betrayal I hear *incessantly* now (I get multiple emails and DMs every day from – mainly – women, am tagged into endless Twitter convos, social workers too sometimes emailing me their concerns, over the past year or so several psychologists working with women whose children have been removed getting in touch to say how uncomfortable and distressed they are re the family court system, judges like Read doing his judgment about the inadequacy if the family court system to make robust findings on DV allegations post LASPO etc etc)…. it’s really clear to me that many, many people feel that local authorities in general, individual social workers, lawyers and the family court system have put children at risk and have harmed, sometimes destroyed their families.
Whether this perception is always accurate or not is *not* the point. It is a wave now that is just too powerful to be contained. It’s exactly what I argued in my Bridget Lindley lecture. There is too much anguish being experienced to be endured.
These are always the conditions in which social protest will ignite. Social protest isn’t pretty or neat or forensically accurate in its descriptions of its cause. It’s messy and flawed and the people who drive it often are too. Mistakes are always made. But the *direction* of travel is plain.
This woman’s story of how she feels she’s been treated by social workers (in fact, by the law, but her experience will have been that it’s the council that has already horrifically failed her, once again, as an arm of the state, hurting her again) also takes place in the context of the #metoo movement, which is about abuse of power without the victims having any recourse.
And the secret nature of court hearings that sees the state make massive, extraordinary and devastating intrusions into people’s lives with no effective or reasonably accessible means of scrutiny, accountability or appeal, is the final tanker load of fuel on the flames.
So this kind of explosion of a story is inevitable, and it will happen again with the “right” configuration of events. And again, it will be messy, imperfect, and will contain its own biases -because protests are by people and journalists and news organisations who have their own views, and biases.
More to come…
….some hours later…
So to the point about the original Times piece.
I am not comfortable with the many assumptions and judgments being made about the Times’ or Andrew Norfolk’s intentions regarding how the piece was angled and how the council’s actions were described. As I said in my initial reaction to our group email discussion yesterday morning, I thought I could have broadly written the same piece.
Am commenting now as I flick back and forth to the Times story:
Par one: a perfectly reasonable broad brush description of what I’d understand to be the possible outcome of notifying a father that care proceedings were in train.
Par 2 – ditto
Par 3 – Andrew Norfolk is quoting campaigners’ views and MoJ’s reaction. Nothing wrong with that, even if MoJ might have done a better job.
Par 4 – readers need to be told why the mother and child are not being named – this is outlined quickly and simply. I don’t see it as the Times virtue-signalling as I think has been suggested in either our discussions or Lucy’s blog – can’t recall, sorry.
Par 5 and 6 – description of mother’s reaction to prospect of her rapist being notified of the care proceedings, as she understood it. She presumably was told that there was a chance she might have to encounter her multiple rapist in the family court. This is, perfectly usually, reported.
Par 7 – this is where I think I would have done something different: it would be here that I’d have explained that the local authority was following the rules on informing both parents. I’d then have gone to Louise Haigh MP’s reaction, as you need a political take on a criticism of the law, and hopefully I’d have asked her if she thought that law was fit for purpose.
Par 8 – this is a re-use if the “perverse” quote by “campaigners” which is first used at the top. I don’t like reusing quotes but my news editors often pull out a word from a newspiece I’ve filed and bung it in at the top, and then you see the fuller version lower down. Again, it’s perfectly fair to quote the Victim’s Commissioner. She may not know that it’s the law that LAs contact both parents in care cases. But broad brushstrokes, she’s right that loads of victims feel re-abused by the family court process.
Par 10 – a bare description of why there is a care case at all. Answers an obvious question a reader would have.
Par 11 – this is the info I’d have put further up.
Par 12 – facts
Par 13 – one assumes facts – if it were me I’d like to have seen these docs.
Par 14 and 15 – “it is understood that court papers” may be a phrase used either to protect the mother from anyone saying she was in contempt by showing them, or because the journalist hadn’t seen them. Dunno. If the latter, AN isn’t claiming he’s seen them… he’s reporting what he’s been told. I’d like to have seen them – but obviously, that’s problematic for the mum given that they are not meant to be released. He may have wanted to protect her if he had been shown them.
Par 16 – first sentence is from an interview with the mother. Her understanding of the situation. Second sentence is a re-description of one theoretical eventual result had the father engaged with the court case.
Par 17 onwards – description of what happened and statements by MoJ and LA
Apart from the fact that I’d have put one, admittedly important, para further up, I don’t have a problem with any of it.
In a feature, rather than a newspiece, I would have put something about the reason for the rule about informing both parents of care proceedings being about the state needing to have respect for a child’s right to family life and a relationship with both their parents. In fact, I’d have tried to get that as a quote from a family barrister. Otherwise, that is my take.