So, it was all a lie

A stock picture of a six-storey red-brick block of flats, with grey skyscrapers in the background, one of them bearing an HSBC logo. In the foreground is the car park for the block of flats.The truth about the young girl fostered with a Muslim family in east London that appeared in the Times on Monday was revealed yesterday in an anonymised court judgement (PDF). The Times’ story was rubbish, based wholly on spurious claims either sourced from a third party, maybe friends of the family or maybe rogue employees of social services in Tower Hamlets, or maybe just made up by the newspaper. It turns out that the girl was not a “white Christian” at all; her grandparents were Muslims, albeit non-practising. The foster family is in fact mixed race and they do speak English. Not only had an independent guardian found no fault with the foster family but the mother offered no objections to her daughter being with the foster carers at all, nor it seems to her parents taking her daughter back to their home country. Tom Pride has published a breakdown of the claims and the facts here. Some other blog responses are worth reading:

  • Suddenly Mummy
  • Amaliah, a story by a Muslim mother who adopted children who had been fostered by non-Muslims
  • Tell MAMA: How did a fostering row in Tower Hamlets become about religion?

Despite the facts having been made known well before close of business yesterday, the Sun printed an opinion piece by Trevor Phillips which assumes that the Times’ inaccurate story is true. He speculates that the girl had been expected to learn Arabic “presumably because the women of the household were less than ­proficient in English”, when we now know they were (and by the way: Arabs are a small minority in Tower Hamlets). It claims that the judge “briskly dismissed the council’s objections and ordered them to take the child back to her grandmother”, when the court’s case management order states that the local authority’s position was that “the child AB is placed in the interim care of the maternal grandmother subject to Regulation 24 and a Written Agreement”. Phillips then witters on about how adoption in a family of a different race is preferable to a miserable childhood in care, but adoption is irrelevant to this case as nobody was seeking to have this girl adopted; she was in care because she was taken from her mother by the police in an emergency, and everyone agreed that the maternal grandparents were to look after her once the necessary checks had been made.

Phillips then says that it’s different for this particular child because “the test of a placement’s success isn’t some bureaucratic Dulux colour chart test — it is whether the child is happy and flourishing”, and “this child was frightened and lonely”. But this is only to be expected when a five-year-old child is suddenly taken from her home and sent to live with a strange family for six months, however competent and loving the foster family is. The point wasn’t that the council favoured its “pro-Muslim reputation” over the girl’s welfare; the grandparents were not known to the council, and their ability to look after the child (such matters as whether they were in good health, whether they even had a room for her, whether they were complicit in her mother’s drug abuse, among many other concerns) had to be assessed before she could be sent to live with them; otherwise the result could have been yet another tragedy along the lines of Victoria Climbie’s or Peter Connolly’s deaths.

Two women wearing black niqaabs, one of them wearing black gloves on both hands, the other wearing a mitten on one hand and using a mobile phone in the other.Maybe Trevor Phillips didn’t properly read the court documents, and therefore didn’t know the facts. Maybe he did. His editors, who would have had access to the court order which was published at 4:30pm yesterday (you can find the timestamp in the source of the Judiciary website’s announcement), had no excuse for printing a piece which ignores facts which had become known since the original story was printed; I suspect that they assumed their readers had not followed the story online and thus would believe the story they were presenting, which showed the council rather than the Times (owned by the same company as the Sun) in a bad light. (Even after the court ruling, the Times took to Twitter to solicit other stories of “children who were harmed/distressed after being placed with ‘culturally unmatched’ carers”.) But Trev declares that he writes “at the risk of being branded an Islamophobe”; he has in fact already proven himself to be one on at least one occasion. Most of his career over the past 20 years has been spent stirring up trouble over race or religion, claiming to be saying “unsayable” things that are in fact said all the time in high-circulation tabloids, and telling the public “what Muslims really think” on the basis of a tiny survey.

“Don’t get me wrong. I have no objection to children living in families who do not share their ethnicity or even their faith”, he proclaims. Well, if you put children with a Muslim foster family, they’ll be exposed to Islam. Don’t pretend you are open-minded about that — that you regard a child’s welfare as more important than your views on religion — and justify an intrusive and inaccurate story about a child being placed with a Muslim family when no other was available for miles, based on claims sourced from anonymous sources in the family or social services (who should be investigated for professional misconduct if they are the source), if indeed there is any source.

Trev is right about one thing. There should be an investigation into Tower Hamlets social services. The focus should be: who supplied this story.

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