THE SHAME OF ANDREW NORFOLK — PART TWO: HALLELUJAH!

 

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A YEAR ago today The Times declared victory in its battle to save a Christian child from Muslim foster carers.

It triumphantly reported the decision of the family court to return the child to her grandmother.

The paper boasted:

The Times praised for exposing council’s failure

But storm clouds were brewing.

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EXCLUSIVE
CHILD GOES TO TURKISH GRANDMOTHER
Press Gang can today reveal that the child at the centre of The Times crusade has gone to live with her Muslim grandmother in Turkey on a permanent basis. The grandmother’s Muslim background failed to make its way into any of reporter Andrew Norfolk’s articles. The decision of the East London Family Court to grant long-term custody is believed to be against the wishes of the mother. This means the mother’s attempt to use Andrew Norfolk and The Times to force the court to give her child back to her has failed.

The court was about to publish its own version of events.

In a devastating statement, the court demolished Andrew Norfolk’s story — and showed his narrative to be little more than a crude anti-Muslim smear.

♦♦♦

WHEN THE TIMES published its dramatic “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care” story on 28 August 2017, its chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk knew he was on dangerous ground.

The only way he could justify the piece was to present a grossly distorted version of events.

His story left out the fact that there would be a court hearing the next day — and that the Muslim foster care would come to an end.

Andrew Norfolk

ANDREW NORFOLK 
THE CHIEF investigative reporter for The Times, Andrew Norfolk reported that a Tower Hamlets social services supervisor said the little girl “begged” not to be returned to her foster carer because “they don’t speak English”. Norfolk also reported allegations that foster carers had tried to subvert the child’s Christian faith. It wasn’t until the East London Family Court intervened that the real story emerged …
Photo: Graham Turner / The Guardian

He also left out the fact that the mother is the daughter of Muslim parents.

At this point he was banking on two factors to keep his narrative on track.

The first was that he was almost certain to be the only reporter present at the hearing on August 29.

This would allow him to publish a sanitised version of the proceedings — and allow The Times to claim his crusading reporting had saved the child. 

Secondly, he was expecting the court to order that the child should live with her grandmother — and say little more than that.

These were to prove disastrous miscalculations.

Norfolk didn’t realise the court had already decided to take on The Times … 

♦♦♦

AUGUST 29 could not have started better for Norfolk.

When he arrived at the East London Family Court security staff dramatically refused him entry.

It took the intervention of Judge Khatun Sapnara to allow him to enter the courtroom. 

Norfolk was able to report the next day:

Security staff at the court, where a case hearing took place yesterday morning, ordered a Times journalist to leave the building and threatened an escorted removal by security guards unless the reporter left voluntarily.

When Judge Sapnara was informed of the newspaper’s wish to attend the hearing, the reporter was readmitted.

Norfolk was the only reporter who filed a report on the proceedings. 

Norfolk’s article, published the next day (August 30), was headed:

Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home

In fact, the foster care was due to end anyway.

All parties had already agreed that the child should go to live with her grandmother. 

But it was the sub-head that mattered:

The Times praised for exposing council’s failure

The Times wanted readers to be in no doubt that the verdict was a triumph for the crusading journalism of Andrew Norfolk. 

The first three paragraphs continued the narrative of the native English-speaking child forced to live with Muslim foster carers:

A girl at the centre of a care dispute was removed from her Muslim foster parents yesterday and reunited with her family as a judge urged councils to seek “culturally matched placements” for vulnerable children.

The five-year-old, a native English speaker from a Christian family, was taken to her grandmother’s home after a court ruled that she should not remain in the placement organised by the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

Judge Khatun Sapnara, a practising Muslim, said it was in the girl’s best interests to live with a family member who could keep her safe, promote her welfare and meet her needs “in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion”. The judge ordered the council to conduct an urgent investigation into issues reported by The Times, saying that the newspaper had acted responsibly in raising “very concerning” matters of “legitimate public interest”.

But once again, Andrew Norfolk was using the purge-and-deceive device he’d applied to his earlier articles.

During the proceedings, it was made clear that the grandmother, although non-practising, was from a Muslim background.

It was also clear that she was a foreign national and that her English was so poor that documents had to be translated into her mother tongue.

(Today, Press Gang also reveals the grandmother is actually from Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country.)

Norfolk didn’t report these sensational revelations.

He had to purge them or risk fatally undermining his narrative.

Remarkably, he and The Times later tried to explain away their decision not to mention the grandmother’s Muslim background.

In a submission to the press watchdog IPSO, The Times said that its approach to this article:

“was governed by its obligation not to publish any details which might identify the child.”

It claimed that Andrew Norfolk told the court that The Times:

“would not be publishing details of the grandmother’s religious and ethnic heritage, so as to avoid any risk of identification.”

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HYPOCRISY
ANDREW NORFOLK and The Times claimed that the reason the paper did not report the Muslim background of the grandmother was its concern not to publish anything which would reveal the child’s identity. Yet the paper had already published an actual picture of the little girl.

The submission said that “neither the judge nor [Tower Hamlets] demurred at that proposal”.

The paper added that the court later:

“put into the public domain some information about the family background which it had not expected to have been able to publish.”

Norfolk also deceived readers when he added the comment, buried deep in his article:

Judge Sapnara said her decision to order the child’s removal from foster care was not taken “as a result of undue media involvement”. “It is taken because of the evidence available to the court today, that the grandmother is an appropriate carer for the child,” she said.

What he didn’t know was that Judge Sapnara — perhaps expecting Norfolk to present a distorted version of the proceedings — had decided to make an unusual and decisive intervention.

If Norfolk and The Times would not tell readers the real background to the case, then the court would.

The next day a dramatic eight page statement was released.

It is highly unusual for a judge to order such a comprehensive statement to be published — and with such speed.

It meant that, as people were reading Andrew Norfolk’s distorted report of the hearing, they would be able to compare it to the court’s version of events. 

The statement — its full title is Case Management Order No 7 — noted:

“the court have given permission for an anonymised version of this order to be published”.

The order stated:

“Documents including the assessment of the maternal grandparents state that they are of a Muslim background but are non-practising.”

The order stated bluntly:

“For the avoidance of doubt, the Court makes it clear that the decision to approve the new care arrangements for the child to live with the grandmother under an interim care order is as a result of the application of the relevant law to the evidence now available to the court and not as a result of any influence arising out of media reports.”

Careful readers will notice there’s a significant difference between the court’s version of what happened and Andrew Norfolk’s

In his report, Norfolk added the word “undue”.

The addition of “undue” implies that his reporting had some influence when Judge Sapnara’s statement makes it clear there was none. 

Last night Press Gang asked Andrew Norfolk and The Times about this discrepancy.

We also asked them about the failure to mention the Muslim background of the grandmother. 

They did not reply.

♦♦♦

The intervention of the court was a disaster for Andrew Norfolk and The Times.

The Case Management Order, which confirmed that the child would go to live with her grandmother, hammered Norfolk’s narrative.

It stated:

— the child’s court appointed guardian had “no concerns as to the child’s welfare and she reports that the child is settled and well cared for by the foster carer”

—  Tower Hamlets proposed that the child “remains in the care of the grandmother long term. The mother opposes this.”

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JUDGE KHATUN SAPNARA
THE TIMES reported that the Bangladeshi-born judge had “praised” Andrew Norfolk for “exposing” Tower Hamlets’ “failure”. The press watchdog IPSO later ruled that this was “inaccurate”. The judge did no such thing … 

The Case Management Order continued:

— “the mother has confirmed that she did not disclose documents, confidential to this case, to the press”

— the mother must reveal “the documents from the private law proceedings relating to her older child … from Guildford Family Court”

— the mother’s solicitors are permitted to submit “segmented hair strand test results, to test for cocaine covering the last three months …”

—  the mother’s solicitors are also permitted to submit “segmented hair strand and liver function test results, in respect of alcohol, covering the last six months …”

The court also ordered Tower Hamlets to prepare a statement about the allegations made by the mother against the foster carers.

This statement, published two months later, was to inflict further damage on Andrew Norfolk’s narrative.

As Press Gang has already reported in The Shame Of Andrew Norfolk: Crusade, this document was agreed between the legal teams of Tower Hamlets and the mother.

It recorded that the grandmother:

 “… has been distressed and angered by the allegations against the foster carers which she has said were false and lies.”

These allegations were, of course, the ones made by her daughter and reported by Andrew Norfolk.

The statement added that the grandmother:

“has a good relationship with the carers and is grateful for the excellent care she says that they have provided to the child.”

The child told the grandmother that she:

“is missing the foster carer and has asked … if she can have contact with the family.”

♦♦♦

THE INTERVENTION by the court was highly damaging to the reputation of Andrew Norfolk.

Despite these developments, The Times continued to defend his reporting and did not apologise for its articles.

But another problem was brewing.

More than 150 complaints had been made about Andrew Norfolk’s reports to the press watchdog IPSO.

IPSO brushed all of these aside — except for one.

Tower Hamlets complained about The Times headline

The Times praised for exposing council’s failure

And IPSO finally ruled that this claim was inaccurate.

The watchdog forced The Times to publish a humiliating ruling — and flag it up on the front page.

The next instalment of The Shame Of Andrew Norfolk tells the inside story of the desperate attempts by The Times to ward off  this damning verdict. 

♦♦♦

NOTES

1
The original title of this series — The Fall Of Andrew Norfolk — was changed on 24 September 2018.

2
Andrew Norfolk’s third article is added as an Appendix because The Times operates a paywall. 

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RIGHT OF REPLY  
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APPENDIX

THE TIMES THIRD ARTICLE 
30 August 2017

BYLINE

Andrew Norfolk, Chief Investigative Reporter

HEADLINE

Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home

SUB-HEAD

The Times praised for exposing council’s failure

PICTURE CAPTION
In England 84 per cent of foster carers are white, as are 77 per cent of fostered children

A girl at the centre of a care dispute was removed from her Muslim foster parents yesterday and reunited with her family as a judge urged councils to seek “culturally matched placements” for vulnerable children.

The five-year-old, a native English speaker from a Christian family, was taken to her grandmother’s home after a court ruled that she should not remain in the placement organised by the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

Judge Khatun Sapnara, a practising Muslim, said it was in the girl’s best interests to live with a family member who could keep her safe, promote her welfare and meet her needs “in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion”. The judge ordered the council to conduct an urgent investigation into issues reported by The Times, saying that the newspaper had acted responsibly in raising “very concerning” matters of “legitimate public interest”.

Friends of the child’s family said that they were hugely relieved by the decision to move her from foster placements where all was “foreign and un- familiar” into surroundings where she would feel “much more at home”.

When The Times told Tower Hamlets last week of its intention to reveal the council’s decision to place a white British child with a family whose culture, faith and primary language were alien, the local authority tried to block the story. It contacted the East London family court, where the girl’s case was the subject of care proceedings, and told Judge Sapnara that confidential court documents had been unlawfully leaked and publication of an article would be an offence.

Security staff at the court, where a case hearing took place yesterday morning, ordered a Times journalist to leave the building and threatened an escorted removal by security guards unless the reporter left voluntarily. When Judge Sapnara was informed of the newspaper’s wish to attend the hearing, the reporter was readmitted.

Earlier this week, the newspaper revealed that the child, who was taken into care in March, initially spent four months in a foster home where, she said, the family often did not speak English at home and encouraged her to learn Arabic.

Social services reports noted that she was tearful and distressed when she was returned to the home. For the past two months she has been in the care of a second Muslim couple, where she spoke of regularly eating meals on the floor. In both households, the primary foster carers veiled their face in public.

A council employee heard the child say that the first foster parent, to whose care she was due to have been returned this week, had taken away her necklace, which had a cross. The same family was said to have refused to allow her to eat a carbonara meal because it contained bacon. Any local authority making a foster placement is required by law to give due consideration to the child’s “religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background”. Addressing lawyers for Tower Hamlets yesterday, Judge Sapnara said that her “overriding concern [was] the welfare of the little girl”.

“You would presumably accept that the priority should be an appropriate, culturally matched placement that meets the needs of the child in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion?” she said. Kevin Gordon, counsel for the local authority, agreed but said that when the girl initially became the council’s responsibility, no white British foster carers were available.

The Fostering Network charity has estimated that 7,600 new foster families need to be recruited in the next year. It said there was a “particular need for foster carers to look after teenagers, disabled children, sibling groups and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children” but identified no shortfall in carers for babies and young children.

A national shortage of ethnic minority foster carers often leads to non-white children being placed with white British carers. In England, 84 per cent of foster carers are white, as are 77 per cent of fostered children.

The court was told yesterday that the family’s wish for the girl to be placed in the temporary care of her grandmother had been under consideration for a number of months. Judge Sapnara said her decision to order the child’s removal from foster care was not taken “as a result of undue media involvement”. “It is taken because of the evidence available to the court today, that the grandmother is an appropriate carer for the child,” she said. All parties, including Tower Hamlets, supported the decision.

Until the child’s future is resolved, at a date yet to be set, she will continue to have regular meetings with her mother, supervised by council staff. To protect the child, The Times is not disclosing the unusual circumstances that led to her being taken into care this year.

The judge said she had not seen reports of meetings in which a council employee observed the child’s distress and unhappiness and asked Tower Hamlets to provide her with copies.

Tower Hamlets council said it had the “welfare of children at the heart of what we do” and would like to give more details about the case to correct “inaccuracies”, but was legally restricted from doing so. “The decision to choose foster carers for a child is based on a number of factors including cultural background and proximity to contact with the child’s family . . . in order to give them as much stability as possible,” a spokesman said. “We have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member and will continue to do so.”

ENDS

 

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