Posts Tagged ‘Judge Khatun Sapnara’

THE SHAME OF ANDREW NORFOLK — PART THREE: RETRIBUTION

September 8, 2018

 

Norfolk_series_head_03
WHEN THE TIMES and its chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk decided to intervene in a sensitive family care case last August, they did not realise the judiciary would not allow them to peddle a false narrative.

In August 2017 Norfolk wrote a sensational front page story carrying the headline “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care”. 

It soon became clear the story was a complete fabrication.

Norfolk purged his narrative of the central fact that the mother of the child is the daughter of practising Turkish Muslims.

In February this year the court ruled the mother was unfit to look after her daughter and gave the grandmother permanent custody of the little girl.

Both are now in Turkey.

The judgment in the case — finally obtained by Press Gang early yesterday — destroys any lingering credibility in Andrew Norfolk’s story.

The judgment justifies the first two parts of our series The Shame of Andrew Norfolk: Crusade and  Hallelujah!

Press Gang was unable to write the story up yesterday.

We passed the judgment to Brian Cathcart, a founder of Hacked Off, who published a summary yesterday: ‘Muslim Fostering’ Times Journalism Utterly Discredited.

Now Press Gang examines some of the key points of the judgment.

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THE DECISION  to place the little girl with her grandmother was made on February 16 this year.

Judge Khatun Sapnara made the order in the East London Family Court following a 10 day hearing involving 15 witnesses. 

Andrew Norfolk, despite his intimate knowledge of the case, was absent throughout.

We emailed Norfolk this afternoon and asked him why he did not attend.

We asked if the reason he wasn’t in court was because he knew the hearing would destroy his story.

He had not replied by the time this article went to press.

No other journalist was in court — it was not until this week that the court finally released its judgment.

The court ordered that the little girl, who is now six, should live with her grandmother in her country of origin.

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INVASION OF PRIVACY
THE JUDGMENT is damning about the fact that the press were present when the little girl left her second Muslim foster carer in August 2017. The judge noted “very sadly, this had to be undertaken with police presence and assistance, because of the numbers of press in attendance at the foster carer’s address. The child did not have the opportunity to have a proper goodbye with her carers. It would have been entirely in her best interests to do so.” Press Gang understands that the only journalist who knew the address of the foster carer was Andrew Norfolk. Today we asked Andrew Norfolk if he and a Times photographer were present. We also asked for a comment about the judge’s criticism. There was no reply by the time this article went to press.  

Press Gang has previously revealed the grandmother is Turkish — the judgment merely says she is from a mainly Muslim country.

Both the little girl and her mother have dual British and Turkish passports. 

The court added that the mother’s physical contact with her daughter should be restricted to four times a year.

She is not allowed to stay overnight.

The father, a Russian national, is forbidden to have any face to face contact with the child.

He is allowed to talk to her on Skype. 

The judgment is silent about what happened to the mother’s older child who has also been the subject of family court proceedings.

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THE PICTURE of the mother that emerges from the judgment is bleak and disturbing.

Judge Sapnara “had no doubt that the mother had taken the course she had in these proceedings, driven by the natural desire to be reunited with her daughter.”

“On a subjective analysis she genuinely believes that the child will be better off in her care.”

“Sadly, in the court’s judgement that motivation was also tinged with a degree of wounded pride.”

The judge revealed that the 2017 incident that led to the child being taken into care was not the first incident where concerns had been raised.

In September 2012 the Foreign Office was contacted by the duty manager of a hotel in Bulgaria who was concerned about the mother and the little girl.

The judgment notes that “he suspected that the mother may be on drugs or alcohol and that the hotel room was not particularly fit for a young child.”

The mother has two convictions for drinking driving which “indicates that she makes poor decisions when she consumes alcohol.”

Tests revealed that the mother often drinks the equivalent of a bottle of wine a day.

Tests also revealed she was taking cocaine. 

The judge was stark: 

“The mother’s chronic and problematic use of alcohol coupled with her minimisation of such concerns gives rise to a risk of emotional harm by reason of the child being exposed to the mother’s alcohol use.”

“It also gives rise to risks of domestic violence which seem to be linked to the mother’s drinking.”

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THE JUDGMENT also makes it clear that an unnamed Russian national played a significant part in this story.

The Russian is said to be the father of the child.

His name is not on the child’s birth certificate and he did not take part in the proceedings.

He appears to have remained in Russia throughout the ten day hearing. 

The mother claimed:

“she had not had any contact with the … father since 2013 and she said that she had been unable to provide any contact details for him.”

But the judgement later adds

“The mother and the … father appeared to remain in an enmeshed relationship which appears to include a degree of financial control of the mother by [the] father.” 

The mother was legally aided throughout the care proceedings. 

The relationship between the mother and the father was turbulent.

The judge noted that it “had been characterised by incidents of domestic violence (some very serious) over a number of years …”

The decision to place the child was partly motivated because she might be present when the mother and father were together.

In these circumstances, the judge added:

” … there would be a real risk that the child may get caught up in the domestic violence and might be at risk of suffering physical and emotional harm which might be significant in its nature.”

It’s also clear she didn’t believe the mother’s claim not to have had any contact with the father since 2013:

” … the court was satisfied that it was quite apparent that he was aware of the proceedings and that he had been a significant presence on the periphery of the case.”

The judge added
 
“ …  he was concerned about the child with regard to her religious needs when she was in foster care.”

Press Gang today asked if this Russian had been one of Andrew Norfolk’s sources.  

There was no response by the time we went to press.  

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THIS SCANDAL is far from over.

Press Gang has asked IPSO, the press watchdog partly funded by The Times, to reopen our complaint against Andrew Norfolk.

This complaint is the only one out of more than 150 which claims that all of Norfolk’s articles on this issue were inaccurate.

Our complaint was rejected — even though part of it is identical to the complaint made by Tower Hamlets and upheld by IPSO.

We believe that the judgment released yesterday now places new information in the public domain that IPSO must consider.

There remain other issues which have yet to be resolved: 

— although the judgment makes it clear that the mother was unfit to look after her daughter, it is silent about the care provided by the two Muslim foster carers at the heart of the story.

It seems clear that the foster carers — despite the claims published by The Times — provided exemplary and loving care. 

The grandmother, who the court found to be an impressive witness, thanked them for the quality of their care.

— the judgment is also silent about Press Gang allegations that Andrew Norfolk doctored his account of an earlier court hearing which took place on 29 August 2017.

Norfolk claimed that the reason he and The Times did not disclose the Muslim background of the grandmother was due to their wish to protect the identity of the child. 

Norfolk claims he told the court he was not going to disclose the grandmother’s religious background.

We’re trying to get to the bottom of this.

Press Gang has also asked Norfolk if he distorted the judge’s words in this earlier hearing.

She made it clear that the court’s decision to place the child in the temporary care of her grandmother was based on the application of the law and “not as a result of any influence arising out of media reports.” 

Norfolk, in his article, says she used the phrase “as a result of undue media involvement.” 

We’ve already put these points to Norfolk.

He did not reply.

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NOTES

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

2.
The full summary of Judge Sapnara’s judgment can be found below.

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APPENDIX

Summary of the Judgment of Her Honour Judge Sapnara on 16th February 2018.

Background

The court gave judgment on 16th February 2018 following a 10 day final hearing in care proceedings instituted by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (‘the local authority’) pursuant to s.31 of the Children Act 1989 and in respect of the subject child AB (‘the child’) who was aged 6 at the time of the final hearing. The Court read extensive bundles of written material/evidence and also heard the oral evidence of fifteen live witnesses which included expert, professional (social workers and police) and lay witnesses. The child’s mother is CD (‘the mother’). She had the benefit of leading and junior counsel representation at this hearing. The child’s putative father is believed to be GH (‘the putative father’). He was not named on the child’s birth certificate and he had never been married to the mother. Therefore he did not have parental responsibility for the child. 

The child spent time in the care of two different foster carers before moving to live with her maternal grandmother (‘the maternal grandmother’), with the support of her maternal aunt (‘the maternal aunt’), towards the end of the summer of 2017. The child remained there at the time of the final hearing under an interim care order. Therefore, the local authority continued to share parental responsibility with the mother. The grandmother, the child and the maternal aunt lived together in the mother’s flat in London which the mother vacated to enable them all to live there. This had been the child’s home prior to removal and it was obviously therefore an environment with which the child was familiar. There was no dispute in this case that the child had a very warm and loving relationship with the maternal grandmother and the maternal aunt and that she was very familiar with them.

The putative father is a Russian national. He did not play any part in the proceedings. The mother in her oral evidence, towards the end of the hearing, maintained that she had not had any contact with the putative father since 2013 and she said that she had been unable to provide any contact details for him. Therefore, he was not formally served with notice of the proceedings. He did not attend any hearing and was not represented. He did not seek to make any application to be joined to the proceedings or to be assessed as a carer for the child, nor to have any contact with the child. He filed no evidence. He remained in Russia as far as the court could ascertain. Whilst he had played no formal role the court was satisfied that it was quite apparent that he was aware of the proceedings and that he had been a significant presence on the periphery of the case. 

The local authority’s care plan recommended the placement of the child with the maternal grandmother under a legal framework which is the nearest equivalent to a special guardianship order as exists in the maternal grandmother’s country of origin which is a Muslim majority country. The local authority proposed in its care plan that there  should be direct contact between the mother and the child four times a year, following the recommendations of the court appointed Children’s Guardian. It also proposed that there be Skype contact between the child and the father.

The local authority’s position was supported by the court appointed Children’s Guardian. The maternal grandmother was not represented in the proceedings but her position was advanced by the local authority with whom she was ad idem.

The local authority invited the court to find that the threshold for the making of final orders was crossed as at the relevant date of 2nd March 2017. The local authority  asserted that as at that date the child had suffered, and was likely to suffer, significant harm and that such harm was attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to her, if an order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect her parents to give her. The broad areas of the local authority’s concerns were the mother’s excessive consumption of alcohol, neglect of the child’s needs and the child suffering emotional harm due to her mother’s drug use and excessive use of alcohol. 

The mother opposed the local authority’s applications. She did not accept that the threshold criteria had been crossed on the facts of the case and disputed all the findings sought by the local authority. She sought the immediate return of the child to her care. Initially her position had been that she wanted the maternal grandmother and the maternal aunt to support her caring for the child in the UK. The maternal grandmother and the maternal aunt did not wish to do that and sought to return to their country of origin with the child as quickly as possible. By the time the mother came to give her oral evidence, she clarified that she was not opposed to a placement with the maternal grandmother in her country of origin in principle but only in the event that the child was not returned to her care. The mother was born and brought up in that country. Both the mother and the child have previously resided there and they each hold dual nationality passports for that country and also for the UK. 

The mother contended that the child had not suffered, nor was she at risk of suffering, significant harm owing to the care she had received from the mother. She stated that she had addressed her alcohol and drug misuse and believed that the child’s welfare would be best met by a return to the mother’s care and that the mother would be marginalised in her child’s life to the child’s detriment if the child went to live with the maternal grandmother in her country of origin. Therefore, the mother sought the immediate return of the child to her care. 

The mother’s case was that her relationship with her daughter was good whilst the child was in foster care and that in fact there was only a negative change when the child went to live with maternal grandmother. It formed no part of the mother’s case that the child would not be loved and well cared for by the maternal grandmother, nor that the child’s needs would not be met by the maternal grandmother. 

The maternal grandparents are Muslim. The maternal family members are educated and of a relatively affluent professional background.  The maternal grandmother chose to take an oath on the Qur’an before giving oral evidence. The grandparents say that they do not attend Mosque but they do pray at home. No issue has been raised about the grandmother’s ability to meet the child’s religious needs. The mother’s primary concern is that if the child were to live with the grandparents, her contact with the child would be at risk. The mother identifies as Christian. There is some evidence that the putative father is also of Christian belief and that he was concerned about the child with regard to her religious needs when she was in foster care.

The child was born in the UK but had also spent a lot of time with her maternal grandparents in their country of origin. Prior to coming to the UK in January 2017 the mother and child had been involved in extensive international travels and spent time in various countries. However the chronology of the movement of the mother and child across international borders and the reasons for doing so and the times that they did so was complicated and difficult for the court to establish. The local authority contends that between 2013 and 2017 the child spent significant periods of time travelling abroad with the mother and was cared for at other times by the maternal grandparents. The mother disputed some of the details in relation to this and maintained that at all times she was the child’s primary carer. 

In January 2017 the mother travelled to the UK with the child. On the morning of 2nd March 2017 the child was removed from the mother’s care under a police protection order following the mother’s arrest for being drunk in charge of a child in a bar in a hotel near the mother’s home. As a consequence, the local authority was required to find an emergency foster placement for the child. The child was made subject to an emergency protection order on 3rd March 2017. An interim care order was made on 10th March 2017 by a judge of the East London Family Court. 

Once removed from the mother’s care the child was place in a foster placement by the local authority. That decision, together with the second move of placement to another foster care placement, has been the subject of intense media coverage and there has been a significant media presence at various hearings of this matter. The nature of those placements and the child’s experiences and treatment within them together with the circumstances of the mother’s arrest have generated significant press interest in, and reporting of, the case. Both foster carers were Muslim. Some of the concerns about the foster carers and their ability to meet the child’s religious, cultural and linguistic needs, as reported in the press, had been either raised by the mother prior to the media reports or otherwise later adopted by her. The mother, her friends and a contact supervisor have been identified in the press as the source of the media reports. On the Guardian’s behalf, in particular, concern was expressed about the mother’s insight into the child’s needs in engaging in this conduct. There has been some evidence at this hearing that the concerns about those needs being met by the foster carers may have come from the father also. 

The court made a case management order at an earlier stage of the proceedings allowing the local authority to release an alternative narrative to the matters that had been reported in the press and to place those in the public domain by 1st November 2017. There had been an internal inquiry by the local authority on the issues raised in the press and it was the local authority’s conclusion that much of that reporting particularly as to the issues arising from the child’s foster placements, had been inaccurate, distorted and unfair. 

At the hearing on 2nd October 2017, as at previous hearings, journalists from a number of news outlets were present; their presence was not opposed by any party. The Times Newspaper Ltd was present and represented by counsel. At that hearing, and each subsequent hearing, the court’s case management orders recorded as follows:

AND UPON the Court reaffirming the importance of the press reporting in accordance with the established guidance and to do so with skill and proper judgment so as not to undermine the welfare of the child, either through direct identification or jigsaw identification.

No accredited member of the press attended at the final hearing. The court indicated that it had been informed by the Child’s Guardian that when the child was moved from her second foster placement to be placed in the care of the maternal grandmother at the end of August 2017 that, very sadly, this had to be undertaken with police presence and assistance, because of the numbers of press in attendance at the foster carer’s address. The child did not have the opportunity to have a proper goodbye with her carers. It would have been entirely in her best interests to do so. If all that is correct, and the court had no reason to conclude otherwise, the court could not see how such circumstances could be regarded as being in the child’s best interests. As observed by the Child’s Guardian, most unfortunately and through no fault or choice of her own, details of the child’s private life are in the public domain and will continue to exist online well into the future. 

In August 2013 the mother pleaded guilty to an earlier offence of battery against a security officer at a London casino after she had been drinking. 

In July 2017, the mother was convicted at a Magistrates’ Court of being drunk in charge of a child on 2nd March 2017. However, in October 2017 the mother’s appeal against such conviction was allowed at the Crown Court. 

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The court’s threshold findings

The court found that at the relevant date of 2nd March 2017 (being the day the child was removed by the police using their protection powers), pursuant to s.31(2) of the children Act 1989, the child had suffered and was likely to suffer significant harm and that the harm suffered or likely to be suffered is attributable to the care given her or likely to be given to her if an order was not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect her parents to give to her.

The court made the following specific findings as sought by the local authority: 

1

On 2.03.2017 the child was at risk of suffering the neglect of her basic care needs and emotional harm due to her mother’s excessive consumption of alcohol for the following reasons:

2

On the morning of 02.03.2017 the mother had been drinking with a male friend throughout the night since 01.03.2017 in the bar of a hotel whilst the child was in the mother’s care. Furthermore, the court found that the mother had knowingly presented misleading evidence, including the evidence of an expert toxicologist, in support of her appeal in the Crown Court. This expert reported without knowledge of the results of the mother’s hair strand tests which showed positive for cocaine and chronic and excessive use of alcohol by the mother for the highly relevant period of September 2016- May 2017

3

The hotel staff called the police because they were concerned about the mother’s behaviour.

4

The police attended the hotel bar and observed that the mother and her friend were both highly intoxicated.

5

The mother’s friend was so intoxicated that, when he was asked to stand up by the police, he fell over.

6

The child was removed by the police using their powers of protection.

7

The mother was arrested and released the following day on 03.03.2017.

8

On 03.03.2017 the mother attended the local authority’s offices to meet with members of the social work team and smelt strongly of alcohol.

9

The mother’s intoxicated state impaired her ability to safeguard and meet the child’s care needs, placing the child at risk of neglect and physical harm. 

10

It would also have been emotionally troubling for the child to witness this intoxicated behaviour of her mother and the mother’s friend.

11

The child was at risk of suffering the further neglect of her basic care needs and emotional harm due to her mother’s drug use and excessive consumption of alcohol for the following reasons:

— the incident on 02.03.2017 is the second time such an incident has been reported. On 24.09.2012 the Foreign Office received a referral from the duty manager of a hotel in Bulgaria expressing concerns about the mother’s wellbeing. The duty manager reported that he suspected that the mother may be on drugs or alcohol and that the hotel room was not particularly fit for a young child.

— the mother has pleaded guilty to the charge of driving a motor vehicle with excessive alcohol on 2 separate occasions; 16.03.08 and 24.04.09. This indicates that she makes poor decisions when she consumes alcohol.

— the mother tested positive for cocaethylene, a cocaine metabolite that was detected during the period from September 2016 to March 2017. The presence of the metabolite indicates the combined use of cocaine with alcohol. 

— hair strand test results dated 07.04.2017 shows the mother engaged in the excessive chronic consumption of alcohol equivalent to a bottle of wine per day.

— liver Function and CDT Blood Tests carried out in respect of the mother on 13.04.2017 indicated a “recent excessive alcohol intake”.

— a SCRAM bracelet detected the consumption of alcohol between the 13.05.2017 to14.05.2017, within 3 days of the bracelet being fitted.

12

The mother’s chronic and problematic use of alcohol coupled with her minimisation of such concerns gives rise to a risk of emotional harm by reason of the child being exposed to the mother’s alcohol use. It also gives rise to risks of domestic violence which seem to be linked to the mother’s drinking.

13

The mother’s use of alcohol amounted to a sustained pattern of problematic drinking rather than a one off incident of such problematic drinking on 1st – 2nd March 2017.

14

The mother and the putative father appeared to remain in an enmeshed relationship which appears to include a degree of financial control of the mother by putative father. 

15

The relationship between the mother and putative father had been characterised by incidents of domestic violence (some very serious) over a number of years such that if she and the putative father were together and the child were to be present there would be a real risk that the child may get caught up in the domestic violence and might be at risk of suffering physical and emotional harm which might be significant in its nature. 

16

That in the period between April 2012 and December 2016, while the child was primarily cared for by the maternal grandmother, she also spent significant periods of time with her mother and that during those periods of time the child and the mother visited the father on a number of occasions and the child was otherwise exposed to disruption arising out of the mother’s lifestyle which included changes of carers, different partners with whom the mother formed intense  relationships very quickly and other changes in her life. Were the child to be returned to the care of the mother there would be a risk that such pattern would continue.

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The court’s welfare findings.

The court had no doubt that the mother had taken the course she had in these proceedings, driven by the natural desire to be reunited with her daughter. On a subjective analysis she genuinely believes that the child will be better off in her care. Sadly, in the court’s judgement that motivation was also tinged with a degree of wounded pride. The mother’s position was not borne out on an objective assessment of the evidence and in light of the court’s threshold findings. 

The court concluded that the grandmother loves her daughter and is committed to her. It is likely that the maternal family have felt frustrated, disappointed and saddened by the mother’s conduct at times in the past, but the court was struck by what it perceived to be a depth of love for the mother and the child and a commitment to them by the grandmother and maternal family over the years despite the cost to them at times. 

The child had experienced the grandmother as primary carer on many occasions and for lengthy periods. It is clear that the grandmother understands the importance of the mother to the child and the court was satisfied that the grandmother was not seeking to supplant the mother as the child calls her own mother ‘mummy’. The court could see no basis for concluding that the grandmother would deny contact or excise the mother or the putative father from the child’s life. The court was further satisfied that the maternal aunt would protect the child’s interests. 

A placement away from the mother would significantly reduce the current levels of contact between the child and her mother. The child may well suffer emotional harm as a result, but the court was satisfied that this was likely to be in the short term and would be ameliorated by the quality of the care she would receive form the grandmother and the ongoing contact she would have with the mother. 

Addressing the welfare checklist in s.1 of the Children Act 1989 the court concluded that the mother’s capacity to provide adequate and appropriate care for the child long term is severely compromised and the child would be placed at risk of significant harm if returned to her care. The child’s welfare requires that the court override the fact that the mother did not consent to the orders proposed by the local authority. The court further concluded that there was no level of realistic support which could be put in place continuously to manage the risks identified by the court. 

The court was satisfied that the child’s global needs would be met by the maternal grandparents. The child loved her grandmother and was well attached to her. The child would be returning to a familiar carer and a familiar environment. 

Orders. 

The court approved the placement of the child with the maternal grandparents pursuant to a Special Guardianship Order made in the UK on 16th February 2018. The court directed that the maternal family should obtain from the family court in their country of origin, orders mirroring the orders of the UK courts.

The court further directed that:

— neither the mother nor the putative father (who the mother has stated is the father of the child) should remove the child from the care and control of the maternal grandparents.

— the putative father shall not have any face to face contact with child (save through Skype calls involving his own mother which are to be supervised by the maternal grandmother).

— the mother’s contact to the child shall be supervised by the maternal grandmother or the maternal grandfather, shall take place only at the home of the maternal grandparents 4 times per year (for 2 or 3 consecutive days on each occasion of contact) and shall not include the mother staying overnight with the child.

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THE SHAME OF ANDREW NORFOLK: JUDGMENT

September 7, 2018
Andrew Norfolk

JUDGED
ANDREW NORFOLK, chief investigative reporter for The Times, published a story so one-sided Press Gang condemns it as rogue journalism. His narrative is comprehensively destroyed in the court ruling released today. 
Photo: Graham Turner fro The Guardian

EARLIER TODAY Press Gang obtained the final judgment in the case involving the little girl at the centre of Andrew Norfolk’s article in The Times headed “Christian child forced to live with Muslim foster carers”.

Judge Khatun Sapnara delivered an explosive judgment which fatally undermines the narrative advanced by Norfolk, the paper’s chief investigative reporter, and approved by editor John Witherow.

The judgment justifies the first two parts of our series The Shame of Andrew Norfolk: Crusade and  Hallelujah!

The summary deserves to be read in full and Press Gang makes it available here in full. 

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Summary of the Judgment of Her Honour Judge Sapnara on 16th February 2018.

Background

The court gave judgment on 16th February 2018 following a 10 day final hearing in care proceedings instituted by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (‘the local authority’) pursuant to s.31 of the Children Act 1989 and in respect of the subject child AB (‘the child’) who was aged 6 at the time of the final hearing. The Court read extensive bundles of written material/evidence and also heard the oral evidence of fifteen live witnesses which included expert, professional (social workers and police) and lay witnesses. The child’s mother is CD (‘the mother’). She had the benefit of leading and junior counsel representation at this hearing. The child’s putative father is believed to be GH (‘the putative father’). He was not named on the child’s birth certificate and he had never been married to the mother. Therefore he did not have parental responsibility for the child. 

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JUDGE KHATUN SAPNARA
THE EAST LONDON Family Court judge has made sure that the false narrative spun by Andrew Norfolk and The Times was challenged. 

The child spent time in the care of two different foster carers before moving to live with her maternal grandmother (‘the maternal grandmother’), with the support of her maternal aunt (‘the maternal aunt’), towards the end of the summer of 2017. The child remained there at the time of the final hearing under an interim care order. Therefore, the local authority continued to share parental responsibility with the mother. The grandmother, the child and the maternal aunt lived together in the mother’s flat in London which the mother vacated to enable them all to live there. This had been the child’s home prior to removal and it was obviously therefore an environment with which the child was familiar. There was no dispute in this case that the child had a very warm and loving relationship with the maternal grandmother and the maternal aunt and that she was very familiar with them.

The putative father is a Russian national. He did not play any part in the proceedings. The mother in her oral evidence, towards the end of the hearing, maintained that she had not had any contact with the putative father since 2013 and she said that she had been unable to provide any contact details for him. Therefore, he was not formally served with notice of the proceedings. He did not attend any hearing and was not represented. He did not seek to make any application to be joined to the proceedings or to be assessed as a carer for the child, nor to have any contact with the child. He filed no evidence. He remained in Russia as far as the court could ascertain. Whilst he had played no formal role the court was satisfied that it was quite apparent that he was aware of the proceedings and that he had been a significant presence on the periphery of the case. 

The local authority’s care plan recommended the placement of the child with the maternal grandmother under a legal framework which is the nearest equivalent to a special guardianship order as exists in the maternal grandmother’s country of origin which is a Muslim majority country. The local authority proposed in its care plan that there  should be direct contact between the mother and the child four times a year, following the recommendations of the court appointed Children’s Guardian. It also proposed that there be Skype contact between the child and the father.

The local authority’s position was supported by the court appointed Children’s Guardian. The maternal grandmother was not represented in the proceedings but her position was advanced by the local authority with whom she was ad idem.

The local authority invited the court to find that the threshold for the making of final orders was crossed as at the relevant date of 2nd March 2017. The local authority  asserted that as at that date the child had suffered, and was likely to suffer, significant harm and that such harm was attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to her, if an order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect her parents to give her. The broad areas of the local authority’s concerns were the mother’s excessive consumption of alcohol, neglect of the child’s needs and the child suffering emotional harm due to her mother’s drug use and excessive use of alcohol. 

The mother opposed the local authority’s applications. She did not accept that the threshold criteria had been crossed on the facts of the case and disputed all the findings sought by the local authority. She sought the immediate return of the child to her care. Initially her position had been that she wanted the maternal grandmother and the maternal aunt to support her caring for the child in the UK. The maternal grandmother and the maternal aunt did not wish to do that and sought to return to their country of origin with the child as quickly as possible. By the time the mother came to give her oral evidence, she clarified that she was not opposed to a placement with the maternal grandmother in her country of origin in principle but only in the event that the child was not returned to her care. The mother was born and brought up in that country. Both the mother and the child have previously resided there and they each hold dual nationality passports for that country and also for the UK. 

The mother contended that the child had not suffered, nor was she at risk of suffering, significant harm owing to the care she had received from the mother. She stated that she had addressed her alcohol and drug misuse and believed that the child’s welfare would be best met by a return to the mother’s care and that the mother would be marginalised in her child’s life to the child’s detriment if the child went to live with the maternal grandmother in her country of origin. Therefore, the mother sought the immediate return of the child to her care. 

The mother’s case was that her relationship with her daughter was good whilst the child was in foster care and that in fact there was only a negative change when the child went to live with maternal grandmother. It formed no part of the mother’s case that the child would not be loved and well cared for by the maternal grandmother, nor that the child’s needs would not be met by the maternal grandmother. 

The maternal grandparents are Muslim. The maternal family members are educated and of a relatively affluent professional background.  The maternal grandmother chose to take an oath on the Qur’an before giving oral evidence. The grandparents say that they do not attend Mosque but they do pray at home. No issue has been raised about the grandmother’s ability to meet the child’s religious needs. The mother’s primary concern is that if the child were to live with the grandparents, her contact with the child would be at risk. The mother identifies as Christian. There is some evidence that the putative father is also of Christian belief and that he was concerned about the child with regard to her religious needs when she was in foster care.

The child was born in the UK but had also spent a lot of time with her maternal grandparents in their country of origin. Prior to coming to the UK in January 2017 the mother and child had been involved in extensive international travels and spent time in various countries. However the chronology of the movement of the mother and child across international borders and the reasons for doing so and the times that they did so was complicated and difficult for the court to establish. The local authority contends that between 2013 and 2017 the child spent significant periods of time travelling abroad with the mother and was cared for at other times by the maternal grandparents. The mother disputed some of the details in relation to this and maintained that at all times she was the child’s primary carer. 

In January 2017 the mother travelled to the UK with the child. On the morning of 2nd March 2017 the child was removed from the mother’s care under a police protection order following the mother’s arrest for being drunk in charge of a child in a bar in a hotel near the mother’s home. As a consequence, the local authority was required to find an emergency foster placement for the child. The child was made subject to an emergency protection order on 3rd March 2017. An interim care order was made on 10th March 2017 by a judge of the East London Family Court. 

Once removed from the mother’s care the child was place in a foster placement by the local authority. That decision, together with the second move of placement to another foster care placement, has been the subject of intense media coverage and there has been a significant media presence at various hearings of this matter. The nature of those placements and the child’s experiences and treatment within them together with the circumstances of the mother’s arrest have generated significant press interest in, and reporting of, the case. Both foster carers were Muslim. Some of the concerns about the foster carers and their ability to meet the child’s religious, cultural and linguistic needs, as reported in the press, had been either raised by the mother prior to the media reports or otherwise later adopted by her. The mother, her friends and a contact supervisor have been identified in the press as the source of the media reports. On the Guardian’s behalf, in particular, concern was expressed about the mother’s insight into the child’s needs in engaging in this conduct. There has been some evidence at this hearing that the concerns about those needs being met by the foster carers may have come from the father also. 

The court made a case management order at an earlier stage of the proceedings allowing the local authority to release an alternative narrative to the matters that had been reported in the press and to place those in the public domain by 1st November 2017. There had been an internal inquiry by the local authority on the issues raised in the press and it was the local authority’s conclusion that much of that reporting particularly as to the issues arising from the child’s foster placements, had been inaccurate, distorted and unfair. 

At the hearing on 2nd October 2017, as at previous hearings, journalists from a number of news outlets were present; their presence was not opposed by any party. The Times Newspaper Ltd was present and represented by counsel. At that hearing, and each subsequent hearing, the court’s case management orders recorded as follows:

AND UPON the Court reaffirming the importance of the press reporting in accordance with the established guidance and to do so with skill and proper judgment so as not to undermine the welfare of the child, either through direct identification or jigsaw identification.

No accredited member of the press attended at the final hearing. The court indicated that it had been informed by the Child’s Guardian that when the child was moved from her second foster placement to be placed in the care of the maternal grandmother at the end of August 2017 that, very sadly, this had to be undertaken with police presence and assistance, because of the numbers of press in attendance at the foster carer’s address. The child did not have the opportunity to have a proper goodbye with her carers. It would have been entirely in her best interests to do so. If all that is correct, and the court had no reason to conclude otherwise, the court could not see how such circumstances could be regarded as being in the child’s best interests. As observed by the Child’s Guardian, most unfortunately and through no fault or choice of her own, details of the child’s private life are in the public domain and will continue to exist online well into the future. 

In August 2013 the mother pleaded guilty to an earlier offence of battery against a security officer at a London casino after she had been drinking. 

In July 2017, the mother was convicted at a Magistrates’ Court of being drunk in charge of a child on 2nd March 2017. However, in October 2017 the mother’s appeal against such conviction was allowed at the Crown Court. 

♦♦♦

The court’s threshold findings

The court found that at the relevant date of 2nd March 2017 (being the day the child was removed by the police using their protection powers), pursuant to s.31(2) of the children Act 1989, the child had suffered and was likely to suffer significant harm and that the harm suffered or likely to be suffered is attributable to the care given her or likely to be given to her if an order was not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect her parents to give to her.

The court made the following specific findings as sought by the local authority: 

1

On 2.03.2017 the child was at risk of suffering the neglect of her basic care needs and emotional harm due to her mother’s excessive consumption of alcohol for the following reasons:

2

On the morning of 02.03.2017 the mother had been drinking with a male friend throughout the night since 01.03.2017 in the bar of a hotel whilst the child was in the mother’s care. Furthermore, the court found that the mother had knowingly presented misleading evidence, including the evidence of an expert toxicologist, in support of her appeal in the Crown Court. This expert reported without knowledge of the results of the mother’s hair strand tests which showed positive for cocaine and chronic and excessive use of alcohol by the mother for the highly relevant period of September 2016- May 2017

3

The hotel staff called the police because they were concerned about the mother’s behaviour.

4

The police attended the hotel bar and observed that the mother and her friend were both highly intoxicated.

5

The mother’s friend was so intoxicated that, when he was asked to stand up by the police, he fell over.

6

The child was removed by the police using their powers of protection.

7

The mother was arrested and released the following day on 03.03.2017.

8

On 03.03.2017 the mother attended the local authority’s offices to meet with members of the social work team and smelt strongly of alcohol.

9

The mother’s intoxicated state impaired her ability to safeguard and meet the child’s care needs, placing the child at risk of neglect and physical harm.

10

It would also have been emotionally troubling for the child to witness this intoxicated behaviour of her mother and the mother’s friend.

11

The child was at risk of suffering the further neglect of her basic care needs and emotional harm due to her mother’s drug use and excessive consumption of alcohol for the following reasons:

— the incident on 02.03.2017 is the second time such an incident has been reported. On 24.09.2012 the Foreign Office received a referral from the duty manager of a hotel in Bulgaria expressing concerns about the mother’s wellbeing. The duty manager reported that he suspected that the mother may be on drugs or alcohol and that the hotel room was not particularly fit for a young child.

— the mother has pleaded guilty to the charge of driving a motor vehicle with excessive alcohol on 2 separate occasions; 16.03.08 and 24.04.09. This indicates that she makes poor decisions when she consumes alcohol.

— the mother tested positive for cocaethylene, a cocaine metabolite that was detected during the period from September 2016 to March 2017. The presence of the metabolite indicates the combined use of cocaine with alcohol. 

— hair strand test results dated 07.04.2017 shows the mother engaged in the excessive chronic consumption of alcohol equivalent to a bottle of wine per day.

— liver Function and CDT Blood Tests carried out in respect of the mother on 13.04.2017 indicated a “recent excessive alcohol intake”.

— a SCRAM bracelet detected the consumption of alcohol between the 13.05.2017 to14.05.2017, within 3 days of the bracelet being fitted.

12

The mother’s chronic and problematic use of alcohol coupled with her minimisation of such concerns gives rise to a risk of emotional harm by reason of the child being exposed to the mother’s alcohol use. It also gives rise to risks of domestic violence which seem to be linked to the mother’s drinking.

13

The mother’s use of alcohol amounted to a sustained pattern of problematic drinking rather than a one off incident of such problematic drinking on 1st – 2nd March 2017.

14

The mother and the putative father appeared to remain in an enmeshed relationship which appears to include a degree of financial control of the mother by putative father.

15

The relationship between the mother and putative father had been characterised by incidents of domestic violence (some very serious) over a number of years such that if she and the putative father were together and the child were to be present there would be a real risk that the child may get caught up in the domestic violence and might be at risk of suffering physical and emotional harm which might be significant in its nature.

16

That in the period between April 2012 and December 2016, while the child was primarily cared for by the maternal grandmother, she also spent significant periods of time with her mother and that during those periods of time the child and the mother visited the father on a number of occasions and the child was otherwise exposed to disruption arising out of the mother’s lifestyle which included changes of carers, different partners with whom the mother formed intense  relationships very quickly and other changes in her life. Were the child to be returned to the care of the mother there would be a risk that such pattern would continue.

♦♦♦

The court’s welfare findings.

The court had no doubt that the mother had taken the course she had in these proceedings, driven by the natural desire to be reunited with her daughter. On a subjective analysis she genuinely believes that the child will be better off in her care. Sadly, in the court’s judgement that motivation was also tinged with a degree of wounded pride. The mother’s position was not borne out on an objective assessment of the evidence and in light of the court’s threshold findings. 

The court concluded that the grandmother loves her daughter and is committed to her. It is likely that the maternal family have felt frustrated, disappointed and saddened by the mother’s conduct at times in the past, but the court was struck by what it perceived to be a depth of love for the mother and the child and a commitment to them by the grandmother and maternal family over the years despite the cost to them at times. 

The child had experienced the grandmother as primary carer on many occasions and for lengthy periods. It is clear that the grandmother understands the importance of the mother to the child and the court was satisfied that the grandmother was not seeking to supplant the mother as the child calls her own mother ‘mummy’. The court could see no basis for concluding that the grandmother would deny contact or excise the mother or the putative father from the child’s life. The court was further satisfied that the maternal aunt would protect the child’s interests. 

A placement away from the mother would significantly reduce the current levels of contact between the child and her mother. The child may well suffer emotional harm as a result, but the court was satisfied that this was likely to be in the short term and would be ameliorated by the quality of the care she would receive form the grandmother and the ongoing contact she would have with the mother. 

Addressing the welfare checklist in s.1 of the Children Act 1989 the court concluded that the mother’s capacity to provide adequate and appropriate care for the child long term is severely compromised and the child would be placed at risk of significant harm if returned to her care. The child’s welfare requires that the court override the fact that the mother did not consent to the orders proposed by the local authority. The court further concluded that there was no level of realistic support which could be put in place continuously to manage the risks identified by the court. 

The court was satisfied that the child’s global needs would be met by the maternal grandparents. The child loved her grandmother and was well attached to her. The child would be returning to a familiar carer and a familiar environment. 

Orders. 

The court approved the placement of the child with the maternal grandparents pursuant to a Special Guardianship Order made in the UK on 16th February 2018. The court directed that the maternal family should obtain from the family court in their country of origin, orders mirroring the orders of the UK courts.

The court further directed that:

— neither the mother nor the putative father (who the mother has stated is the father of the child) should remove the child from the care and control of the maternal grandparents.

— the putative father shall not have any face to face contact with child (save through Skype calls involving his own mother which are to be supervised by the maternal grandmother).

— the mother’s contact to the child shall be supervised by the maternal grandmother or the maternal grandfather, shall take place only at the home of the maternal grandparents 4 times per year (for 2 or 3 consecutive days on each occasion of contact) and shall not include the mother staying overnight with the child.

♦♦♦

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THE SHAME OF ANDREW NORFOLK — PART TWO: HALLELUJAH!

August 30, 2018

 

Norfolk_series_head_02
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.

image

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.”

DIRBYN_XoAALCx8

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.”

5fc99c58-8ce9-11e7-a5d5-0066a735a5c3

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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♦♦♦

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