Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The klaxon in The Transparency Project bat cave has been set to silent these past few weeks, given the strident frequency with which it had been blaring out. However, requests from concerned readers are still getting through – and one was keen to know our take on this recent item from The Mail on Sunday – Too Middle class to be a Good Mother, published on April 18th 2017.

Given the surprising lack of interest in my proposed Booker BabelFish app, I have had time on my hands to develop a Daily Mail Fearometer; an app though which you could run a reasonably sober news item and have it turned instantly into precisely the kind of fear inducing confection that seems to go down a treat with this particular publication or its sister on Sunday.

I thought it would be interesting to examine how the Mail has introduced fear in place of what are actual facts. I am able to undertake this exercise not only because I am able to exercise my own common sense and knowledge about how the world works, but because we also have the benefit of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) decision about the wrong-doing of the social worker in this particular case. The Mail, of course, does not provide a link to this decision in its article.

The determination of the HCPC was that the social worker had acted wrongly. On the basis of flawed assessments, Ms Baxter’s* four year old daughter was removed from her care for about 2 months and she was awarded £34,000 in compensation for this wrongdoing. And there, you might think, is story enough. But not enough for the Mail. It needed to garnish this story with a variety of fear-mongering falsehoods. I make the same point with regard to this that I made with my criticism of (almost all) of Christopher Booker’s output. This is wrong. It matters. Encouraging people to feel fear and distrust of social workers and family courts does not make things any better for them or their children – but it does increase the likelihood of more juicy ‘mums on the run’ stories to feed the tabloid appetites.

*Ms Baxter is not her real name.

So lets put some fearful meat on the bones. Compare and contrast what the Mail asserts with what the reality actually was. The fundamental dishonesty in the Mail article – that this mother was ‘targeted’ for no reason at all, other than that she provoked resentment with all her middle class piano playing ways amongst clog wearing ‘working class’ social workers – is ironically revealed by the Mail itself, which comments ‘A single mother with no family support for miles around, she admitted she was struggling… knowing that she suffered from anxiety attacks and stress she asked for assistance looking after [her child].

Mother was ‘targeted’ for middle class values. Resentful social worker takes child because mother is ‘pushy’ and insists on piano lessons. The social workers who dealt with her were ‘working class’ who looked upon middle class people as ‘different from normal’. Mother had sought help since 2012, admitting that she was struggling to cope. I don’t know on what basis this mother or the Mail were able to identify the socio-economic status of the social workers or conclude that middle class people were so far beyond their experience they were seen as not ‘normal’. Its a bizarre allegation and smacks of effort to fit the facts into a particular narrative, one that suits both the journalist’s purpose, or is at least in part symptomatic of a mother who may (understandably) find it hard to accept she really was struggling at the time, and it is more palatable to assert that she was instead ‘targeted’ for being ‘too good’ a parent.
Mother branded ‘a drunk’ for ‘a glass of wine’ Social worker relied upon a misrecorded doctor’s note which referred to the mother drinking ‘two bottles of wine a day’ . This is of course extremely unfortunate, so too the failure of speedy correction to this serious error.   However, the mother’s own assertion in the article is that it is ‘pretty normal’ for ‘stressed, busy mums to look forward to a couple of glasses of wine’. I am sure that this is ‘pretty normal’. It does not however make it a sensible coping mechanism for anyone already suffering from anxiety serious enough that they have sought respite care for their child. I think there is little wonder that the social worker would have been concerned about the mother’s admitted levels of drinking. The wrongly recorded doctor’s note would have cemented those concerns.
The case against her was fabricated; her daughter was ‘suddenly’ taken away from her based on ‘false evidence’ No. What happened here is that there clearly WAS evidence of a mother who was stressed and not coping. That evidence came from the mother herself, who asked for help. It is clear that other events were then misrecorded or misconstrued or over zealously pursued.  That is a serious wrong that needed to be put right. But it is not correct to talk of ‘fabrication’ or ‘sudden’ removals in such a case. In fact it is an  outright lie – this is what happened recorded at para 20 of the HCPC Committee findings: “Following the Legal Panel meeting on 2 August 2012, Child B went into planned respite care on 10 August 2012. Service User A was informed on 13 August 2012 that Child B was to remain in respite care whilst an Interim Care Order was applied for because there were concerns. Service User A reluctantly agreed that Child B should remain in respite care until a court hearing could take place”.


Innocent facts were ‘twisted and exaggerated’ in Kafkaesque case to terrify any parent. It was a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ with ‘no logical way out’. I just don’t understand what the Mail is trying to do here. It is again, undermining the rule of law and the role of the court by the neat trick of simply ignoring that either exist. Of course there is a way out if social workers try and steal your child – you engage with your lawyer, you go to court and you tell the court why the social worker is wrong.

And what actually happened here? from para 21 of the HCPC Committee Findings:”PB, a Family Court Advisor from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) was appointed as Child B’s guardian. On 6 September 2012, PB spoke to Child B and observed a contact session between Service User A and Child B. PB recalls that the contact session, was one of the best planned and executed she had ever seen. After the contact session PB spoke to JB. There is a dispute about what was said. PB’s recollection is that she told the Registrant that her view was that Child B should be returned home in the shortest possible time. The Registrant’s recollection is that there was a discussion about the positive contact session, the Local Authority’s plan for reunification and Service User A’s health, but that there was no recommendation from PB that Child B should be returned home as soon as possible. Child B was returned home on 28 September 2012.”

And lets have a look at the actual ‘notice of allegation’ that was put to the social worker. There is an unsurprising dearth of any allegation that piano playing or class fuelled resentments played any part in this. The mother was engaged with a mental health team. The social worker was worried about issues relating to alcohol consumption and self harming. This does not of course excuse for one moment any over zealous campaign to take a child into care. But it provides rather more context than attempting to terrify parents into getting rid of their pianos.

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker for Devon County Council you were involved with the case of Service User A and her child, Child B, and you:
1. Provided misleading information and/or misrepresented information in that:
a) On or around 19 July 2012, during a meeting with a mental health team, you implied to Community Psychiatric Nurse C that the Local Authority was seeking to remove Child B from her mother’s care but after the meeting you indicated that the Local Authority was seeking to remove Child B due to the concerns of the mental health team.
b) In case notes dated 30 July 2012 you stated Service User A was self-harming and had threatened to take her own life and Child B’s life when this was not accurate. (HCPC offered no evidence in relation to this particular)
c) During meetings between approximately 30 July 2012 and 7 August 2012 relating to the case of Child B you;
i. Implied that Service User A’s level of self-harm was more severe than it actually was;
ii. Implied that Service User A’s level of alcohol consumption was higher than it actually was;
iii. Provided an inaccurate and/or exaggerated account of Child B’s behaviour during and/or following respite care;
iv. Reported that Service User A had threatened to harm herself and Child B when this was not the case;
v. Reported that Child B was not being seen in public, when this was not the case.
d) In a Statement of Evidence that you submitted for the Local Authority’s application for an Interim Care Order you:
i. Implied that Service User A’s level of self-harm was more severe than it actually was;
ii. Implied that Service User A’s level of alcohol consumption was higher than it actually was;
iii. Provided an inaccurate and/or exaggerated account of Child B’s behaviour following respite care;
iv. Reported that Child B was suffering significant emotional harm when this was not substantiated.
2. Asked Community Psychiatric Nurse C to remove a section from the Team Risk Review letter dated 2 August 2012 that stated there were no current concerns about physical harm to Child B.
3. Did not act on a recommendation from Person D to return Child B home at the earliest opportunity.
4. Your actions as described in paragraphs 1 and 2 were dishonest.
5. The matters as described in paragraphs 1, 2 and 4 constitute misconduct.
6. The matters as described in paragraph 3 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
7. By reason of that misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.


This kind of twisted and inaccurate reporting matters. It really, really matters. It doesn’t make children any safer or the system any fairer. It certainly doesn’t acknowledge the terrible damage that has been done to care proceedings by the continued emphasis on the ‘child rescue’ narrative; a continued emphasis that owes its existence and promulgation almost entirely to the tabloid press and its terrifyingly deliberate inaccurate reporting.

I make jocular digs at The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as a coping mechanism. Otherwise, I suspect I would simply curl up in a dark corner and sob. We all deserve so much better than this.