When Times journalist Andrew Norfolk put his name on the by-line of the now-infamous “Muslim Fostering” story a year ago, his reputation was at its height. He alone had laid bare the reality of grooming gangs in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham, his exposés had become the stuff of press legend, and had won him both plaudits and awards.
Andrew Norfolk - yesterday's award winner
So when “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care” hit the news stands, it was treated with utmost seriousness. A Christian child placed with a daily who didn’t speak English? This was the stuff of scandal, made worse by the local authority concerned being Tower Hamlets. No-one stopped to think that no family gets on the fostering register unless they speak English. No-one realised that Norfolk had based his story on a single source.
And no-one stopped to think that the child’s mother - whose identity they all knew - not only had a history of apparent drug and alcohol abuse, but was skilled in, shall we say, spinning the most creative of yarns. No, no-one stopped to think. But then, the relevant Case Management Order was released by Tower Hamlets, and Norfolk was bust.
One snippet of the CMO told you all you needed to know about the reality of this case: “The child was removed from the mother’s care and placed by social services with foster carers on an emergency basis … as a result of the police exercising their powers of protection. There was no culturally matched foster placement available at the time”.
As to the mother’s claim that the child was “sobbing” and unhappy in her foster home, “The child’s Guardian has undertaken enquiries and visited the child in the current foster carer’s home and spoken to the child alone. The Guardian has no concerns as to the child’s welfare and she reports that the child is settled and well cared for by the foster carer”.
Now, Press Gang has blown open the last excuses of Andrew Norfolk, beginning with the background of the child and her mother. Remember the “they don’t speak English as their first language?” claim against foster carers? Well, “Her mother comes from a relatively humble Muslim background in a predominantly Muslim country … The mother tongue of both the child’s mother and her grandmother is not English”.
For some reason, Andrew Norfolk the award winning journalist missed that, but Press Gang did not. Oh, and “The child knows her grandmother well … She has her own room in her grandparents’ home”. A home that is not in the UK.
For some reason, Norfolk also failed to stress “At a court hearing in March, the mother asked that her daughter be placed in the care of her grandmother … Tower Hamlets was in favour if the grandmother passed the necessary assessment process … The process was delayed partly because the grandmother’s main residence was in a foreign country and because official documents had to be translated into her mother tongue”.
But it is Norfolk’s dismissal of expert advice that truly shreds his reputation. “He contacted experts in fostering … One of these was Andy Elvin, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT)” [who said] “Norfolk … appeared to be totally unaware of basic family court proceedings”. Elvin warned Norfolk “You shouldn’t go near this story - it just doesn’t ring true”. Norfolk accused Elvin of being defensive.
Undeterred, Norfolk then went to a journalist who was also a foster carer. This source told Press Gang “He knew that the child’s heritage was complex and that she was the daughter of migrants on both sides … He had enough information to work out that some members of the family may also be Muslim”. As to the mother’s complaints, there was more.
“I explained that birth families routinely - and understandably, perhaps - find fault in foster carers or make false allegations … I also explained that family contact sessions are often difficult, and generally don’t reflect the quality of the placement … I told him he should be very careful”. Then Press Gang echoes my comments about the child’s mother.
“Norfolk was also uniquely placed to investigate the mother’s background … The Times’ news desk - like those of all national newspapers - was well aware of the circumstances in which the child came to be taken into care”. And there was more.
Norfolk could have easily found out that “the mother has had relationships with men from several different countries … this wasn’t the first time she’d been involved with the police … she appeared to have issues with both alcohol and drugs … she has an older child who has been the subject of proceedings in the family court”.
But if Andrew Norfolk did find that out, the information was somehow mislaid or edited out of the final story. And, perhaps the most damning part of Press Gang’s revelations, came on the timing of publication. “The paper would publish the mother’s version of events … The paper also decided that the story would feature on the front page on Monday, August 28 … The date was significant because there was a long-arranged hearing of the family scheduled for the next day”. And what made that so significant?
An assessment of the child’s grandmother as a suitable carer had proved positive, so “the court was almost certain to end the foster care and place the child in the care of her grandmother … After that date, the child would no longer have been in the care of Muslim foster carers but have moved to be with her Muslim grandmother”. In another country, where the family’s first language is not English.
As Press Gang has observed, “Andrew Norfolk and The Times [were asked] if this was the reason why August 28 was chosen [for publication] … Neither Norfolk nor The Times answered the question”. That’s another way of saying “bang to rights”.
One year ago, I surmised “The thought enters that the Murdoch press, which has such a grim record of crude and bigoted Islamophobia at the Times’ downmarket sister title the Sun, has used the reputation of Andrew Norfolk to inflate a story about a temporary foster placement to combine an attack on an under-fire council with more Muslim bashing”.
And once again, Zelo Street had this figured out dead right. Now, Press Gang has shown that Andrew Norfolk was warned to tread carefully, but did not. His reporting was selective in the extreme. The incidence of falsehood and misinformation was so significant as not to be an accident. And once again, a reputable journalist has sacrificed his credibility on the altar of Murdoch expediency in pursuit of a blatantly racist agenda.
Andrew Norfolk’s reputation was for a time, but not for all time.
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