The #Rotherham #UKIP Case – Will Nigel Farage and Michael Gove now apologise?

When the story broke that three children had been moved from a foster family in Rotherham, reportedly for being members of UKIP, I went out and talked to social workers, solicitors and care leavers. Consistently I got a response that the reported account was implausible, and there was almost certainly a more complex story to it. I put up a blog post saying so, and got a barrage of responses, much of them abusive.

Now a more complete picture is coming out about the affair. And – surprise, surprise – it was more complex than that. The details emerging are not of politically-crusading social workers with a grudge against UKIP, but of a difficult court case, dealing with distressing circumstances, with social services trying to comply with court rulings and fend off legal counter-arguments from the birth family.

This was not a case that should have been played out in the public domain like this. These are incredibly vulnerable children and their privacy has been invaded in an atrocious manner. I’m not going to repeat the details here (though people can just go to the Guardian for that)  but the distressing nature of their abuse gives a clear reason why such matters should be kept confidential. Not because social services have anything to hide, but to safeguard the wellbeing of the children.

A badly-handled interview with Joyce Thacker, Rotherham’s director of children’s services, didn’t help. Though with hindsight this is likely to be partly due to being caught on the hop on a Saturday morning, and also partly due to trying to be careful about what she said about a complex case. It may have been better for the council to have simply put out a “no comment” rather than trying to rush out an interview at the weekend.

Quite possibly the foster carers may well now have some difficult questions to answer about the way they went to the media and ignited a political firestorm. But politicians also have some questions to answer about the way they conducted themselves in this case. Nigel Farage practically turned  the whole thing into a party political broadcast for UKIP. Then there’s Michael Gove, the minister responsible for children’s services. He called it “indefensible” though in fact it turned out to be totally defensible. He also called it “the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons”. Did he even know the way or the reasons when he said that? Was he even interested, or was he simply putting the Rotherham by-election before his ministerial responsibilities?

Ed Miliband emerges only marginally better in that, unlike Gove and Farage, he admitted he didn’t know the facts of the case and limited himself to calling for an investigation.

If politicians were cynical and opportunistic, some in the media were even worse. For example, the inexplicably-respected blogger Guido Fawkes ran an absolutely barking mad article. “Rotherham’s UKIP Child-Catcher Joyce Thacker Follows Common Purpose Progressive Agenda.” He leapt on a set of conspiracy theories, straight from David Icke territory, that accuse a rather dull training company called Common Purpose of trying to rewire our society along a “Marxist and Fabian” agenda. He concluded.

Thacker is yet another graduate of the Common Purpose organisation which pursues a“we know best” Fabian-style progressive agenda in the public sector. She was a project advisor for a pilot programme, run by Common Purpose, that was concerned with diversity issues in the West Yorkshire area. Something tells Guido she has an axe to grind in this and is not a neutral public servant…

Something tells me that Guido had better hope Ms Thacker doesn’t find herself a decent no-win-no-fee libel lawyer.

Nothing good has come out of this affair. Vulnerable children have had their privacy invaded. Hardworking and honest public servants have been grossly slandered. And why? For short-term political gain in a by-election. The likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Guido Fawkes need to apologise for their shameful behaviour in this ridiculous and unpleasant case.

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25 Responses to “The #Rotherham #UKIP Case – Will Nigel Farage and Michael Gove now apologise?”

  1. Apologize? Better off asking the cat to walk to heel.

  2. You don’t point to any errors of fact. In that car crash TV interview Joyce Thacker herself stated that the foster parents UKIP membership was a trigger for the action. So she would have no grounds for action.

    As for your characterisation of Common Purpose as a dull training company, I’m afraid that won’t wash. As its founder used to freely admit, it was set up with a political purpose and agenda.

    • The errors of fact are in the Guardian report. The suggestion that the social workers moved the family out of their own ideology is simply not true, but a reflection of a complex legal case and events not of their making.

  3. I’m still unclear. Was the question of political affiliation brought up as a point at all, or is that total fabrication? If it was, irrespective of the additional complexities, that political affiliation was even asked of and deemed as a mark against the couple just doesn’t sit right with me

  4. If anything this case poses more questions of Gove’s stated approach to social work. It is a complex case with a variety of competing needs, challenges and vulnerabilities. Social Work faces these complexities and challenges and is prepared to have its actions scrutinised by a variety of internal and external organisations. Simple and straightforward it is not, nor is it secret. To understand the issues involved we are required to demonstrate sensitivity and self awareness.
    Seeking simple answers is easy, being prepared to look for more difficult ones is hard, it takes morals, courage and awareness of the ethical environment. We have a right to expect the same of our political leaders.

  5. In your last post on this topic you majored on the duty of confidentiality as a key reason for a supposedly skewed story emerging (and presumably for the spectacularly inept Thacker performance on Today).

    Ironic then that you are now crowing on the basis of “sources close to the case” having comprehensively spilled their guts in an attempt to get out from under.

    • Excuse me but I have addressed the issue of confidentiality in this post as well as the previous one.

      See this paragraph:

      This was not a case that should have been played out in the public domain like this. These are incredibly vulnerable children and their privacy has been invaded in an atrocious manner. I’m not going to repeat the details here (though people can just go to the Guardian for that) but the distressing nature of their abuse gives a clear reason why such matters should be kept confidential. Not because social services have anything to hide, but to safeguard the wellbeing of the children.

      I don’t see how I could have stated my view any clearer than that.

  6. Nevertheless, you are relying on “a more complete picture” provided by the Authority via anonymous briefings to the Graun – supplying us by the way with vastly more specific and intimate detail than the carers ever did – and suggest that everyone from the carers to Staines, via Farage and Gove have questions to answer wrt confidentiality, while seemingly giving the energetically leaking Rotherham Social Services a clear bill of health.

    The whiff of partial double standards is powerful.

    • “The whiff of partial double standards is powerful.”

      How? The lies from the UKIP foster parents forced the hand of the local SS into outing details that would otherwise have remained confidential. By discussing the case in public as a cynical attempt to martyr themselves as victims of “PC gone mad” in order to gain votes for their party they proved themselves unfit to foster cats let alone children in the middle of a massively traumatic child abuse case.

      I suspect you would rather the local authority kept silent and allowed UKIP to manipulate the electorate with it’s shameful exploitation of vulnerable children.

  7. I dont think that Nigel Farage did any thing wrong at the time this story came out, in fact i would have dun the same, if some one brings you name or caricature in to disrepute in public you make a stand rightly so, if apologies are needed thay will no bout be forth coming im sure of that. Paul Camilleri.

  8. “The lies from the UKIP foster parents”

    Which lies would these be, specifically?

    • Speaking personally, I don’t think the foster carers should be accused of lying. There may well have been an honest disagreement between the carers and the council.

      That said, what does concern me is the speed at which they seem to have gone to politicians and the media. It leaves me wondering whether or not they tried to resolve the issue in-house e.g. by complaining to the head of the local authority, rather than kicking off a media storm.

      While I suspect that there’s few aspects of this case that RichardT and I are going to agree on, one thing I would agree with him on is that whoever in the council has been supplying details to the Guardian, they almost certainly shouldn’t have done so. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Hence why I didn’t include any of those details in this blog post.

      Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, this was a dispute that should have been resolved in a less public way, so as to protect the privacy of the children, and I’m wondering whether anyone even attempted to do so.

  9. “e.g. by complaining to the head of the local authority”

    I assume this suggestion was offered humorously.

    More seriously, it’s interesting how many left-leaning blogs which normally display a presumption in favour of whistle-blowing (I except the present organ, which I only recently came across via a link and upon whose track record in this respect I cannot comment) have suddenly developed an enthusiasm for keeping things in-house and following the normal chain of command. Perhaps the point is to distinguish between good whistleblowers and bad ones such as UKIP supporters.

    • If Rotherham Council is anything like my NHS trust, it should have a whistleblowing policy that people can use to raise concerns.

      I’ve only invoked the whistleblowing policy for my trust on one occasion. Although I’d be lying if I said the eventual decision was to my total satisfaction, I can definitely say that I received no consequences against me for having done so.

      However, if I’d ignored the whistleblowing policy and gone straight to the media instead, I know exactly what would have happened to me.

      To me this isn’t a left vs right issue. It’s a professional and ethical issue. If you work with vulnerable people then you have to follow certain rules.

  10. “It’s a professional and ethical issue. If you work with vulnerable people then you have to follow certain rules.”

    Couldn’t agree more. And if the carers’ account of what they were told by SWs is accurate (and it has not been challenged by the Authority either in interviews or anonymous briefings to Graun journos) then the latter’s approach to professional ethics has been at best relaxed.

  11. An interesting nugget well hidden in the Graun piece is that seemingly someone in the council went to the birth parents home town (in East Europe) to check out their background; : a lot of time and expense not given to cases closer to home…Oh the hidden extras of EU open borders…

  12. I think Gove’s reponse was entirely reasonable given the way the foster parents were treated and the information the council gave the press. They could have given the foster carers enough info to enable them to understand decision without breachibg confidentiality. If theystill went to press then public deserve enough vague detail to reassure themselves that social workers dont work in arbitrary way. Foster parents do a difficult job nd undergo rigot

  13. Its me again! I would like to make a few general points.

    Nothing in the Guardian article undermines what both the foster carers and Joyce Thacker stated quite clearly – that the reason for removal was the UKIP membership of the carers and UKIP’s policy on immigration, in particular east European immigration. When I made my original response I had been made aware from someone, who seemed to have good intelligence on the Politicus web-site about the specific ethnicity of the birth family, and that the motivation of the LA was likely to be fear of criticism by the court, and perhaps decisions which might be made in court.In my view this does not resolve the matter, but it might shift the focus from the LA to decision making in the court.

    The Guardian is utilising at least two sources, one of which is likely to be the solicitor for the birth family; the other is presumably some sort of condoned leak from the LA. The following questions springs to mind;

    1) how, given the ethnic group mentioned did the authorities become aware of all of this? I will hazard a guess and suggest that this might be a dual heritage family, with a British born mother and an ‘ethnically different’ father. I see no way that any of the concerns mentioned in the article would have reached the authorities unless this was the case
    2) how can the LA place these children safely, given the ethnicity mentioned? If placed within the birth father’s community, they are going to be located very quickly. There is a suggestion within the article that there is a danger to the placement. This would certainly be the case in any placement within Rotherham, but I do not see how this disappears with a move to an ethnic match outside of Rotherham. It needs to be noted that at this time the birth family will be having regular contact, (unless they fail to attend) with the children, possibly 3 times a week or more. If there was a threat to the placement – it is still there.
    3) there is nothing about this birth family outside of the range of cases allocated to social workers, whether the children are still at home with their parents, or in care; indeed if these were the only problems, (and I suspect there is a lot more), then this family is towards the lower end of the type of family allocated to social workers!
    4) the strange reference however to a meeting which seemed to be about children being abducted from eastern Europe and sold on in Britain to people wanting children may be very significant,(this seems to come from the LA source); this raises the question as to who these children are? Are they all the children of the ‘birth parents’?
    5) At least some children have been returned to someone within the birth family, allegedly because of ethnicity issues. How could any judge weigh the problem of ethnicity in the scales against the likelyhood of abuse and neglect and have ordered the return of a child? Yet this seems to be what the Guardian is saying.
    6) I am not at all critical of the politician’s responses – they are within the range of what politicians utter. I can remember Ed Balls saying at the height of the Baby P crisis, ‘I don’t understand how this could have happened – they have just had a new computor system’, do I need to say more? Nor am I critical of the fostercarers, or the birth parents, or indeed even the LA going to the press, (although I think the LA should have done this openly.)Some courts are already involved in allowing the press access to child care proceedings. unfortunately this is limitted by the discretion of the judge – and a judge in my area used this as part of long series of threats against the LA. If the press were allowed access they would soon discover that the rights of birth parents are given overwhelming precedence; that the testimony of social workers is given little weight, that the testimony of expert witnesses is rarely challenged,(least of all by the solicitors for birth parents), and that it is the Guardian ad litem who exercises real authority over the future of the child and whether it is permanently seperated from its parents.
    7) Finally, Joyce Thacker. I do not know who Common Purpose are? I would note however two instances where membership of organisations or groups has impacted upon child protection. In Rochdale? in the early 1990’s membership of an interdominational church group, by senior doctors, police officers and social services managers seem to contribute to a ‘witch-hunt’ relating to Satanic abuse, which ended in disaster. About the same time there was a scandal in central Scotland, where decision making within Local Authorities seemed to be influenced by membership of an inter-authority organisation,which if my memory serves me well was a training organisation of some kind. This was an enormous scandal which did not really surface outside of the Social Work press in England.To me the more important matter is where the heads of Children’s Services come from. They are usually, (and observations from the internet would seem to indicate that this applies to JT) from the old education Depts and are rarely from the old Social Services Depts. As such they have little understanding of the pitfalls of Social Work practice. I believe this was critical in the Baby P saga and the fate of Haringay’s Director. After Victoria Climbie, the last goverment tried to persuade the Health Service to take over the leading role in child protection – and the health profession very wisely fought the goverment off. The goverment then thrust this responsibility upon the education service. As a social worker I know that any child on my caseload is likely to be a problem for Education; they will generally be more disruptive, they will generally lower the schools educational attainments, they will often require a significant reallocation within each school of resources. I believe the disadvantages of subsuming Child Care and Child Protection within the remit of Education are beginning to become apparent.

    • Hi again Bookworm

      When I made my original response I had been made aware from someone, who seemed to have good intelligence on the Politicus web-site about the specific ethnicity of the birth family, and that the motivation of the LA was likely to be fear of criticism by the court, and perhaps decisions which might be made in court.In my view this does not resolve the matter, but it might shift the focus from the LA to decision making in the court.

      Funnily enough, this is something I was wondering might turn out to be the eventual backstory. That the reason for the removal wasn’t an ideological dislike of UKIP but an attempt to prevent a re-run of the judicial decision you mention in point 5.

      If that turns out to be eventually the case, then the UKIPers may have a (partial) point in that the judge seems to have made a dubious (to say the very least!) decision. Though it wouldn’t have been the local authority who were the bad guys. Quite possibly they may have been appalled by the ruling. Not so much a case of loony-lefty social workers, but yet another example of the law being an ass.

      Regarding your point 6, I’m not so sure I’d condone Gove’s stance based on the way Ed Balls spoke in the wake of Baby P. My co-blogger Ermintrude was appalled by the statements made by Balls, and I doubt she’d feel that two wrongs make a right.

      The more details leak out about the case (and I still don’t agree with the leaking by any of the involved parties) the more it seems clear that this is a very complex case indeed. Somehow I suspect that when the investigation reports back, the complexity will go over the heads of pundits and politicians alike.

      • Just to clarify, I do not believe in leaking, but I do agree with, (mainly parent’s groups) that child care proceedings should be an open process, and in particular that the press should have access to any part of the proceedings, provided of course that the anonymity of the case is respected. In my view there would be hardly any press intrusion in most cases, as attendance would be left to the Local Newspaper, (in the 20 or so sessions I attended in a court experimenting with this, the press only attended once, I believe at the express invitation of the judge.) In that hearing there were rehearsed speaches, with sound-bites, by the judge, and solicitors for the family and Guardian ad Litem depicting the LA in a very negative light. On leaving the court I immediately informed the Director’s secretary of the likelyhood of bad press, or requests for an interview, and briefly what the issues were. In the event the press did not bite, but the Press office was alerted to this possibility.

        If the press had access to the court, we would know whether this action was the consequence of a direction of the court, whether the Guardian ad litem had referred the matter of the placement to the court, or whether the parent’s solicitor was requesting the matter be taken to High Court via a Human Right’s Act Application.

        However it might not be done through the court. Children’s Services Directors meet with the head judge of the Family Court regularly, about once a month, and attempt to resolve any issues concerning the smooth running of care cases, (in my experience entirely unsuccessfully). If this particular division of the Family Court had an issue with the placement, the judge involved might make their views known to the Children’s Services Directors in this venue.

        I do not think this necessarily lets the LA completely off the hook. It would have the right to challenge such a direction if it occured in the court, and LA’s sometimes ignore what senior judges say, much to the annoyance of the judiciary. The Telegraph and the Guardian both talk as though this was the only concern of the foster carers, but we do not know this. We do know that they were Labour Party members, and then became UKIP members. This strikes me as very brave thing to do in the West Riding, and we do not know what sort of treatment they have received since leaving the Labour Party; we only know that the removal of the children was the issue which the Telegraph decided to run with.

        The beneficiaries of care proceedings are solicitors, expert witnesses, barristers – the average cost of care proceedings per child is £200,000, and care proceedings last on average 18 months! More than half of this cost is met by the LA, the rest by Legal Aid.This case probably had a certificate of special difficulty, (which means the solicitors can print money). If not it will get one now. The losers are birth parents, social workers, local Authority Solicitors, (who are very lowly paid compared to their private law counterparts, and do the bulk of the work in care proceedings), and of course the children. For the duration of the proceedings no one can tell the child what its future will be, only what they might wish it to be if the court case goes in favour of the LA. The child remains in this legal limbo for as long as the case lasts, and four years is not unkinown.This is a system which warrants some attention from the press.

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