When Hamzah Khan died of starvation and neglect in 2009 he was part of a tragic and disturbing pattern. As youngsters go hungry today in the city he lived and died in, children starving to death in 21st Century Britain is nothing new, and will happen again.

In January it was revealed that since 2005 six serious case reviews had been published about children who had died across the country from what academics call extreme deprivational neglect – most of them had starved to death. None of those children was recorded as ‘at risk’ by social services. In other words no-one even noticed that they were dying of hunger.

Since that report was published Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan must be added to the list, bringing the total number of children know to have died from deprivational neglect to eight, with only Daniel the subject of a child protection plan.

With increasing pressure on low income family budgets and on the resources available to agencies working to protect children it’s little wonder that the chair of the Safeguarding Children Board reporting on Hamzah Khan’s death could only say the city’s authorities are minimising the risk of another death, not removing it.

For those of us whose children have comfortable lifestyles the statistics on poverty, a known driver of child protection issues, are alarming. In Hamzah Khan’s home city of Bradford between a quarter and a third of children and young people live in poverty. Up to six out of ten children are in low income households. Those figures come from the council, the local NHS and children’s charities.

Statistics show a strong link between poverty and child welfare: children living in areas of high deprivation are at greater risk of injury and early death and are more likely to be subject to child protection measures.

Bradford Council’s Child Poverty Action Strategy, a statutory requirement since 2010, states baldly: “The levels of child poverty in Bradford are unacceptably high.”

Bradford is not alone in having pockets of deprivation, and its not the city with the worst problems, but the poverty it has is real and children are suffering.

At Bradford’s Gateway Children’s Centre one charity reports on what it calls a frightening and well documented demand for crisis support, most notably, food bank referrals.

In a blog published in August this year it reports staff talking of parents skipping meals in order to provide for their families and children regularly coming to the nursery hungry, having not had breakfast. It says, in a matter of fact way, that many of the children visiting the centre at Gateway are underweight.

The serious case review into Hamzah Khan’s death from starvation and neglect states none of Bradford’s authorities could find anything to suggest it was predictable.

Unfortunately, from what has gone before, we can predict that it will happen again somewhere in Britain – it’s just a question of when and where.

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The Hamzah Khan case was awful. The media coverage was certainly not

Reporting of the horrific case of Hamzah Khan’s neglect and starvation in Bradford was awful according to Amanda Hutton’s barrister.

At the end of the trial he told the jury that as a result of the media coverage the man in the street “would say ‘from all we’ve read, we think it’s terrible, she’s guilty, no penalty would be enough for her’.”

In my submission M’Lud, that’s a bit rich. As seen from the press benches of Bradford’s Court 3 this was a nightmare of a trial. There were passionate discussions among reporters inside and outside the courtroom about every aspect of the case – from the significance of the evidence, to the direction it was taking, and not least the reporting restrictions. Overall it was a triumph for sensible, accurate media reporting.

From the outset we were banned from revealing significant parts of the evidence. We and the jury knew from day one that Hutton had five other young children who were found in squalor when Hamzah’s mummified body was discovered in his mother’s Bradford bedroom in September 2011. But we were banned from reporting it by the court – no mention of any other child was allowed to be published. We also knew Hutton and her eldest son (an adult) had pleaded guilty to neglecting Hamzah’s five siblings, but the jury had not been told, so we couldn’t report that for two reasons: The jury didn’t know and we couldn’t say anything that suggested the existence of other children.

Then it started getting complicated. Much of the evidence referred to the other children, or to hints of their existence, for examples nappies being thrown into a neighbour’s garden and her claims that she feared losing her other children if she reported Hamzah’s weight loss. Try live tweeting evidence and changing it to remove any banned references, on pain of being hauled into the dock and landed with a fine if you get it wrong. In this case even more than others, rival journalists from press agencies, local & national papers, TV and radio worked together to share legal advice, experience and common sense to fathom out what we could and couldn’t say.

Two weeks into the trial it all changed again: the jury was told Hutton and Khan had pleaded guilty to neglecting the five children, but we could say nothing. Once the jury had gone for lunch and thanks to approachable and pragmatic counsel we jointly came up with a phrase that was neither contempt, nor untrue: “Guilty of child neglect”. No mention of the five counts (not alllowed) or of Hamzah (not true). But we still couldn’t report it because there was a court order in place. The judge was telephoned by the clerk, the order was verbally lifted and with a sigh all carried on.

By now some of us felt so hidebound by the inability to mention the other children we were informing readers and viewers that the reporting restrictions were preventing us from telling the full story. It was only after the jury retired that a challenge from media lawyers led to an agreement by the court that the other children could be mentioned. The judge had already suggested it would take the jury less than a day to reach a verdict. With everyone’s background stories written and filed ready for publication, cue media meltdown, re-writes and re-edits.

At the end of it all the media, in the way it covered the case, showed itself not only to be alive and well in these straitened, post-Leveson days, but to be as passionate, determined, responsible, collaborative and competitive as ever. This was a dreadful, sad, and sobering case. It was the story that was awful, not the media coverage.

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It should be us, not Leicester or York, that decides where to put King Richard III

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As a nation we set great store by how and where we display the things that are important to us.  The bride and groom on the top table, granny’s picture on the mantelpiece, the Union Flag on Buckingham Palace. We even have a name for it: pride of place.

So it’s quite something when the location of one of the most legendary monarchs among the (roughly) 52 we’ve had over the past 1000 years – the last Plantagenet King of England and arch-Northerner Richard III – is in the hands of people with vested interests amid allegations that he’s involved in a conspiracy with left-wing serial campaigners to drain the public purse.

Even a ‘D’ in O level history (thank you) tells you the last bit is an unlikely scenario – what with the first Lord President of the Council of the North and Lord High Admiral of England not being noted for his socialist tendencies (he was a duke and a knight of the realm twice over by the age of nine) and also having been dead and buried for 528 years, most recently under a car park in Leicester.

What the situation makes clear is that while the last 12 months of Richard III’s 560 years on earth have been the most public (there were fewer than five million people in England when he died in 1485, while a Google search for ‘Richard III found’ returns 66 million pages) they have certainly not been the most edifying.

Ironically what led the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling to drag King Richard III into the politics of public spending was the lack of public debate he questions:

“The most bizarre case I have come across is that … we must have a public consultation on where the remains of Richard III … should be buried,” he wrote. “Is that really a sensible way for public money to be spent?”

He was objecting to the judicial review held to determine whether Richard should stay in Leicester. But if public money is being wasted now, it is because too many of us have demonstrated by our inaction that we believe Britain’s history – our place in it, the story it tells, the lessons it can teach us – is not really worth bothering with.

The Wars of the Roses

Briefly we must skim through our school history books: Richard Plantaganet, son of Richard Plantaganet 3rd Duke of York, lost his father and brother Edmund in the Wars of the Roses in 1460. Richard was instrumental in securing the crown for his eldest brother Edward. On Edward’s death in 1483 his children were, ahem, declared illegitimate and Richard assumed the throne (what then happened to the princes in the Tower, M’Lud, has never been established.)

Alas, King Richard III lived in tumultuous times and he lost the House of York’s long-running battle with Lancaster on 22 August 1485 at the age of 32:

“Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who was a Lancastrian claimant to the throne living in France, landed in South Wales. He marched east and engaged Richard in battle on Bosworth Field in Leicestershire on 22 August. Although Richard possessed superior numbers, several of his key lieutenants defected. Refusing to flee, Richard was killed in battle and Henry Tudor took the throne as Henry VII.”

But it’s the details that make history so fascinating. The dead king was dragged from the battlefield and brought to Leicester, and as the historian David Baldwin explained:

“One of Henry’s first acts on entering Leicester was to have Richard’s body exposed, naked, to the gaze of the populace so that no Yorkist sympathiser could doubt the certainty that the former ruler was slain.”

After Leicester’s inhabitants had gazed for a while the Grey Friars “requested or were charged with, the responsibility of burying his remains” in their abbey :

“Henry VII’s court historian … recorded that the deceased monarch was ‘buryed two days after withiout any pompe or solemne funeral ‘ … the friars, Lord Bacon tells us, subsequently treated the King’s body with less than exemplary reverence.”

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Ten years later a marble tomb was erected, but when the church was eventually flattened the last English monarch to die in battle was tarmacced over and parked on. His remains saw daylight for the first time in five centuries when he was uncovered by a mechanical digger last year.

It is a pretty impressive CV, and I’ve missed out quite a lot. If he wasn’t dead, this is a man who would have us all incarcerated in a dark part of the Tower while bits of our anatomy were removed as rightful punishment not only for the bit about the Leicester car-park, but for not being fussed about what happens to him now.

In a burial ground in which interments may legally take place

The discovery of the body was undoubtedly inspirational. The University of Leicester, the Richard III Society and Leicester City Council worked to identify the site of the church Richard had been buried in, found a body, and in February this year identified it using the mitochondrial DNA of a known relative.

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But then the problems began. The exhumation licence from Chris Grayling’s Department of to the University of Leicester under the Burial Act of 1857 was to dig up not Richard III, but “remains”. They were to be buried in the city “or in a burial ground in which interments may legally take place.”

When Richard was identified, instead of a national debate about what we should do, it was announced, by Leicester, that he would be buried in the city where a Richard III visitor centre across the road would bring in £4.5m a year.

Cue (limited) outrage – from Yorkists who have gathered 30,000 signatures to have him buried at York Minster (in a petition which manages to mis-spell the village where his son is buried), and then from The Planagenet Alliance, a campaign group set up in March 2013 by the 17th great-nephew of Richard III, Stephen Nicolay to represent a group of Richard’s relatives.

To be determined by the staff of Leicester Cathedral

With Leicester insisting it not only had Richard’s bones, but the legal right to keep them too, things got heated. Liz Hudson-Oliff, from the Diocese of Leicester, was quoted as claiming Richard had to be buried in Leicester, apparently contradicting the licence wording:

“Under the terms of the exhumation licence issued by the Ministry of Justice, the remains should be reburied in Leicester.

“It would require a legal challenge to alter this. We would like the remains to come to us and the presumption is that they will come to us.

“The type of ceremony which takes place in Leicester Cathedral is to be determined by the staff of Leicester Cathedral.”

Hence the judicial review last month when Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said the Government failed to carry out a consultation, and that as a responsible public body the university should not have begun preparations for the interment before an appropriate consultation had been carried out.

“I would strongly recommend that parties immediately consider referring the fundamental question – as to where and how Richard III is reburied – to an independent advisory panel made up of suitable experts and Privy Councillors, who can consult and receive representations from all interested parties and make suitable recommendations with reasonable speed.”

And if I die no soul will pity me

And that means the cat is out of the bag – King Richard III is too important a part of our history to be left to vested interests in York or Leicester or anywhere else. What we should do with the only scientifically-validated skeleton that can boast a Shakespeare play named after it is a national issue – not one best left to interest groups or cities which would stand to earn millions from tourism.

So where should Richard end up? It’s true he passed through Leicester a few times before they covered him over ‘withiout any pompe or solemne funeral’, but the fact that I’ve been to Seaton Sluice doesn’t mean I’d like to be buried there, and they didn’t strip me naked and gawp at me for two days.

Richard’s brother King Edward IV, the one he helped to bring to power, is buried in Windsor Castle, but it costs £17.50 to get in, while York Minster (£10) is now ‘neutral’ on whether they want him at all, after calling in the police following less enthusiastic overtures earlier in the year. Meanwhile Westminster Abbey (where Richard was crowned) would be the most prestigious resting place, but at £18 to get in, also the most expensive.

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It was William Shakespeare who gave King Richard III the words:

“I shall despair. There is no creature loves me,
And if I die no soul will pity me.”

If we get a public consultation, move over Leicester, move over York. It will be up to us to prove Shakespeare was wrong.

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Journalists have greater opportunities than ever before

The story of how The Guardian got Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations and what must  be one of the scoops of the decade show that online publishing and social media give journalists greater opportunities than ever before.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras exposed the secrets in Edward Snowden’s computer files thanks to the essential traits of an eye for a story and a determination to tell people something they didn’t know.  Yet they were given the opportunity because of a story Greenwald wrote about Poitras, which was stored on a computer server and shared around the world through social media.

It’s a timely pointer for the next generation of journalists just out of school and considering what, or whether, to study at university: qualifications are less likely to give you the opportunity to tell great stories than the stories you’ve already told.

Greenwald and Poitras were both experienced journalists and had worked separately and together on stories about US national security and foreign policy but they were hardly household names. Greenwald is a columnist on the Guardian’s US website, Poitras a respected documentary filmmaker. The way they and Snowden came together shows how the fourth estate – reporters holding others to account – is built from jigsaw pieces. Snowden’s information not only added to the work Greenwald and Poitras had already published, it was given to them precisely because of that work – and in particular one passionately-written article.

Published last April on the news website Salon, Greenwald had exposed events he described as having “received far too little attention.”  His story detailed how Poitras, had been repeatedly detained and interrogated as she passed through US airports, apparently as a result for her filmmaking. He wrote that her electronic equipment had been confiscated, her requests for a lawyer denied. Poitras had produced what The New York Times described as: “ two of the most searching documentaries of the post-9/11 era” and was working on a third film which would focus on surveillance by the U.S. Government on its own citizens.  Greenwald described her treatment as symptomatic of: “states that expand and abuse their own powers.” The US Government, he concluded:

“is sending the message that none of this will affect you as long as you avoid posing any meaningful challenges to what they do. In other words: you can avoid being targeted if you passively acquiesce to what they do and refrain from interfering in it. That’s precisely what makes it so pernicious, and why it’s so imperative to find a way to rein it in.”

The article provoked a few dozen responses from readers over the following days, but was widely disseminated. The story was tweeted, from the Salon site alone, a thousand times. It has received ten thousand Facebook likes. And crucially it remained on the server where it could be found by anyone interested in state surveillance. As a piece of the bigger jigsaw it was just what Edward Snowden was looking for. Writing for the New York Times last week, investigative journalist Peter Maass described how the article led to Snowden contacting first Greenwald – who was put off by the encryption software Snowden insisted on using – then Poitras to tell his story:

“Snowden had read Greenwald’s article about Poitras’s troubles at U.S. airports and knew she was making a film about the government’s surveillance programs,” Maass wrote.

“Snowden anonymously sent [Greenwald] an e-mail saying he had documents he wanted to share, and followed that up with a step-by-step guide on how to encrypt communications.”

When Greenwald stalled, Snowden turned to Poitras:

“he had also seen a short documentary about the N.S.A. that she made for The New York Times Op-Docs. He figured that she would understand the programs he wanted to leak about and would know how to communicate in a secure way.”

In other words, the body of work both journalists had produced persuaded Snowden that they were suitable recipients for the information he wanted to share, but Greenwald’s piece on state power and “the imperative to find a way to rein it in” was the catalyst.

Maass concluded that Poitras and Greenwald are:

“an especially dramatic example of what outsider reporting looks like in 2013. They do not work in a newsroom, and they personally want to be in control of what gets published and when.”

Their story demonstrates that it is that publication that is crucial. Now, more than ever, the currency of a journalist is the work they have already produced. For Greenwald and Poitras an article on a website proved to be a piece of a bigger jigsaw than they could ever have imagined.

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