The mayor of Tower Hamlets has contradicted reports that a five-year-old white Christian girl was sent to live with a Muslim family who took her crucifix away and denied her a meal that included bacon.
John Biggs defended his borough’s handling of a fostering case in which an unnamed child was allegedly placed with a conservative Muslim family whose language she could not understand.
The controversial case, first reported in The Times, gathered widespread attention across the rest of the national media.
Mr Biggs said claims that the five-year-old’s crucifix had been taken away from her, and that she was denied a meal that included bacon, were false.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said. “The more sensationalist stories about confiscating bacon or about removing crucifixes were, from all of our investigations, not based in fact.”
Asked by presenter Nick Robinson whether it was appropriate to place the child with a foster carer who wears a niqab in public, Mr Biggs said: “I represent a multiracial, multicultural, multifaith borough and we get on pretty well together.
“And so I wouldn’t have a problem with a child being fostered by someone who comes from a different faith but is sensitive to, and responds to that child, who communicates with them, shows their face to that child as well. I think that those are all important factors.
“I’m confident that we looked very carefully at the appropriate matching and that we found a family that would look after the interests of this child at a very traumatic time.”
The Times reported the claims of a social services employee who had reported the child, during a contact session with her mother, “crying and saying that she doesn’t want to go back” to her foster carer, apparently the first of two with whom she was placed.
It also said the worker had reported the child having said the first foster family often spoke Arabic at home and that she did not understand them.
One of the paper’s reports said: “The social services employee heard the child whispering Arabic words to her mother that she was allegedly told must be said aloud to ensure that ‘When you die you go to heaven’.”
Critics have accused the media of misreporting the story, pointing to court documents that say the family she is now fostered with is English-speaking and that she is not unhappy.
Tower Hamlets said: “The child is in fact fostered by an English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement. We would like to give more details but we are legally restricted to do so.”
And in her order of 29 August, Judge Khatun Sapnara, said: “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.”
Mr Biggs made a similar statement on Saturday morning.
The concerns published by The Times appear to refer to the first family, whereas the comments by Mr Biggs and the judge appear to refer to the second family.
However, a council spokesperson later said: “The guardian visited both placements and noted that the child was happy and settled in both placements.”
Andrew Norfolk, the Times reporter behind the stories, told the Today programme: “What was brought to us this week were concerns that were written, unidentified, by a social services employee of Tower Hamlets, who had observed this five-year-old child being very distressed and upset when she was being returned to that foster home.
“We reported in our story what a local authority employee reported and what we discovered as a result of further investigations.”
Mr Norfolk asked what the broadcaster would do in his shoes if it was told “that the body that was asked to go back and investigate what was potentially wrong – and came back and said nothing is wrong – is actually the body against which criticism is being made… I don’t think the BBC would take that at face value.
“When you discover issues that you believe it is in the public interest to explore and expose, which is exactly, by the way, what an experienced Family Court judge said about what we have done on Tuesday, she said we raised concerns that were demonstrably in the public interest, I think we did our job as a newspaper.”
Mr Biggs added: “The social worker who may or may not have [made the claims], was not the worker who was responsible for this particular case. And, indeed, it was not the independent guardian appointed by the courts.
“We’re trying to get to the bottom of where this difference of opinion, and difference of statements, has come from and it appears to relate to, I think, what’s called the contact centre where the parent meets the child on a regular basis.”
Source : Independent