Censorship and the protection of commercial interests – the woeful state of our debate about protecting children.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore
On the morning of Friday August 21st I posted a comment on the Marilyn Stowe blog after the former MP John Hemming had written a guest post about adoption statistics. The biography attached to his post described him simply as a highly educated and respectable former MP and councillor. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, silent as to any of his other activities which have caused me and many others serious concern over the years.

My comment on this piece, about the need to be aware of and alert to these activities of Mr Hemming, led to an invitation from that site’s owner to contribute a guest post. I was happy to do so as the issues I wished to raise are, in my view, serious and significant.

Later that day I received an edited version of my post and was asked to accept the revisions made. I did not receive that email until fairly late on Friday evening. It was not until sometime later that I was able to sit down and give these revisions my full attention. When I did, I was unpleasantly surprised by what I found.

Of course, it is entirely up to Ms Stowe what she permits on her blog. I cannot dictate to her what she publishes. But I am very unhappy to note that significant portions of what I wrote have been removed, despite everything that I had written being

  • true
  • highly relevant to my argument and
  • already published elsewhere and well and truly in the public domain.

Most concerningly, a sentence from the judgment of Wall LJ in RP v Nottingham had been removed.

 

Search Engine Optimisation versus open and honest debate

I queried this via email and was told that the site would be penalised in its google rankings by relying on links to other sites in the way that I had done and the commercial interests of the site must be protected.

As I pointed out in reply, it is difficult to see how including the final sentence of a paragraph from a judgment from Wall LJ would have negative implications for any Google rankings. Ms Stowe was also happy to include a link to my own site when discussing an article about other European countries, but would not include a link to a post setting out the connections between Hemming, Josephs and Booker.

I commented further:

I think this is a very important issue – either you are unable to post relevant information because it may damage the site’s commercial interests OR there is some other reason, as yet undisclosed to me, as to why this information can’t be published by you.
I am pretty ignorant of SEO issues and how Google issues penalties, so I will take your word about that. But I will remain very puzzled why the words of a former President of the Family Division in any way are relevant to issues of Google ranking and protecting your site’s commercial viability.
And it does of course raise a wider and even more important issue about how the necessary debate about the child protection system is best served if such an important and well respected source such as yourself, finds itself unwilling to discuss certain issues because they may impact on the commercial interests of the site.
Are your readership aware of these potential constraints? I certainly wasn’t.
[EDIT I have just received an email from Marilyn Stowe to say that they are going to ‘call it a day’ and will not publish my post. I have received no further clarification about why the edits to my post were required or necessary, other than that it is the policy of the blog to be ‘non confrontational’]

I am left in this rather uncomfortable position. If the reason given for the editing is correct, then information which is a) true b) relevant and c) in the public domain is being excluded from the debate on the site, to protect its google rankings and its commercial interests. However, I am unable to accept that as a reason for censoring a quotation from a judgment of a High Court Judge.

So what was I trying to say that wasn’t fit to publish?

I will set out my original post below and the edits and you can make your own minds up about the reasons for editing. But whatever the reasons, this cannot be the way to conduct the necessary open and honest debate about the child protection system that is needed now, more than ever.

I of course am happy to provide a right to reply to anyone I discuss in my posts. I am happy to be educated further about the impact of Search Engine Optimisation tactics on internet debate. I would also be delighted to know that Mr Hemming is prepared to renounce his links with Ian Josephs and Christopher Booker and to put his obvious drive and intelligence to better use.

But unless and until he does that, if he wishes to position himself as a credible and reliable voice in this crucial debate, others are entitled to have the fullest possible information about what he actually believes, with whom he associates and the risks they pose.

I set out my original piece below and will indicate in the text in bold what has been removed or altered. I have not included the minor edits regarding a choice of word or phrasing. It is the wholesale removal of pertinent facts to which I very strongly object.

 

Open and honest debate about the child protection system is needed now more than ever.

I am a family law barrister of 15 years experience and the site administrator of www.childprotectionresource.org.uk which was set up on 2014 in an attempt to provide accurate information to all those involved in the child protection system.

This guest post arises out of another guest post published on this site by John Hemming. 

On the face of it, this post looks like a respectable attempt to analyse statistics around the number of children adopted in the UK. I accept now, and have accepted for years, that we urgently need an open and honest debate about what is really going on in our child protection system.

Although Mostyn J (and many others) are simply wrong to opine that there are ‘only’ 3 (or even no other) systems in Europe that permit forced adoption – see this post from Claire Fenton Glynn – it is true that England and Wales are by far the most enthusiastic proponents of ‘forced adoption’ of all Council of Europe member states and we are entitled – even morally obligated – to discuss this and to understand why.

However, just because the debate is necessary and important, does not mean we should not take care about who is contributing to it and what they are saying.

I have been concerned for many years about the motivations of many of those prominent figures in the debate and the impact they are having. Mr Hemming is described in this guest post as a highly educated and respectable former city councillor and MP.

But there is another side I think it is important to share. Disclaimer: My run ins with Mr Hemming now extend to four years of internet debate. He has made formal complaint about me to the Bar Council (not upheld) and gave an interview to the Daily Mail following his expulsion from the mumsnet website in 2014, which curiously felt it appropriate to publish both my real name and my mumsnet user name side by side. It is entirely possible that my dislike for what I perceive as Mr Hemming’s tactics of intimidation, [this has been edited to read: ‘it is entirely possible that my dislike for Mr Hemming’s tactics…] means I am not able to take a dispassionate view about his activities.

Therefore I present to others the facts so that they may make up their own minds.

The family law system as ‘evil’.

A good starting point to understand why Mr Hemming has nominated himself as a crusader against the ‘evil’ family justice system can be found in Jonathan Gornall’s article in 2007. Mr Hemming then repeated his allegations about the ‘evil’ and corruption of the family justice system to Wall LJ in the case of RP v Nottingham in 2008

It is plain to me from these documents, that in addition to the allegations set out above, Mr. Hemming believes that HJ was in the pay of the local authority and thus was “the local authority’s expert”. For good measure, he asserts that the system is “evil” and that “there does seem to be little concern in the legal profession about the reliability of opinion offered in court.”. The clear implication behind the “witch findings” items on the website set out at paragraph 95 above is that “experts” like HJ are in it for the money; that they are happy to “manufacture ‘evidence’”; and that they are in receipt of “phoney” letters of instruction. The result, Mr Hemming asserts is a “disaster”.
98. In my judgment, these comments are not only wrong and ill-informed; the simple fact remains that they have no foundation in the evidence presented either to the Nottingham County Court or to this court. That they are made publicly by Mr Hemming once again strikes me as an abuse of his position.[This sentence has been entirely removed with no warning or indication to the reader that Wall JL’s paragraph has actually been cut short]

This remains Mr Hemming’s position in 2015

Mr Hemming repeated again in a comment on my blog in August 2015 that the system is ‘evil’ and then opined that children are taken into care just because their parents smoke. He made no response to my challenge that this was clearly a nonsense assertion.

But it is not simply comments like that which raise concerns. Mr Hemming unfortunately does not restrict himself to comments. He takes action – and he has clear and active current links with others who, in my view, pose a significant danger to vulnerable children. [This has been edited to say simply ‘pose a risk’]

One such person is Ian Josephs. I provide a full discussion of his activities on this post, together with links to support my assertions.  [This has been entirely removed and replaced by ‘who assists mothers facing care proceedings to leave the UK]
In brief, it has now come to light that Marie Black, convicted of a number of serious child sex abuse offences in July 2015, was assisted by Ian Josephs to leave the UK rather than face probable care proceedings. [this sentence has been removed entirely]When challenged, Mr Josephs asserts that he is doing ‘nothing’ wrong, he would help ‘any’ mother facing the evil of forced adoption and he undertakes no prior risk assessment before handing out money, and undertakes no follow up once the parents leave the country. He estimates he has spent at least £30,000 and ‘assisted’ 200 families to date.

This network supporting ‘mums on the run’ is clearly supported by Mr Hemming, who writes about it on his own blog and appears on a video on Youtube with Mr Joseph. The links between Hemming, Joseph and Christopher Booker are also depressingly clear.

I have to give Mr Hemming recognition for bringing to light some important issues which were over looked. It is right, for example, to be concerned that recent cases involving children from other countries showed a widespread ignorance of our obligations under the Vienna convention. He is right to be concerned that the apparent promotion of adoption over other options for children in care, may have had a distorting impact on the practice of various professionals.

 

The impact of assertions that the system is ‘evil’

But why must he have this debate in the context that the family justice system is ‘evil’? How is this helping anyone? I am dealing with an increasing number of parent clients who are unable to engage with the system due to their massive amounts of distrust and fear which such irresponsible hyperbole promotes. It is beyond depressing and irritating to be constantly told I am a ‘legal aid loser’ with my ‘snout in the trough’. I have faced these and similar comments over many years from both Mr Hemming and Mr Josephs.

I remain concerned that positive outcomes from Mr Hemming’s campaigning were thus no more than a fortunate by-product and do not reflect his dedicated aim. That aim would appear rather to be to encourage partial and misinformed debate about the family justice system, including an appearance on national television in 2014 to tell parents to leave the country as they won’t get a fair trial.

This kind of comment coming from a serving MP – as he was at the time – can only have had massive impact on some very desperate and vulnerable people.

Desperate need for open and honest debate

We urgently need open, honest debate about what on earth is going on in child protection system. And I don’t think we will get that from Mr Hemming given his current associations and clearly expressed views about the ‘evil’ of the system – presumably that evil extending to all who work in it, including me.
But as ever, I am delighted to be proved wrong.

33 thoughts on “Censorship and the protection of commercial interests – the woeful state of our debate about protecting children.

  1. ian josephs

    Nobody said YOU had your snout in the trough Sarah.Nobody said YOU were a Professional loser !
    I made a general appraisal of the profession of family lawyers as a whole. Perhaps Sarah you are the shining exception that proves the rule . I do hope so.

    Reply
  2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    over the four years I have been involved in this debate and on line, I have been the subject of numerous personal insults from people who have never met me and don’t know me but presume to damn me because of my profession.

    It is also difficult to rise above such repeated unfair and hostile attacks upon a profession of which I am a member. What else can I assume but that I am damned by association?

    It frustrates me immensely, not just because I am a delicate flower and it hurts my feelings – but for the far more important reason that it is a WASTE of our time and energy.

    As Martin Luther King Jnr said -Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

    I would far rather be using my time and energy to DO something positive. But then I find myself down a rabbit hole of tedious insults and hyperbole.

    Reply
  3. ian josephs

    Statistics show the family barristers lose around 98% of cases so they are losers and as they are aélso Professional they are Professional losers ! I do not believe that anybody insults you they jus justifiably insult the profession of which you are one insignificant member !

    Reply
  4. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    What statistics? From where? define ‘losing’. Do you count a supervision order as ‘losing’? Do you count an SGO to other family members as ‘losing’?

    I don’t ‘lose’ 98% of my cases, if by ‘lose’ you mean a final care and placement order is made.

    I probably ‘lose’ 80% – which is high, but in my view reflects the fact that care proceedings are generally a last resort and in most cases, ought to have been bought years before they actually were.

    Reply
  5. ian josephs

    Ministry of justice :- Official Judicial statistics

    In 2011, there were 32,739 children involved in disposals of public law cases, including 31,515 orders made, 792 applications withdrawn, 350 orders of no order and 72 orders refused. What chance did those parents have as (to quote L.J.Thorpe) “parents are so prejudiced in proceedings” ??
    Only 72 orders refused (losers) and 31,515 made (winners) THANKS TO PROFESSIONAL LOSER LAWYERS !

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore

      Yes, but what were those orders? What proportion were supervision orders? What proportion SGOs? What proportion went home on a care order?

      You don’t know do you?

      Reply
  6. John Hemming

    The system can be evil without everyone working within it being evil. The system has numerical targets for taking children from one family and placing them in another.

    Unsurprisingly it responds to those targets by taking more and more children from one family and placing them with another.

    I think that is evil.

    Definition of Evil: “profoundly immoral and wicked”

    Reply
  7. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Do you accept that:

    by continuing to categorise the system as ‘evil’ you are scaring a lot of vulnerable people
    by encouraging people to leave the jurisdiction you are putting vulnerable parents and children at risk

    Will you provide evidence of the ‘numerical targets’ ? Your spreadsheet figures require further explanation which I know the Transparency Project have requested from you.

    Will you clearly dissociate yourself from Ian Josephs in light of the conviction of Marie Black and his clear refusal to accept that he does ‘anything’ wrong in giving parents money to leave the jurisdiction without any or any effective investigation into what dangers they might pose to vulnerable children?

    Reply
  8. ian josephs

    All pregnant mothers deserve to avoid forced adoption of their new born babies. No pregnant mother is more” dangerous” in France than in UK and would be nearer to London for example in Paris than she would be if she had gone to Edinburgh ! You have to trust the splendid french social services surely? In Marie Black’s case she was never in hiding and the uk social services knew where she was at all times so what actual harm was done? The idea that you should make an exhaustive check into the background of anyone before giving them help or cash is a very uncharitable way of thinking and in Marie’s case she had no criminal record so her credentials 3 years ago when I was involved were impeccable !

    Reply
  9. John Hemming

    I have provided a lot of information to you (SP) in the past and you have denied recevining it. Taking, for example, do you deny that Merton – the relevant local authority had numerical targets for Adoptions and SGOs?

    JFGI.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am afraid I don’t know what you are talking about. You have provided me with one page of a document relating to proceedings and you had not redacted the manager’s name. You have also provided me with a spreadsheet in 2014 which was simply columns of figures you had collated yourself, with no explanation as to their source.

      Why on earth would I ‘deny’ receiving information? Why would I lie about that? If you have information that goes to prove your assertions, great, lets see it. But you do understand that numbers and statistics have to relate to a source so that we can understand them?

      Reply
  10. Amber

    John, could you please provide the information on here for clarity as many readers will not have seen the information which is a valid point for this discussion?

    Reply
  11. John Hemming

    Lets start with Merton.

    Has Merton in the past 5 years had any targets as to numbers of Adoptions and SGOs?

    Google is your friend in this.

    Merton does have a website.

    the parameter in the search is site:merton.gov.uk

    Just try.

    Reply
  12. John Hemming

    My point is that Merton has targets for removing children permanently from their birth families and as a result of these targets they have been removing more and more children permanently from their families.

    Do you think this is right?

    (on the assumption that you have found the adoption and sgo targets which I have a summary of anyway).

    I can email you the summary if you wish.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I don’t agree that Merton – or anywhere – has targets to ‘remove children permanently from their birth families’ .

      There may well be incentives to get children OUT of care into permanent homes.

      But there are no ‘targets’ to remove children from their birth parents. WHY would such targets exist? Just WHY? social engineering on a grand scale? Seriously? And yet only 5,000 adoptions a year! the feral underclass is rather larger than that.

      If you have evidence to support that, yes please send it, post it, link to it.

      But as I have been asking for this evidence for the past four years, do please forgive me if I don’t sit up all night waiting for it.

      Reply
  13. John Hemming

    You are playing the game of claiming that targets for Adoptions and SGOs from care are not targets to remove children permanently from their birth families.

    The BASW warned about 15 years ago that having adoption targets would result in children not returning to their parents.

    Lets try this again.

    Do you accept that Merton has targets for numbers of adoptions and SGOs (from care, but it is always from care anyway, they don’t have any jurisdiction anywhere else)?

    What I said was:

    My point is that Merton has targets for removing children permanently from their birth families and as a result of these targets they have been removing more and more children permanently from their families.

    Do you think this is right?

    Which question you have avoided.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      You say My point is that Merton has targets for removing children permanently from their birth families and as a result of these targets they have been removing more and more children permanently from their families.

      Please send me the evidence you have to prove this assertion that Merton – or anyone – have targets for removing children from their birth families.

      As I don’t believe this is true, I can’t usefully comment on whether I agree with it. Its like asking me if I think a unicorn would make a good pet.

      If you genuinely wish to engage with me on this – you will publish your evidence for that assertion in bold.

      If you continue to refuse to publish your evidence, I will draw my own conclusions about your motives for this engagement and the faith you have in your own arguments.

      Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Suesspiciousminds has had a quick look and agrees that we need to look closely at the Key Performance Indicators. I am away from tomorrow until the 31st so won’t be able to respond properly until I get back to a reliable internet connection.

      I propose to examine this more closely and publish a response via a post and then invite comments.

      I don’t want to discard any evidence just because I am suspicious of the person presenting it. The aim of this site has always been to promote responsible debate; to do that we have to establish the facts.

      So I am not ignoring you, but want to treat this issue seriously, as it deserves.

      Reply
  14. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    My email address for anyone who can’t be bothered to google me via chambers is

    sarah.phillimore@stjohnschambers.co.uk

    Andrew Pack has just provided a very useful statistical summary of the rates of adoption in Merton which show they are among the lowest in the country.

    I will publish this in a separate Response to Commentators piece tonight.

    Reply
  15. John Hemming

    All of the underlying documents can be found using the Merton website. I accept that because I was a councillor for 18 years and have been part of the leadership team of a council for 8 years as well (for part of which I was not a councillor, but instead an MP) that I knew where to look. However, the information is there for anyone else who is interested.

    Reply
  16. John Hemming

    It would be useful to see the summary of the rates of adoption. However, the key procedural (and hence legal) question is that the targets exist and are used to influence the judgement of practitioners.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Just a quick update on the response of the Transparency Project to the Merton data re targets. We have produced a collaborative response but we want to get a response from Merton before we publish; we think they should have the opportunity to clarify what they think their KPI means.

      We will then make further requests of all other LAs to try to get to the bottom of what is really going on here.

      Reply
  17. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    I have just sent my first draft of a response to the Merton data to the Transparency Project who I hope will be able to amend/edit/expand in order to publish by the end of this week.

    Reply
  18. Andy Quin

    I think this is an important and useful website. There is some very relevant observations on the Finnish child welfare system and the overall sense of a need for reform in the UK is absolutely right in my view. I don’t know that this particular thread about adoption targets will help us in imagining what reform should look like. Certainly the culture of performance targets, particularly in the area of adoption is unhelpful and in my opinion has suffocated many of the interpersonal practices that are necessary for providing effective support in child protection situations. Child protection activity needs to be evaluated more broadly. Targets and goals have a place but are insufficient in assessing success or failure. The views of children, parents and practitioners should be central to a fairer system of evaluation. I am particularly interested in success in safeguarding work with children. I know from my own research that success stories are created every day in child protection work in the UK – by parents and by practitioners. Sadly, very few see the light of day or are used for learning. It would be good to see this website publish accounts of good outcomes of safeguarding work views about practices that have helped.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      thanks Andy, I would be delighted to publish more success stories, but I am not having much success attracting guest posters to talk about the positive stuff – which I think is a real shame. Would you like to write a guest post?

      Reply
      1. angelo granda

        Ian Josephs,I think the revelatIons about the criminal trial you posted on Maya B.H’s thread would have fitted in better on this one.

        Both Sarah and you are lawyers so you may think my comments nonsense.I will put them anyway.

        I have observed over the last few years how the standards of evidence in Family Courts have gone down.I am unable to say whether the standards have dropped and whether private hearings and censorship are to protect the commercial interests of the Authorities.

        I accept, however, that some private companies do profit from providing foster-care services and will always join with the permanent removal lobby.

        By the same token,I suggest that were the standards of evidence to drop and were more censorship imposed upon the criminal courts that those private security companies involved in providing prison staff, supervision and tagging systems etc. would profit.

        Are standards dropping?If so lawyers should be wary.

        All comments welcome.

        Reply
        1. Angelo Granda

          It is now 2016 and my fears are not going away.Listening to the news yesterday,it has now been suggested that criminal cases of child-sex abuse should be judged on the Balance of Probabilities not as now on the basis of Beyond Reasonable Doubt.Apparently,it is very difficult to prove offenders guilty.
          I do hope this terrible crime ( generally abhorred ) will not be used as the thin edge of the wedge used to destroy our Criminal Justice system.
          All comments welcome if any readers have a view on the possibilities. COMMENTS WELCOME

          Reply
          1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            I completely agree that this is very worrying indeed. I know what standard of proof I would want used against me if I was ever charged with a criminal offence.

  19. Pingback: Lies, damn lies and statistics | The Transparency Project

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