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
- 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.