The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) has ruled that the Times newspaper had distorted its coverage of a fostering placement in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

The Times ran three front-page headlines in August 2017 after the five-year-old child was removed from her mother’s care and placed with a Muslim family until assessments about the suitability of the child’s maternal grandmother, herself Muslim, were complete.

Notice of the ruling appeared on the Times front page on April 25, and the ruling will enforce a larger apology on page six, or further forward.

Tower Hamlets Borough Council complained about the accuracy (Clause 1) in an article headlined “Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home” published on August 30, 2017.

The August 30 story followed earlier coverage which focused on the cultural and religious needs of a Christian child which were alleged to have not been by met by her Muslim foster carers. Allegations later rejected or found to be unsubstantiated by Tower Hamlets borough council.

Ipso upheld the complaint, noting that the council had every intention of placing the child with her maternal grandmother once assessments were complete. The original article gave the impression that the judge’s decision had ruled against the council’s assessment in organising the foster placements. The adjudication adds this was not “what the court had decided, or an implication of what the court had decided.”

Ipso, however, did not uphold the complaint that it was an omission to exclude the Muslim background of her maternal grandmother in the August 30 coverage, as she was a non-practising Muslim. Information the committee pointed out was included in the Times coverage a day later.

The Times coverage alleged that foster family had prevented the child from wearing a crucifix and consuming her favourite meal because it contained bacon and forcing her to learn Arabic.

Subsequent coverage claimed the child had informed her biological mother that “European women are stupid and alcoholic” and “Christmas and Easter are stupid”, adding that she ‘sobbed’ and ‘begged’ not to return to the foster family because they ‘did not’ speak English.

Tower Hamlets Council investigated the claims in November and said the allegations were unfounded, which the biological mother disputes.

The child’s maternal grandmother said that the child could or would not make such statements about European women. A social worker found that the child could not identify where Europe is.

A social worker found that the child had no negative views of Christmas and Easter. In fact, the opposite was true, as the child spoke of their excitement about such holidays, adding that she partook in an Easter egg hunt at the foster carer’s home and was given an egg by this carer. She even brought this egg with her to contact with her biological mother to share.

East London family court found the girl had a “warm and appropriate” relationship with her foster carers and missed them after she went to live with her maternal grandmother. Her maternal grandmother was angry with the press coverage as she appreciated the care and commitment the foster carers had provided. The child had even requested to see the family again.

Nor was the child prevented from eating bacon or forced to speak Arabic.

The first foster carer, with whom the child spent most of the time with, wore the hijab (headscarf), not the niqab or burqa. Her respite foster carer did wear such clothing outside of the home. This photograph, while pixellated, appeared on the Times front page on August 28, 2017, leaving some in Tower Hamlets borough council fearing that the coverage would identify the child and foster carers, according to the Guardian.

A decision was taken to place the child into care in March 2017 after the police exercised their powers of protection. There was, however, no ‘culturally matched’ placement available at the time.

The mother continued to have regular supervised visits with her daughter, which extended to telephone calls and calls to her grandmother.

Due to the intense media coverage of the story, which extended far beyond the Times coverage and into other tabloids, a rare decision was taken to publish the court order on August 29, 2017.

It emerged that the mother had to voluntarily submit hair and liver samples to test for cocaine and alcohol.

Others criticised the coverage of the MailOnline and the Daily Mail which included the editing of a stock photo of a Muslim woman.

The furore even had a political dimension, with some MPs calling for an enquiry.

The British far-right seized upon the story. On YouTube, a video by the ex-leader and founder of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, has been viewed over fifty-thousand times. Katie Hopkins tweeted: “Which individual at Tower Hamlets was responsible for the abuse of this little girl?”

The story took on an international dimension with the American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones highlighting the story on August 28, 2017. Kirralie Smith, the political activist in the far-right Australian Liberty Alliance party, tweeted the MailOnline’s initial coverage while criticising multiculturalism.

Several months later, and a day before Ipso upheld the council’s complaint, a senior Times executive acknowledged the story caused “enormous offence and enormous upset” but defended the coverage, adding that the judge agreed that their coverage raised important questions and was in the public interest.

The Times did also make serious allegations that the local authority had attempted to block the story, including preventing court access for their journalists, which was lifted by Judge Sapnara.

In broader terms, however, the story does point to a gap in recruiting minority groups to become foster carers.

A BuzzFeed News investigation by Aisha Gani detailed how some Muslims have or fear discrimination when applying to become foster carers.

The most recent data shows that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of fostered children are from minority ethnic backgrounds (up 2 per cent on the previous year) and 14 per cent of all foster carers come from minority ethnic backgrounds. There was, however, a slight increase in the number of approved foster carers from minority ethnic backgrounds last year.

Credit: Ofsted/

Local authorities are recruiting a far higher number of white foster carers when compared to independent fostering agencies. And given that two-thirds of placements involve local authorities there “continues to be a risk that some children may be placed in households or with carers who are not able to meet all their needs.”