Christopher Booker is clearly still smarting from the smackdown contained in HHJ Bellamy’s recent judgment in the case of Re L (A Child: Media Reporting) (don’t believe all that “He was doing me a favour anyway” bravado). He hits back in this article. He couldn’t resist. Perhaps it would be more constructive for them to mediate rather than go ten rounds in public.
But since Booker has offered us the opportunity let’s have a little sport. I also, could not resist. Firstly,
Mr Justice Bellamy, presiding over a case to which I have referred several times, took the unusual course of publishing a judgment in which he was highly critical of me for my “unbalanced” and “inaccurate” reporting. Then the head of the family courts, Lord Justice Wall, in his ruling on another case, swiftly endorsed Bellamy’s attack on me (despite his own earlier criticisms of the “shocking” determination of some social workers to place children in “an unsatisfactory care system”). (my emphasis)
Do you see the non sequitur in parentheses? Like…uh! i-REL-e-vant! (*legally blonde voice*) Journalist criticises the system. Some judges acknowledge some criticism of the system is justified. Why should this render said journalist impervious to criticism?
There then follows a rather tedious exposition of the extent of Booker’s inaccuracies in reporting the case. Compare the articles and the judgment. Would you actually recognise them as the same case had Bellamy not referred to them? That Bellamy quite properly corrected an inaccuracy in his own judgment when pointed out (which ironically arose from the publication of an embellished version of Booker’s original article) does not alter the fact that there were (as Booker acknowledges) inaccuracies. But it’s not really about inaccuracies. It’s about whether, taken as a whole the story is a fair and accurate representation of the case. As I say, read the two accounts. Form your own view. Res ipsa loquitor.
The section of the judgment referring to tendentious reporting, Booker says,
Might sound damning to anyone unfamiliar with the whole secretive system, but it takes no account of the extraordinary obstacles placed in the way of any journalist wishing to report fairly on them.
On more than one occasion when I approached a local authority to check on the facts of what seemed a very disturbing case, the only response was to seek a gagging order prohibiting me from mentioning the case at all. When I accurately reported on one case so embarrassing to the council concerned that it eventually dropped its bid to seize a child, the judge ruled that any future reference to the case outside the court could lead to summary imprisonment. (my emphasis)
Those “extraordinary obstacles” include preventing a journalist from obtaining accurate information by attending the actual hearings, listening to the actual evidence and hearing submissions for all the parties, right? Sorry, what’s that? Reporters allowed into court you say? But Mr Booker assures us that,
The only recourse left to those trying to establish the facts of such cases is rigorously to test what can be learned from the few people willing to speak, and to come to as informed and judicious a view as possible.
*splutters* Which of course is a complete crock. Because Mr Booker could have attended any of the hearings. Mr Booker could have sought permission to publish information arising from the proceedings. He could have sought permission to see the documents in the case, for example the medical reports. But he didn’t. He didn’t do any of those things. Once. Such is the investigative zeal of the man. What else could he do but rely entirely upon the account of the parents? After all, in another case he had tried to get information from the Local Authority, who unreasonably refused to breach s12 Administration of Justice Act 1960 without a court order. So no point making the effort in this case eh?
Incidentally, if I am right in assuming that this article relates to the same case, Booker was well aware that the judge was keen for him to attend court. So not prevented from attending by the secretive judge then.
Mr Booker notes that “we can see, for the first time [in the judgment], that its injuries included not only the fractured arm but also six “metaphyseal fractures” and several marks or bruises.” (my emphasis) The reason that Mr Booker, who has been SO interested in this case, has not apparently seen this before is because he never bothered to go to court to gather the best evidence. However, since Mr Booker evidently has greater expertise than the five expert witnesses who gave testimony at the fact finding hearing he didn’t attend, I suppose it would have been a very frustrating experience for him to have watched. But perhaps enlightening, since the proposition that he makes in his own article, that the real explanation for metaphyseal fractures “lies in a metabolic bone disease, a contributory factor to which may be a deficiency in Vitamin D (of the type which evidence showed the mother in our present case to have)” was considered extensively – and discounted by all the medical experts.
Now about that medical evidence. The Booker article suggests that the theory that metaphyseal fractures are indicative of child abuse is discredited or at least controversial. No doubt Mr Booker will have assisted the parents’ experienced legal teams by providing them with this information. At any rate, there were 5 experts, including the parents’ own. They were unanimous. Including the parents’ own. They did not think that Vitamin D deficiency or any other metabolic bone disease was a plausible explanation for these injuries in this child (see for example, paragraphs 55, 67 and 98) (which is a quite different question from whether or not rickets or Vit D deficiency can ever provide a non-traumatic explanation for injuries such as these). Although the Mother sought further tests to pursue the point further, the experts did not consider this justified given there was no clinical evidence of any relevant medical condition. Mr Booker must know this is how the expert evidence played out because (even though he did not attend the hearing), he will (I am sure) at least have read the judgment thoroughly, and not just the bit about him. That being so, when Booker suggests that “For whatever reason, not one expert was called who was prepared to challenge [the orthodox] view” he knows that the parents’ own expert considered the evidence and concluded that the parents’ suggestions of some medical non-traumatic explanation for the injuries did not stand up (I summarise – but read the judgment).