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Hyperbole and the Media.

The media, as we have long been aware, are selective when it comes to identifying the news which they think we should find important. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ is not just a cliché.
Two stories today, which have been pushed to prominence by their alarming headlines; headlines which don’t quite add up when compared to the information in the story.
The first is from the excitable Christopher Booker. I used to be a fan of Mr Booker’s, as I was of John Hemming MP. They both had a commendable and justified interest in exposing ‘secret justice’. Since they have formed a close alliance, however, they appear to have followed Tom Watson down the ‘conspiracy theory’ rabbit hole as they feed off the stories told to them by their internet admirers. Take this morning’s headline from Christopher Booker – or rather don’t take it, for it is far from realistic:

“Will this OAP be robbed of her house and money?”

The definition of ‘robbed’, as I’m sure Mr Booker is fully aware, is to take property unlawfully from (a person or place) by force or threat of force. The story concerns a 94 year-old lady who has become the subject of a Court of Protection order. I am no fan of the Court of Protection, but even I would not attempt to argue that they ‘take’ money from ‘frail’ old ladies by force or unlawfully. They do attempt to ‘look after’ the money of frail old ladies, not always successfully, I will grant you, where they have been advised by Social Services, or indeed anyone, that perhaps the person concerned is not in the best of mental faculties and that other people may well attempt to take their money by force or illegally. They do so after a Doctor has confirmed that the person’s mental faculties are not up to a certain standard.
Mental faculties can vary intermittently, fine one day, wavering the next – Mr Booker’s friend, Ian Joseph’s,  a Monaco resident who campaigns ceaselessly from an excruciating web-site  along the lines of child adoptions being ‘punishment for parents who have committed no crime’, has obtained the services of another psychiatrist who has certified that on the day HE saw the lady, he ‘found her capable of carrying on a sensible conversation’. I would hope so – the vast majority of people with intermittent mental incapacity are capable of carrying on a sensible conversation. It is simplistic and offensive to assume that mental incapacity means that you are a dribbling idiot incapable of speaking for yourself. I have interviewed thousands of patients of the Court of Protection – probably only 5% of them were people you would have immediately summed up as ‘not having their full faculties’ – that doesn’t mean that the other 95%  have the mental capacity to always act in their best interests. But Mr Booker then uses this report to describe the first psychiatrist’s report as ‘a questionable psychiatrist’s report’. Indeed. So is the second psychiatrist’s report, Mr Booker. The day two psychiatrists interviewing the same patient on two different days agree, Hell will freeze over.
The real question here is not whether two psychiatrists agree or not, but why Social Services, or whoever first raised concerns about the way in which she was handling her finances, was of the opinion that perhaps she wasn’t acting in her best interests. The fact that the order also seeks to evict her niece from her home suggests that possibly someone was concerned – even another family member – at the level of free will this lady was demonstrating within that household.  The fact that Social Services has made the application only demonstrates that there is no other obvious family member to act as Receiver (manager) of her funds. Social services act as Receiver far more economically than a Solicitor who would be the only other option. The fact that Social Services is applying for her to live in a care home only demonstrates that, if the niece and her husband are no longer living in the house, it may be difficult for a 94 year-old lady in a wheelchair to continue to live alone.
This case is currently in the High Court, a High Court hearing that is now open to the public. That is as it should be. The facts are being argued in front of a judge, who will make a decision in a vulnerable lady’s best interests. Surely a time to wait and see what the outcome is, rather than use a twisted version of a Social Services application to have the matter looked at by, quote: ‘the sinister Court of Protection’ in order to rile up an internet fan club who firmly believe that all Judges are corrupt Freemasons, Social Services are a sinister organisation that exists only to steal children and sell them to ‘top Tories’ as an after-breakfast snack, and the Queen is a lizard.
This sort of newspaper reporting is the very reason why the Court of Protection has been so reluctant over the years to see the affairs of vulnerable individuals made public. Sad to see one of the supporters of transparency in the courts, proving them right after all.
Over in The Times (sorry paywall) we have the normally sober Frances Gibb claiming that:

“Family court judges are ‘in cahoots’ with social workers.”

This is in response to comments made by Mrs Justice Pauffley during a hearing of a particularly sad case. A mother of eight children, by a variety of Fathers, who had endured many years of ill health occasioned by alcohol, heroin and cocaine abuse, was applying to the courts not to have her eighth, and latest child, permanently adopted.  Earlier children were already either in care, or living with their Fathers. However, happy ending to this story was that the Mother has now made ‘meaningful changes’ to her lifestyle, via a specialist treatment centre, and had established ‘good emotional interaction’ with her latest child. Mrs Justice Pauffley has ordered that the child be restored to her.
As part of her judgment, Mrs Justice Pauffley commented that the original order asking for foster care when the child was born, contained ‘facts and reasons’ that appeared to have been ‘copied and pasted’ from the Social Services report on the Mother. Given that Social Services is the organisation which is tasked to investigate such matters, it is difficult to guess, with due respect to Mrs Justice Pauffley, where else such ‘facts and reasons’ could have come from. It may well be that, in the light of Sir James Munby recent direction that all judgments in the family court should be open and transparent, that Mrs Justice Pauffley wants to see a system of independent court visitors, such as employed by the Court of Protection,  to be set up in parallel to Social Services to provide parallel reports.
That is a reasonable argument – though for sure there would be a mass exodus from Social Services to take up such positions – same people, different hats.
I don’t see as ‘reasonable’ Ms Gibb’s deduction that this observation implies that “Family court judges are ‘in cahoots’ with social workers.”
Neither story makes any suggestion as to who should be entrusted with reporting to a judge on the affairs of vulnerable people. Journalists? Surely not!
The media has become the purveyor of horror, outrage, fear – and fear of institutions, including the government. We complain that (in particular) the Labour government sought to infantilise the nation – yet it is the media which continues to stoke the panic which we believe our ‘parent’, the government, should protect us from.
Daily we are fed headlines that suggest we are innocent children lost in a forest of malevolent wolves. Is this really just to protect their advertising revenues?
Discuss.

Tagged as:
Christopher Booker,
Court of Protection,
Frances Gibb,
John Hemming MP,
Tom Watson MP

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