Nine-year-old school dinner blogger gagged

UPDATE 1.35pm : Argyll & Bute Council have lifted the ban on Martha Payne’s school dinner photography.

Photographs included in the blog of a primary school student’s school dinners have been banned by her local council.

Martha Payne, from Argyll in Scotland, started her blog Never Seconds, “one primary school pupil’s daily dose of school dinners”, to document the food served at her school, and rate them with marks out of ten.

In a blog post entitled “Goodbye” yesterday evening, Martha, known as Veg, explained how she had been taken out of her maths class by the head teacher, and told that she could not take any more photos of her dinners after a headline in a newspaper.

Since she began blogging Martha has used her blog to raise money for charity Mary’s Meals, who set up school feeding projects in communities struck by poverty. The young blogger asked readers to join her “in helping give lunch to children that really need it.”

Martha explained that she was sad that she would no longer be able to take pictures, and receive pictures from followers, and added “I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.”

Prior to the final post on her blog, which had been backed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Martha had blogged daily, detailing what she had eaten, and marking her lunches in categories including “number of mouthfuls”, “health rating” and “pieces of hair”. In response, users from around the world shared images of their school lunches, which Martha also published on the blog.

The young journalist and activist’s father took to the blog to provide readers with a little more detail on the day’s developments. He wrote:

“Martha’s school have been brilliant and supportive from the beginning and I’d like to thank them all. I contacted Argyll and Bute Council when Martha told me what happened at school today and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha’s photography.”

It is a shame that a blog that today went through 2 million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly £2000 for charity is forced to end.”

Photographer Paul Clarke questioned what issues the council may have been troubled by, adding:

“If I may, I’ll just park the “obvious” one – that they don’t want to be criticised publicly. The relevant issues to my mind are some old favourites in relation to images and technology: place, control, liability and of course precedent.”

Since posting her Goodbye, interest in the blog has spiked, with 425 people commenting on her post, and a massive increase in donations to her JustGiving page. At the time of posting, the activist’s Just Giving page had shot up to a massive £10,819.70 in donations.

One photo published on the blog showed an “alright” pizza, while another blog post added “the good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home.”

Argyll and Bute Council have confirmed that they have asked the schoolgirl to stop taking photographs of her lunches. A strongly worded statement released today said:

“Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

“The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.

“There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

Twitter users have taken to the microblogging site in support of the blog. Jamie Oliver tweeted:

Conservative MP Louise Mensch tweeted:

while Daily Telegraph Editor Tony Gallagher dubbed Argyll and Bute “the most stupid council in Britain” and described the decision as “the daftest own goal in a long time.” #Neverseconds was also trending on Twitter before 10am.

Councillor Mike Harris, also Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship said:

“Councils often seem to forget they have the duty to protect freedom speech. When you get absurd cases like this, or the example of South Tyneside Council suing one of its councillors for libel, it shows that local government isn’t up to speed on its legal obligation to protect and promote free speech.”

As the website’s stats hit 2382060, and continue ticking over, it seems Argyll and Bute Council have created themselves a bigger PR disaster than an innocent blog from a young girl ever would have. Food for thought, if nothing else.

Name of Ched Evans’ rape victim highlighted again on Twitter

Crossposted at

The name of footballer Ched Evan’s rape victim was thrust into the public domain via Twitter once again this week.

In April, the Wales and Sheffield United Striker was found guilty of rape of a 19 year old woman believed to be “too drunk to consent” and jailed for five years. Since the trial, North Wales Police and South Yorkshire Police have arrested 16 people in connection with comments allegedly made via the internet.

Last week, Sky News were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and the attorney general after an on-air mistake meant they accidentally broadcast the name of Evans’ victim.

On Thursday (17 May), a Twitter user named the rape victim again and a clearly disgusted Louise Mensch, Conservative MP for Corby, requested that followers report the user to Twitter and North Wales Police.

Though Mensch was clearly acting in good faith, I believe her execution was shortsighted and foolish. By linking through to the Twitter user who had published the name, the MP had drawn the attention of her 57,000+ followers to this, further damaging the already delicate legal anonymity the victim is entitled to.

When it was suggested that Mensch had simply widened the attention drawn to the breach (by the Guardian’s Josh Halliday and Jonathan Haynes), she declared that there was “no point pretending her [the victim] name was not already completely exposed as Twitter made it a trending topic.”

Previously exposed or not, previous Twitter trending topic or not, Mensch’s reaction was still knee-jerk, and presented the victim’s name in the public domain and to an entirely different audience. The Corby MP had no way of knowing which of her followers had already seen the trending topic, and which of her followers would have recognised the trending topic as the name of the victim. I consider it irresponsible to assume that all of her followers knew, and recognised, the name already.

Though the problem obviously needed addressing, it seemed that Mensch hadn’t considered her actions thoroughly. After she felt that the case had been brought to the attention of Twitter, she deleted the tweet, considering that justice had been done.

The increase of news dissemination on Twitter is both a wonderful and terrifying thing. In instances such as this, it is hugely concerning. Rape victims are granted anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 as a protection tool, in the hopes that the fear felt by those reporting crimes such as this will be reduced.

Government Whip Shailesh Vara told the House of Commons that the naming of victims on social media needed to be closely monitored. Vara warned: “I want to make it absolutely clear that the anonymity of rape victims for life is there. When there is a breach of that, then the full force of the law must take its place.”

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy added that cases such as this could deter rape victims from coming forward, for the fear of being subjected to the identification and abuse faced by Evans’ victim.

As we move further into the Digital Age, it is evident that education and understanding of the relationship between social media and the law needs to be addressed. Though ignorance is not an excuse, perhaps those who initially named Evans’ victim were not aware of the legal life anonymity granted to those in affected by rape. But the law is there for a reason.

How do we educate the masses on this crucial issue to prevent further suffering of rape victims? And how do the government respond if cases such as this do deter victims from reporting crimes? Maybe the IT lessons young people undertake at school need to cover issues such as this – but that’s a minefield, and a large proportion of Twitter users will already have left education, missing out on that crucial knowledge.

Whatever the solution, the problem needs to be tackled head on, before it has a detrimental effect on the reporting of rape crimes, and the victims who have already experienced enough trauma to last them a lifetime.

Alice Purkiss is an editorial assistant at Index. She tweets at @alicemaypurkiss

Police confirm Milly Dowler's phone was hacked but blame for message deletion unclear

Full details of the phone hacking of murdered school-girl Milly Dowler may never be discovered, the Metropolitan Police Service revealed today.

A witness statement from detective chief inspector John MacDonald, which was read to the Leveson Inquiry today, explained to the court that though there is evidence that the voicemails were hacked, it is unlikely there will be “any further clarity” on the issues.

As a result of incomplete call data provided by the mobile phone company, the Met explained that “a definitive conclusion is not and may never be possible.”

The court heard that Sally Dowler was given a moment of “false hope” on 24 March 2002 when space was freed on her daughter’s mobile phone answering service — the family hoped that Milly was listening to and deleting her messages. MacDonald’s statement explained that Mrs Dowler may have been able access her daughter’s voicemail message box on that day after the mobile phone company automatically deleted voicemails 72 hours after they had been listened to.

MacDonald’s statement added that Mrs Dowler and the Metropolitan Police discussed suspicions that her daughter’s voicemail was being accessed by someone else. The statement explained that Mrs Dowler was reassured that her thoughts were reasonable and possible, given that she was able to leave messages one day, but not the previous day.

The schoolgirl’s voicemail was put into a “preserved state” on 25 March, to prevent any further voicemails being automatically purged. On 26 March, Surrey Police unsuccessfully attempted to record the teenager’s voicemail messages. A message left after this attempt was later “saved”, supporting the theory that someone had accessed Milly’s voicemail and listened to the message.

The statement added: “MPS cannot rule out that someone illegally accessed Milly’s phone on 26 March 2002, however, call data is incomplete,” but the incomplete information meant MPS were “unable to conclusively establish the accuracy of this theory.”

David Sherborne, counsel for the victims, condemned the failure of Surrey Police to investigate phone hacking in 2002, and criticised the MPS’ decision to close hacking investigation and concealment of News of the World, despite uncovering “Aladdin’s cave” of evidence. Sherborne added: “If only Rupert Murdoch had “ripped the place apart” in 2006. But he didn’t.”

Sherborne also read a statement from the Dowler family, in which they thanked DCI John MacDonald and his team for their efforts to get to the bottom of this issue.

The statement added: “If Surrey Police had prosecuted this activity in 2002 then perhaps countless others would have avoided having their messages hacked by News of the World. Police neglect and deference meant it took the relentless efforts of one journalist [Nick Davies – Guardian] to uncover what the police already knew. We continue to have faith that his efforts and the efforts of the inquiry and Operation Weeting will have a lasting positive impact.

Also appearing before the court this morning, DCI Brendan Gilmour from MPS and Operation Glade, described the sensitivities of investigating journalists in the wake of Operation Motorman in 2003 to the court.

Gilmour explained that the MPS discovered that Paul Marshall, a civilian employee, was providing private detectives with information, which eventually ended up in newspapers, from the police national computer.

Gilmour stressed that whilst they were “alive to the sensitivities of investigating journalists” there “wasn’t any fear involved at all” from the MPS.

Seven journalists, identified from the ledgers of private investigator Steve Whittamore, were questioned under caution about how they obtained certain information. Gilmour explained that “quite a few of them said the info was coming from the courts”, and added that all of the journalists said they would not have used Whitammore if they had known the information was being accessed illegally.

In March 2004, the CPS advised that there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the journalists. Gilmour said “I accepted the decisions on the basis that we couldn’t prove guilty knowledge.”

In a relatively short evidence session Russell Middleton, temporary assistant Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police and deputy senior investigating officer on Operation Reproof also appeared at the Inquiry.

Middleton explained to the court that Operation Reproof began as an investigation into blackmail.

He said: “We were open minded as to what we would find”, and added that no evidence suggesting the involvement of a media organisation was found, but journalists were not “out of scope” in this police investigation.

At the start of the day’s hearing, Leveson addressed issues raised by Index on Censorship and other organisations, regarding transparency of the governments status as core participants. He said, that though he respects the organisations, he believed they misunderstood the purposes of redaction.

He added: “Redactions of any sort by the government will be approached in the same way as redactions sought by other core participants.”

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Rupert Murdoch admits News of the World phone-hacking cover-up

In a second day of testimony before the Leveson Inquiry, Rupert Murdoch admitted that “one or two strong characters” were responsible for a cover-up of the phone hacking scandal at News International.

The News Corp chairman and chief executive explained to the court that he was “misinformed” and “shielded” from events that were taking place at the paper. Murdoch pointed the finger at “a clever lawyer”, who forbade people from reporting to News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks or chairman James Murdoch.

Despite the acknowledgement of the cover-up of the “cancer” that was prevalent in News International, Murdoch stressed to the court that the senior management of News Corp were not involved. He said:

“There was no attempt, at my level, or several levels below me to cover it up. We set up inquiry after inquiry. We employed legal firm after legal firm and perhaps we relied too much on the conclusions of the police.”

He added that when presented with information relating to a Guardian article in 2009 detailing unethical practices at the News of the World, the police said that the article was wrong. He said: “We chose to take word of police over guardian. We rested on that until beginning of 2011.”

After explaining that Colin Myler was hired as the editor of News of the World in 2007 to find out “what the hell was going on” in the newsroom, Murdoch admitted that he should have taken personal responsibility for ensuring that the brief was completed, and not delegated the duty to Les Hinton.

Murdoch also described his disbelief that law firm Harbottle and Lewis did not alert Rebekah Brooks that the problem was far more widespread than one rogue reporter: “I cannot understand a law firm reading that, and not ringing the chief executive of a company and saying ‘hey, you’ve got some really big problems’.”

The media mogul told the court that he had failed with now defunct News of the World. He said: “I am guilty of not having paid enough attention to News of the World, probably the whole time we owned it. It was an omission by me, and all I can do is apologise to a lot of people.”

Describing himself as “greatly distressed” by the closure of the News of the World, Murdoch admitted that the news paper and the journalistic practices operating within it were an “aberration”.

When asked by Jay why he closed the tabloid newspaper, rather than toughing it out, Murdoch told the court he “panicked”, but said he was glad he took that decision.

Murdoch explained “when the Milly Dowler situation was first given huge publicity, all the newspapers took it as the chance to make a really national scandal. You could feel the blast coming in the window almost.”

He added: “I’m sorry I didn’t close it years before and put a Sunday Sun in,” and described the “whole business” as “a serious blot on my reputation.”

Murdoch told the court he felt in hindsight should have had a one-on-one with Clive Goodman to establish if he was telling the truth that phone hacking was more widespread in the paper. Murdoch told the court he should have “thrown all the damn lawyers out” and cross examined Goodman. He added that if he decided Goodman was telling the truth he “would have torn the place apart, and we wouldn’t be here today.”

Turning to the controversial privacy case of ex-Formula One chief Max Mosley and Neville Thurlbeck’s blackmail of women involved in the case, Jay asked Murdoch if he really felt this kind of behaviour wasn’t something to worry about.

Murdoch replied: “A journalist doing a favour for someone, and someone doing a favour back is an every day occurrence.”

Leveson told Murdoch he considered that approach “somewhat disturbing,” asking the media proprietor to tell him if he believed this type of behaviour was seen as justifiable and acceptable common practice in the industry.

Murdoch replied: “It’s a common thing in life, way beyond journalism, for people to say I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. This seems to go beyond that.”

Seeing an opportunity to challenge continual assurances that Murdoch did not have any inappropriate relationships with politicians, Jay suggested it was interesting that “you scratch my back” was a common attitude, but not one Murdoch held with regards to politicians.

Referring to the BSkyB bid which caused so much controversy earlier in the week, Murdoch told the court he had never met, nor dealt with Jeremy Hunt.

When asked if he and his son James had discussed the replacement of Vince Cable with Jeremy Hunt, Murdoch told the court he didn’t believe they did. Following Hunt’s appointment to the bid, Murdoch denied that James Murdoch had said “we’ve got someone better now,” but told the court “we couldn’t have had anyone worse”.

Asked by Jay if he believed the bid was derailed as a result of the revelations that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler had been hacked, Murdoch said he was unsure if it was related to the “Milly Dowler misfortune” but that he did believe it was as a result of the hacking scandal.

The inquiry will continue on 7 May

Follow Index’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry @IndexLeveson