A BBC reporter offered copy approval to the chairman of Telford council’s child safeguarding board in following up a Sunday Mirror scoop exposing Britain’s “worst ever” child grooming scandal.
The journalist – whose name was redacted in emails seen by Press Gazette – sent the first draft of a story to Andrew Mason, chairman of the Telford and Wrekin Safeguarding Children Board.
It followed a Sunday Mirror investigation, published as an exclusive on 11 March, that revealed child grooming on “unprecedented levels” in the West Midlands town.
The paper said as many as 1,000 children in Telford could have suffered at the hands of grooming gangs and claimed local authorities had failed to stamp out the abuse which lasted for 40 years.
It said that “despite similar high-profile cases in Rochdale and Rotherham, authorities in Telford repeatedly failed to stamp out a network of abusers”.
Sharing the copy in full with Mason on 14 March (see images below), the reporter said: “Please see below a first draft of the story.
“This is longer than our usual pieces because of the nature of the article and may be cut down by the subs but I wanted to get as much of what you were saying over as possible.
“If there is anything you see that you think is completely incorrect, please get back to me as soon as possible and I will amend.”
The story was largely built on quotes from Mason, who claimed there was “no evidence” that grooming gangs were still operating in Telford and dubbed the Sunday Mirror’s 1,000 children figure “completely incorrect”.
While it was not published in its entirety on the BBC News website, quotes from Mason included in the draft do appear in a BBC story published on 15 March this year.
Quotes and lines from the draft story that appear in the 15 March piece include:
- Mason’s claim that were was “no evidence” grooming gangs were still operating in Telford
- Mason suggesting he feared “misrepresentation” could mean children suffering abuse do not come forward
- “The reason we are hitting the headlines is because we are so open to talk about the work we are doing”
- “It doesn’t help anyone having these figures banded about when they are a completely incorrect figure”
- “It gives the impression to children that are being abused that authorities don’t care and we’re not good at what we do, which will discourage them from coming forward and is a poor outcome for everyone involved.”
While the reporter’s name was not visible in emails seen by Press Gazette, the end of the sender’s email address was “@bbc.co.uk”.
A BBC spokesperson told Press Gazette the article was “never published”, adding: “Independence and impartiality are at the heart of our journalism.
“The BBC’s editorial standards would never allow copy approval. That has been made clear to the reporter involved.”
Local authorities are required to establish a safeguarding children board under the Children Act 2004.
The Telford and Wrekin Safeguarding Children Board agrees “how the relevant organisations in Telford and Wrekin will cooperate to safeguarding and promote the welfare of children in the area and for monitoring the effectiveness of local services and legislative requirements…”.
Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall