The Mayor of Tower Hamlets branded stories in the media accusing his authority of distressing a Christian girl by placing her in foster care with a Muslim family as “sensationalist” and “not based in fact”.
John Biggs spoke out after stories appeared claiming the girl, five, had been sobbing and asking to leave what was a conservative Muslim family, citing a confidential local authority report.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Biggs said: “I’m confident that we looked very carefully at the appropriate matching and that we found a family that would look after the interests of this child at a very traumatic time.”
When asked whether it was appropriate to place a child in foster care with an adult that wears a niqab, Biggs responded: “I represent a multiracial, multicultural, multifaith borough and we get on pretty well together.
“And so I wouldn’t have a problem with a child being fostered by someone who comes from a different faith but is sensitive to, and responds to that child, who communicates with them, shows their face to that child as well. I think that those are all important factors.
The row began after the Times wrote a story on August 28 claiming that a Christian child was begging her social services supervisor not to return her to her Muslim foster care home because “they don’t speak English”.
Andrew Norfolk, the journalist who covered the story for The Times defended the claims on the Today programme, saying: “What was brought to us this week were concerns that were written, unidentified, by a social services employee of Tower Hamlets, who had observed this five-year-old child being very distressed and upset when she was being returned to that foster home.
“We reported in our story what a local authority employee reported and what we discovered as a result of further investigations.”
Tower Hamlets council said that the Times report was inaccurate. A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets responded to the claims in the story, saying: “The child is in fact fostered by an English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement. We would like to give more details but we are legally restricted to do so.”
Biggs also addressed the issue of difference in opinion and statements with this case. He said: “The social worker who may or may not have [made the claims], was not the worker who was responsible for this particular case. And, indeed, it was not the independent guardian appointed by the courts.
“We’re trying to get to the bottom of where this difference of opinion, and difference of statements, has come from and it appears to relate to, I think, what’s called the contact centre where the parent meets the child on a regular basis.”