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An open letter to John Witherow, editor of the Times

Brian Cathcart photo
Brian CathcartLondon
An open letter to John Witherow, editor of the Times
You told a court 'We correct things that are wrong'. Now it's time to correct your paper's falsehoods about that 'Christian child forced into Muslim foster care'

Dear Mr Witherow,

Following the broadcast of the BBC Radio 4 programme The Carbonara Case, we urge you to correct and withdraw your newspaper’s inaccurate and misleading reports about the 2017 ‘Muslim foster care’ affair and to initiate an independent investigation of anti-Muslim reporting at the Times

When we published our detailed analysis of this reporting last June in the report ‘UNMASKED‘, your paper dismissed it as ‘mischievous and ideologically motivated’ and a smear. Conspicuously, your editorial at that time did not address any of our detailed allegations about inaccurate and unethical reporting and anti-Muslim bias. 

Now a BBC Radio 4 team has researched the case entirely independently. They provided your reporter Andrew Norfolk with 20 minutes of airtime in which to justify himself and their findings are, we must assume, compliant with BBC and Ofcom verification standards.

Those findings are that the Times’s reports were ‘misleading’ and ‘problematic in so many ways’. Relying on documents issued by the courts and on on-the-record witnesses, the programme showed that your front-page story headlined ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’ was fundamentally wrong. It also left no doubt that Norfolk omitted important information which would have given his readers a radically different understanding of the events.

As you know, these BBC findings closely match those of UNMASKED, as does the view expressed in the programme that the Times has questions to answer about its attitudes to the race and religion of those involved.

Your reporter Andrew Norfolk, in his lengthy interview, was unable to dispute the most vital points – that the child in the case was more Muslim than Christian and that all involved have accepted that the foster carers acted professionally. Nor was he able to deny that when he wrote his first article he was aware of significant information that he failed to share with your readers. This included the fact that the matter was before the courts and a resolution was imminent, and that the child’s religious heritage was at least partly Muslim.

Thus two teams of journalists researching this case independently of one another have reached the same damning conclusions. We are confident that any fair-minded scrutiny would produce the same outcome. The credibility not only of your Chief Investigative Reporter but of all Times journalism is clearly at issue, and the paper cannot brush the criticisms aside as ‘ideologically motivated’.

Only this summer, Mr Witherow, you declared under oath in court: ‘We do believe in accuracy and correct things that are wrong.’ This series of articles is demonstrably wrong. They should all be withdrawn and appropriate corrections and apologies should be issued. And your paper should initiate a credible, fully-independent external investigation of how and why this happened. 


Brian Cathcart and Paddy French

October 2019

#John Witherow, #Andrew Norfolk, #The Times, #foster, #Muslim, #journalism, #BBC, #Radio 4, #Unmasked, #Ofcom