A freelance journalist has won the right to report a mother who has lost several children to the care system.
Louise Tickle sought permission to report “certain care proceedings”. Local authority the Council of the Borough of North Tyneside was opposed however, countering this with an application for a reporting restriction order.
The mother of the affected children also took part in the case, saying she supported the journalist’s application. The unnamed woman is recovering from significant mental health problems, explained Mr Justice Bodey in the High Court.
“She is a mother who has had the misfortune to have had her life blighted historically by serious mental health problems which have at times made it unsafe for her to care for her children. When mentally well, she coped alright but not when mentally unwell. Happily those times appear to be behind her.”
The mother now regularly speaks to social workers and at universities about her experiences, and has also written articles about them on social media sites – telling the story, for example, of how she fought for and eventually regained the care of her youngest child, after the latter was taken into care shortly after birth.
The Judge described the articles written by the mother as “as balanced and reasonable.”
“They recognise her own failings in the past. They are in some respects critical of some professionals in the care system, but over-archingly are written to help others in the care system by sensible, practical and sensitive advice to people in times of need.”
The local authority claimed the articles had constituted “complete criticism of the Local Authority in every respect” but Judge Bodey was unconvinced.
He was also complimentary about Tickle’s family justice journalism, describing them as “reasonable”. She was currently involved, he explained, in writing a 5,000 word report on the care system for a broadsheet newspaper and hoped to interview the mother for this in order to discuss her experiences.
The Judge explained:
“Whilst relying heavily on the new(ish) ‘transparency’ within the family justice system (as championed by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, in a number of well-known cases) she has equally wanted to remain within the law in what she reports.”
She would ensure her reports were properly anonymised and she made it clear that she was alert to the danger of “jigsaw identification”, in which minor details are inadvertently included which could subsequently be pieced together to reveal identities.
In addition, the journalist criticised the local authority for taking an antagonistic approach, saying this had prevented the two sides from collaborating and unnecessarily prolonged the case.
The Judge granted Louise Tickle the right to interview the mother, provided the final report was indeed properly anonymised. He stressed that the court time and effort required to properly assess reporting applications – “essentially a satellite issue” – meant it was important that in future:
“…there should be sensible and responsible dialogue as soon as possible… With the application of give-and-take, a measure of common-sense, and the engagement of the Children’s Guardian, it should be possible in most cases to come up with a formula … which steers a path between (a) the need for greater transparency in the public interest, and (b) the need to respect the privacy and sensitivities of those whose lives are involved.”
Tickle v Council of the Borough of North Tyneside and Others can be read in full here.
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