Force says BBC story was inaccurate and has damaged community relations with the police
BBC newsroom studio at Broadcasting House. Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner has written to BBC Lancashire about its reporting of the story. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA
Police have criticised the BBC for publishing a story that claimed a spelling error led to a 10-year-old Muslim boy being investigated over terror allegations, and warned the press of the impact it could have on community relations.
On Wednesday, the BBC reported that a boy who attends a Lancashire primary school was interviewed by police after he had written that he lived in a “terrorist house”. His family claimed this was a spelling mistake and he meant to say he lived in a “terraced house”.
Lancashire Constabulary’s police and crime commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, has written to BBC Lancashire about its reporting, which he said had damaged relations. The police said the family were not interrogated as potential terrorists.
The police visit took place because of other worrying issues in the boy’s school work, not just the “terrorist house” line, Grunshaw said. The concerns were “reported through the appropriate channels”.
“This was not responded to as a terror incident and the reporter was fully aware of this before she wrote her story,” he said. “In the event there was no further action needed, but if the school and police had not acted then they would have been failing in their duty to respond to concerns.”
Condemning the reporting and the level of debate it sparked, he said: “The media needs to take more responsibility when sensationalising issues to make stories much bigger than they are and to realise the impact they can have on local communities
A statement from the police and local council echoed the commissioner’s comments. It read that it was “untrue to suggest that this situation was brought about by a simple spelling mistake. The school and the police have acted responsibly and proportionately in looking into a number of potential concerns using a low-key, local approach.”
The BBC said in reply to the complaint that the reporting had been in the public interest. A spokesperson said: “The BBC has a duty to report challenging stories in a responsible way. We firmly believe this story was in the public interest and that we acted properly.
“We reported the facts in good faith and after taking appropriate steps to check them with the authorities involved. A statement from the police was included. We updated the story immediately when the authorities released more information once the story was in the public domain. We absolutely did not say the family was ‘interrogated as potential terrorists’.”
The original story was widely reported in national and international press, attributing the BBC as the source of the news, and even inspired a hashtag on social media #IGrewUpInATerroristHouse. The Guardian’s report of the the initial story has since been taken down and is under investigation by the readers’ editor.
Since July, teachers have been legally obliged to report any suspected extremist behaviour to police. In addition, teachers must report any child protection concerns through the necessary channels.
The boy’s family are demanding that both the school and police apologise for the incident, which took place on 7 December. The father, who wished only to be known as Mohammed, told local Lancashire press he wanted a written apology. He said: “The police officer took his laptop and the officer came back 45 minutes later and said everything was all right. My son is very disturbed. We all are. We are a very peaceful family with no links to politics. He had never written anything like this before.”
The father demanded that an explanation of the incident be given to the whole school at morning assembly to stop his youngest child being bullied.
A spokesperson for Lancashire police said the force had not received a formal complaint and would not be further investigating the case, adding that officers had acted proportionately. “There was no further action required by any further agency,” the spokesperson said.
The BBC reporter had been given the context surrounding the incident by both Lancashire council and the police, as well as guidance to make sure that the story would not be “sensationalised or reported differently to how it was brought to us”, the spokesperson said.