The mother jailed for lying has walked free. Paul Vallely thinks we're addicted to fibbing; Virginia Ironside says that stinks
Mr and Mrs Whitehead got themselves into their first fine mess by lying to the police. But why compound the matter by allowing his parents to tell their three boys - aged five, seven and nine - that far from being in prison, the victims of what seems to be a huge injustice, their parents have been "on holiday"?

On holiday! If ever there was a whopper ...

Mrs Whitehead has said that lying is against everything she taught her children - but it seems that in the Whitehead family no one really knows truth from lies. Like Mrs Whitehead, who lied out of a misguided sense of loyalty to her husband, her in-laws have been lying to their grandchildren out of a misguided sense of kindness.

At their grandparents' home in the Isle of Wight, the deluded kids have been playing marbles and flying kites, apparently in the belief that their parents were off on a relaxing long weekend.

Now what if the Whitehead family got away with this lie? At very least, the boys are going to be extremely nervous of ever letting their parents out of their sight again, for fear that, without any warning, suitcase- packing, goodbye hugs and promises of postcards and prezzies, their parents suddenly vanish again "on holiday".

But almost certainly the grandparents haven't got away with it - particularly now that their mother has returned from holiday alone. With the boys' photos in nearly every paper (albeit blurred), how can the children not have known precisely what's been going on? And let's say no kind little schoolfriend has spilled the beans, what about their grandparents' body language, the anxiety that shows in their eyes, the slight sweatiness of their palms, the muffled phone conversations behind closed doors? These little chaps would have to be three of the hardest-boiled eggs in the world not to know something was seriously wrong.

By lying again, the Whitehead family has also missed a wonderful opportunity to tell their children about justice and injustice; to show them that even parents aren't perfect, that when you lie you risk punishment, but that in this case the punishment didn't fit the crime. They've denied the kids the chance of pitching in, knowing that practically the whole world's on their side, of reading all the marvellous letters of support from total strangers, to have the chance perhaps to write to the judge, to help keep their parents' spirits up, to feel needed and supportive.

So what if the children knew their parents were in jail? Told the truth and with constant visits, they'd be able to bear the strain far better than living in an odious half-world, knowing something's wrong, possibly terrified their parents may even be dead, powerless to do anything and given a smothering and cruel shelter from a world that's not so terrible - for even at worst their mum and dad were given a just-bearable two and four months' sentence respectively.

As it is, while outwardly the boys appear normal, inside, their sense of trust has surely been completely eroded. And all because of a completely misguided "kindly" lie.