Blairs protest to PCC about school story

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The Independent Online
TONY AND Cherie Blair last night protested to the Press Complaints Commission over a newspaper story about their 10-year-old daughter, Kathryn, winning a place at a Catholic comprehensive school in London.

The Blairs were furious at a report in The Mail on Sunday, which claimed that parents at the school - the Sacred Heart in Hammersmith - were complaining that their children could not get places while Kathryn, who lives several miles away at Westminster, had secured a place.

A statement issued through the Prime Minister's official spokesman said the Blairs tolerated a good deal of media intrusion without complaint. "But they see no reason why their children should not be allowed the freedom from intrusion the Press Complaints Commission claims its members support.

"This story would be of little interest to The Mail on Sunday, let alone on its front page, were it not for the fact that it involves the child of the Prime Minister. It is in our view a clear breach of the PCC code.

"Equally, it has been clear from the media inquiries we have been getting for some time that whatever school the Blairs' daughter attended, parts of the media were determined to make it an issue in this way."

The Blairs called on the PCC to issue guidance on what protection should be offered to the children of prominent public figures. They also disputed the report, insisting the school was their first choice because there were no other Roman Catholic comprehensives closer to home.

"It is reasonably close to the school attended by their sons, which means the children will be able to travel together. As the school head and the London Education Authority have made clear, all the normal procedures were followed in line with the school's admissions policy and the Prime Minister's daughter received no special treatment," the statement said.

"As in any over-subscribed school, there will be disappointed parents and children but to say that amounts to special treatment for one pupil who is being offered a place is wrong, unfair and without any foundation whatever."

The education of the Blair children has sparked comment ever since the then opposition leader chose to send his eldest child, Euan, to the Roman Catholic London Oratory School. His younger brother, Nicky, later followed.

The school, in Fulham, was eight miles away from the family's then home in Islington, where the schools have some of the worst reputations in the country. It was also grant-maintained - a Conservative policy officially opposed by Labour.

That decision in 1994 was greeted with an icy statement from the National Union of Teachers, whose general secretary, Doug McAvoy, observed that Mr and Mrs Blair were "exercising a choice provided by Conservative legislation which few other parents could contemplate".

At the time, Mr Blair defended the decision, saying his choice of school would always be a state comprehensive and the fact that the Oratory had opted out did not affect his decision.