Yvonne Roberts: This childish spat raises a vital issue

Share

Gina Ford, "the Queen of Routine", the so called childcare guru and author of The Contented Little Baby, is definitely not a happy bunny. She boasts that as a maternity nurse she has cared for 300 babies in 20 countries. Perhaps because she has spent so much time with infants whose conversation is restricted to burps, farts, sobs and chuckles, she's not had the need to consider the principles attached to the right to freedom of speech. Now's the time she should.

Lawyers for Ms Ford have written to the internet provider of a website called Mumsnet demanding it be closed down for "publishing defamatory statements". Mumsnet provides advice for 60,000 mothers. Members using names such as "gothicmama" take part in a discussion forum, sending anonymous postings. Some of them - tut! tut! - have been extremely rude about Ms Ford, claiming she is unhygenic, cruel and a nursery terrorist. Ms Ford has said she is astonished and hurt by the criticism. "I know what I write is controversial but what surprises me is the vitriolic and personal attacks that people make," she says, clearly not as clued up on the current price of fame as she is on colic.

Justine Roberts, who set up the advice forum with two other mothers six years ago, says Mumsnet has received up to 20 legal letters and e-mails from Ms Ford's lawyers, demanding that derogatory statements be removed and requesting damages. She has tried and failed to satisfy Ms Ford's escalating requests. Members have been ordered not to mention Ms Ford or her methods, "a bit like barring discussion of Manchester United from a football phone-in".

Gina is big business; a Goliath in the nappy world. She earns a fortune telling mothers how to boss their babies into docile submission. Mumsnet, in contrast, struggles for survival and, as a result of Ford's efforts, may now go bust. The internet provider has refused Ms Ford's request, saying, "You would not shut down the BBC because you disagreed with one story." But, her lawyers are unflagging.

A storm in a feeding cup this may seem, but it touches on an issue that matters to us all. It raises the question of whether the present law of libel and defamation is too tough when it comes to the non-commercial side of the internet in which people blog and chat in a cyber-conversation. Does it impose too much of a restriction on a method of communication that - for all its errors and sometimes poisonous fabrications - also brings facts and information that, at best, has the power to revolutionise thoughts and actions?

Under the law of libel, damage to reputation and, therefore, loss of earnings is assumed in what's written or published. The law of slander requires that loss of earnings be proved. It would be healthier for democracy if only the law of slander were applied to websites such as Mumsnet that give its members a voice.

Aussies do it better

Macca offers £10m. Heather is allegedly in pursuit of £200m - presumably calculating that's an awful lot of land mines cleared. Both have now hired lawyers charging £500 an hour.

Welcome to a divorce guaranteed to run longer than Coronation Street - to the detriment of their two-year-old, Beatrice.

What two warring people need least is the legal profession. Last month, Australia introduced a system of family law that recognises the damage lawyers can do: a couple sit in a room with two negotiators, two counsellors and a magistrate, until a deal is done. The result of this in pilot schemes has been reduced animosity and more money left over.

What McCartney and Mills need most isn't high-profile legal teams, it's three months of non-communication to cool down - and a shot of common sense.

* Illiteracy may be an issue but alliteration rules OK in Deborah and Christopher Haine's home. Both, aged 41, elected to call their children, Shlaine and Caine. What they neglected to do - is send them to school.

Magistrates were told the Haines, pictured, had shown "complete disregard" towards Shlaine's school attendance. Aged 14, she and her 12-year-old brother appear rarely in class.

Now, the Haines have been locked up for four months - possibly much to the delight of Shlaine whom, if she is like many teenagers, will say she can't stand the sight of them anyway.

Will it teach the Haines a lesson? Unlikely. Will it improve parent and offspring relationships? Hardly. Is the sentence a deterrent to others? Probably not. So, what has it achieved? A family even more fractured and five minutes of fame for Shlaine and Caine.

A note to the magistrates: must try harder.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album