Two weeks ago lurid tabloid headlines proclaimed police raids had freed “child slaves” brought to this country by people traffickers.
Four hundred police had smashed their way into 17 homes in Slough and forcibly taken into care ten Roma children. A carefully selected media pack was invited to watch.
The Daily Express reported that criminal Roma gangs which operated “like the Charles Dickens character Fagin in Oliver Twist” had been smashed. This analogy appeared across the media. Twenty four Romanians were arrested and Romanian diplomats were denied access to them.
Yet not one of the 24 adults arrested at the scene has been charged with child-trafficking offences. Some were charged with minor immigration offences and just three were charged with handling stolen mobile phones.
Four days after the children were seized, officials in the town had to admit that all appeared “healthy and well cared for”, though “distressed” by their forced removal by police. Now all but one of them has been returned to their family.
The whole story was nonsense. But as the story unravelled the media were virtually silent, despite helping brand these children and their families as criminals. The press and TV did not demand to know why this raid had been set up by the police.
By then the damage had been done. This pack of lies had been used to whip up a race scare targeting one of the most vulnerable and persecuted communities in Europe.