Rod Liddle

It’s not just Ashya King’s parents who the authorities despise

Of course normal people can't be trusted to bring up children. They might be middle-class, or have the wrong views, or smoke

It's not just Ashya King's parents who the authorities despise
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My first act upon returning from my holiday was to sign the online petition to have the supremely irritating children’s cartoon figure Peppa Pig banned from television. I have always found the creature half-witted, arrogant and sinister, and the tune which accompanies her exploits is both grating and didactic. Further, even allowing for the usual anthropomorphic licence employed by cartoonists, this Peppa does not remotely resemble a proper pig, and her snout is worryingly two-dimensional. She gave me hours of misery when my daughter was a toddler, although not quite so much as Balamory — a programme which made me feel physically unwell.

The Ban Peppa petition was got up by some Muslim bloke in vibrant and diverse (except for Israelis, natch) Bradford, who was deeply distressed to find his young son watching the show on TV. Hitherto, the father explained in despair, his son had expressed a wish to become a doctor in later life — ‘but now he wants to be a pig’. Allah (pbuh) had no time for pigs, considering them even worse than Jews and infidels. But he did have a soft spot for cats — and the Bradford chap wishes the programme to be replaced by one about a cat instead. Pigs = haram, cats = halal, you see.

Without wishing to be objectionable, it has occurred to me that Muslims are, on the whole, not slow to be roused to ire and that we must be mindful of their sensitivities on this issue as on all of the other stuff they’re angry about. It is the mark of a democracy, the manner in which we allow for the sometimes odd beliefs of our religious minorities, especially if those minorities are apt to start detonating themselves all over the country.

The King family are members of a religious minority, too. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a denomination which in 1874 predicted that 40 years later God’s Kingdom on Earth would be finally and jubilantly established. When, instead of the God’s Kingdom thing, the first world war kicked off, they were not dissuaded from their beliefs. These days there are a little under 20 million of them and the extent to which they impinge on the rest of us is confined only to the occasional dumbo knocking on our doors asking if we want to read The Watchtower. Perhaps this non-militant approach explains why nobody pays them any heed. Maybe they should start blowing themselves up.

The King family have been in the news because of young Ashya King, aged five, who is suffering from brain cancer. Ashya was being treated at University Hospital, Southampton, before his mum and dad — Brett and Naghemeh King — took him away to find better treatment somewhere else. There is no suggestion whatsoever that the family’s religious beliefs were involved in this perfectly legitimate decision, although I will wager a small bet that the terrible existence of those beliefs were lodged somewhere in the minds of the health professionals in Southampton who promptly overstepped their remit and called in the police. The Hampshire constabulary was swiftly on the case and the family were tracked down to Malaga in Spain, and peremptorily arrested and separated from their son. They had fled to Spain in order to sell a holiday home in order to raise money for what they — and a good few health professionals — considered to be more advanced treatment for their son.

Following fairly high levels of outrage among the public and the press at this arrogant and callous treatment, the family has now been told it will not be extradited. But why were they arrested in the first place? The Department of Health’s own guidelines for the medical care of children is quite clear in this regard, and explained in its booklet ‘Consent — What You Have A Right To Expect: A Guide for Parents’. It states at the outset: ‘Parents are expected to make health care decisions for their children, based on what they feel is in a child’s “welfare” or “best interests”.’ My italics.

That is precisely, to the very letter, what Ashya’s mother and father did.  The booklet adds that the quacks can overrule the parents only after first having obtained a court order to that effect. The assistant chief constable of Hampshire, Chris Shead, who appeared to me to be several volts short of a fully charged Taser, told reporters that he made ‘no apology’ for having hounded the King family. Despite the fact that no crime had been committed? Who do you think you are, Mr Shead? Upon being asked under what auspices the Kings might be subjected to extradition from Spain, the Hampshire police muttered something about ‘neglect’, but refused to expand, adding only that the Kings might well not be charged with such an offence anyway. Now there has been a volte face and the Crown Prosecution Service has announced that the family will face no charges.

I think the case of Ashya King is just the latest high-profile demonstration of the disdain and mistrust with which officialdom these days views parents — and the concomitant shift in the care of children away from parents and towards any number of state institutions — the social services, the government itself, the NHS, the police and so on. Parenting is far too important a thing to be left to parents — it is something that can be done only by fully trained professionals, the people who always know best. It is the main reason why we have so many children in care these days — because our social services departments simply do not trust ordinary, untrained people to adopt the kids; they might be the wrong colour, or have right-wing political views, or smoke, or be too middle-class, or be opposed to gay marriage. And in every case, the police does the bidding of the establishment. It is a supremely arrogant ideology — and, more immediately, surely injurious to the health of poor Ashya King.