Sun 5 December 2021

Liz Gerard provides more evidence on the claim that Times editor John Witherow insisted on the controversial ‘Muslim foster carer story’ because it had been handed to him by an oligarch friend.

The Times editor John Witherow accused the paper’s former news editor of being a liar and a fantasist while giving evidence to an industrial tribunal where he stands accused of transphobia.

Martin Barrow had told the tribunal in Edinburgh that a controversial story about a little girl “forced into Muslim foster care” had come from an oligarch friend of Witherow who was connected to the mother.

Andrew Norfolk, the reporter working on the story, had consulted him about it because Barrow was a longstanding friend, a former colleague and a foster carer himself.

But, when the testimony was put to Witherow, he said it was “a fantasy” and “a lie”.

Cross-examining Barrow, The Times’ lawyer Jane Callan suggested to him that his evidence was all tosh, based on his antipathy towards Witherow.

He replied that he had no antipathy towards the editor as he’d had little contact with him.

But, when the testimony was put to Witherow, he said it was “a fantasy” and “a lie”.

If so, Barrow was quick off the mark with his fantasising.

On the day the story appeared, he sent me a direct message on Twitter in response to a thread I had posted. He said that Norfolk was “conflicted” and that the child came from “a billionaire family with influence”.

The Twitter direct message between Liz Gerard and Martin Barrow

This was in August 2017, months before Katherine O’Donnell – then night editor of the Scottish edition of The Times – was sacked.

One wonders why anyone would make up such a story/fantasy/lie (and share it only privately with a friend). Indeed, Witherow was asked as much and said he didn’t know.

As a foster parent and journalist, Barrow tweeted on the subject, but deleted a tweet referring to a “drunken billionaire” after being taken to task by Andrew Norfolk in an email complaining that it came too close to identifying the child, contrary to family law.

So, it wasn’t a lie that the reporter sought Barrow’s counsel, nor was the child’s wealthy background.

The only possible fantasy is that Witherow gave the reporter the story and insisted that it be written. Well, we know it was published. It would be nice to know if Witherow is acquainted with anyone involved in the case.  

Byline Times approached John Witherow for comment on this new evidence, but has yet to receive a reply.

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