This story just gets worse.
The BBC’s You and Yours radio programme this morning carried first an interview with Martha Payne and her father and then with a council manager responsible for the school catering service – Jane Murphy.
Martha Payne is, of course, the nine year old pupil at Lochgilphead Primary School whose blog and photographs blew the whistle on the inadequate schools males – in volume, variety and nutrition – too often served up there.
The Paynes were lucid, factual and balanced. Martha said some of her school meals were ‘lovely’ but others were not. She mentioned particularly the general paucity of vegetables on offer.
Her father was honestly shocked by the photographs he saw of what his daughter was being given to eat – and noted that he has been getting all sorts of emails from all over the place, with people sending him photographs of what their children are getting to eat at school.
Mr Payne said that most of them – then corrected himself to say that ALL of them – were better than what is being served up to Martha. He mentioned one roast dinner with two types of vegetables for under £2.
Then came the council, officer, Jane Murphy – who parrotted the line taken by Facilities Manager, Malcolm MacFadyen, on BBC radio the other day.
This story is all the child’s fault. Children make choices.
She said specifically that the content of the plates photographed by Martha Payne showed what Martha herself had chosen.
This is flatly not the case, What young Martha Payne showed was emphatically what she had been given.
Ms Murphy went on to paint a glowingly luscious picture of the meals on offer – talking of platters of fruit, a wide selection of vegetables, endless salads – and specifically instanced ‘cherry tomatoes and watercress’.
We have since been unable to find any child who eats at Lochgilphead Primary School who has ever had ‘cherry tomatoes and watercress’ there.
In every breath of this interview was the imputation that this child has overegged the pudding – if anyone could overegg the ice lolly the world saw perched on the side of Martha Payne’s plate?
The picture from Ms Murphy conjured the notion that, just out of the carefully edited frame of the child’s photographs, were platters piled high with glorious fruit, with dishes of all sorts of vegetables there to choose from, piles of salads and, of course, the ubiquitous cherry tomatoes and watercress.
What is unforgivable is far less the unacceptable quality of the meals – which is an issue that can be put right – than the readiness to distort the truth and the level of comfort in deliberately undermining the veracity of an obviously truthful child.
The culture at Kilmory really cannot get any lower than this – and may be a problem, unlike the dodgy meals, that cannot be put right.
This is certainly a matter which Argyll expects the incoming new administration at the council to confront and on which it will be judged by the evidenced progress it makes.
And a telling little footnote: as is their usual modus operandi in ‘transparency’, the council has now blocked Martha’s blog from the public sector broadband network it controls across Argyll and Bute.
The council seems not to realise the extent of worldwide interest in this story.
We have blocked attempts being made through us by television stations in Spain, France and Germany and by the BBC in London, to reach the Paynes – because we are aware that they are doing everything they can to protect their child from an overdose of media attention.
If the council continue to peddle their inexactitudes at the expense of the child’s reputation, they may leave the Paynes with no alternative but to speak out to the multifarious media platforms clamouring to talk to them.
And incidentally, Martha and her parents have been told that school staff cannot now talk to any of them about her food.
We understand that tomorrow, Tuesday 15th May 2012, a group of councillors is to visit Lochgilphead Primary School to eat there. Cherry tomatoes and watercress, anyone?