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Mediawatch - A media frenzy over mansions and macaws

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Tewkesbury BC rarely hits the headlines, but it did recently courtesy of some outrage over an issue on which councils rarely win.

A mother of 11 children being given a ‘mansion’ for social rent is manna from heaven for the tabloids, and more so when anonymous claims are made that said mother Heather Frost could afford both flying lessons and a horse.

The Gloucestershire Echo carried the story the same day as the Sun. The latter monstered the family over the next five days, with Ms Frost being accused of owning a steadily more surreal list of costly possessions, including a “£1,000 macaw”.

Time for the Express to parrot the Sun’s story, which it did with drawings of “feckless” Ms Frost’s new home designed by something it called “Shameless Architects”, a curious choice of practice name, if correct.

“Campaigners and MPs branded it a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money that made a mockery of benefit reforms,” the Express fumed.

And who might they be? Step forward, predictably, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and Tory rent-a-quote Philip Davies, whose constituency is several hundred miles away.

The Mail found “a neighbour” to say Ms Frost had “too many kids”, as though she could dispose of a few surplus ones.

Tewkesbury had a reasonable case, though it was a pity this was nowhere obviously stated on its website for interested media or indeed its own taxpayers.

It was left to the Guardian and BBC to carry an explanation from cabinet member Derek Davies (Con) that the ‘mansion’ was two ordinary housing association homes knocked together and adapted for a family the council was obliged to house.

Councils have responsibilities to their residents, irrespective of whether or not those people draw popular approval or disapproval.

In these situations local authorities must firefight media blazes and just hope somebody notices their side of the story.

Mark Smulian, reporter


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