(Photo: Ggia)

The closure of the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais over the past week has brought out the worst in UK’s tabloid newspapers.

Following on from the articles last week which cast doubts about the ages of child refugees without any proof to back up their assertions, and the story in The Sun at the weekend which appeared to be a piece of fiction based on a months-old article in the Daily Mail, the UKIP-supporting tabloid the Daily Express has weighed in with a dubious offering of its own.

In an article titled SYRIAN REFUGEE WITH FOUR WIVES AND 23 CHILDREN ‘CLAIMS £320,000 A YEAR IN BENEFITS’, the paper highlights a case it claims has ‘sparked outrage’.

The story has also been picked up by The Sun among others.

It concerns a man known as Ghazia A who according to German newspapers fled Syria last year and has settled in Germany along with his four wives and 22 of his 23 children.

The paper makes a big deal of the ‘staggering’ £320,000 benefits it claims the man is receiving on behalf of his family.

Although it turns out he is not actually receiving this amount at all. This is simply a gross figure (360,000EUR) that a German financial writer has calculated as the maximum that all members of these families could claim for in a blog.

The Express even writes in its article that ‘there is no official confirmation on this figure’.

So why is the paper writing about it as if it’s actually happening?

This amount given comes from no government-approved source. It’s merely the calculations of one individual. But it’s difficult to see where these estimates come from.

Cash benefits available to refugees seeking asylum in Germany are a maximum of 216EUR for adults and 92EUR for children per month, rising to a maximum of 400EUR per month after a certain period of time for adults.

Benefits available for the general German population are 404EUR max for unemployment benefit and 195EUR max child benefit.

So even if we assume that all 27 potential claimants are adults claiming the maximum of 404EUR per month, this still comes out at way below the estimation of 360,000EUR per year.

Given that there seems to be no actual evidence presented that money from the state is being claimed by any of these individuals, let alone all of them, this appears to be a manipulative piece of reporting designed purely to plant the idea of large families of refugees coming over to claim excessive benefits in the minds of tabloid readers.

These slabs of misinformation and exaggeration are then re-reported across dozens of newspaper outlets and far-right websites across the globe as facts, reinforcing a distorted and paranoid world-view among thousands, perhaps millions, of people. Put any of these headlines that appear in the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, The Sun, etc. into a search engine and it will show you the sort of sites that pick up and run with this rubbish.

It’s a dangerous game these tabloids are playing, and one that shows no signs of slowing up.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.




The Sun has published an article about a supposed fake child migrant that sounds ludicrously far-fetched, even by its own extreme standards.

Titled CUCKOO IN THE NEST, it’s a story about a foster mum called Rosie (no surname given) who claims that a 12-year-old refugee she took in turned out to be a ’21-year-old Jihadi’.

There are no firm details in the article – no full names, no pictures, no venues – which means that the credibility of the story rests on its believability. And the paper hasn’t done a very good job with that.

There are a number of problems with the article. First off, we are asked to believe from the outset that this foster parent – who presumably sympathises with the plight of child refugees if she’s willing to take one in herself – has chosen to take her story to a tabloid paper well-known for its uncharitable stance on migrants.

Fair enough, you might think. Her experiences may have changed her opinion and perhaps The Sun was a logical choice to run with such a story.

Second slight problem is the name of the refugee is given as Jamal from Afghanistan. Jamal is not an Afghan name. It’s common in Turkey and a few Arab countries but not in Afghanistan.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that it has to be false. Just quite unlikely. Less than 1% of the population of Afghanistan is Arabic, so it’s possible that there are a small number of Jamals from Afghanistan in existence.

Far bigger problems emerge throughout the story. Rosie is reported as saying she became suspicious of Jamal when he expertly stripped a gun before firing it at a firing range.

So we are to believe that a foster parent took a vulnerable child who has escaped the warzone of Afghanistan to a gun range? Is that a responsible way to look after an asylum-seeking child? Where is this firing range?

Rosie claims that Jamal’s real age was discovered following a dental check (how convenient, given the news coverage of the past week!) and that ‘Taliban material and child abuse images were later found on his phone’.

So one would presume that this Jamal from Afghanistan would have been arrested on charges of terrorism and paedophilia. Apparently not. According to Rosie, he’s roaming around freely out there somewhere after telling her ‘I’ll kill you and I know where your children are’.

‘Every day I check the car, and that all the house windows are shut. I panic because I know he knows our routine‘, she says.

But she’s obviously not too scared to go to the biggest selling daily newspaper rather than the police with her concerns.

It’s possible that The Sun simply made all this up from scratch. What’s more likely is that, in the desperation to find a few stories to try and back up its position on the Calais child refugees coming to the UK, its ‘journalists’ have reported on some cock-and-bull story fed to them by a member of the public without checking if it all adds up.

It doesn’t matter to The Sun. Numerous other papers and websites have re-published and re-spun the story so its goal of strengthening the link between refugees and fraudsters, terrorists, paedophiles, etc. in the minds of tabloid readers will have been achieved long before anyone is able to prove that the article is as made up as the Three Little Pigs.

Of course, there is a 0.00001% chance that everything in this story is true. If that turns out to be the case, I’ll agree to present Match Of The Day in my underpants.

Update: it appears that the Sun article is a rehash of an article that appeared in the Daily Mail back in February (available here) which also looks dubious as it rests on an account given by none other than Tory MP David Davies. All The Sun has done is given the ‘refugee’ a name (which it screwed up), moved the location from Wales to the south east and added in a few (very likely made up) details of its own. 

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.



The tabloids have responded in typical fashion to the news that a handful of child refugees have arrived in the UK.

On Monday, fourteen children aged 14-17 arrived from Calais as part of a resettlement programme before the ‘jungle’ camp is demolished by French authorities. The children are from war torn countries such as Syria, Sudan and Eritrea.

Cue the usual suspects, never ones to miss an opportunity to paint those fleeing warzones in a negative light, falling over each other to put a negative spin on the story. The angle they’ve gone for this time is to cast doubts over the fact the refugees are children.

The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Star all covered the story using the same narrative.

The only ‘evidence’ these papers could offer to back up these suspicions were comments on Twitter that some of the children looked older than 17 from random members of the public plus a few UKIP and Tory politicians.

The Daily Mail article included a quote from someone the paper claimed to be an aid worker saying ‘they are adults pretending to be children’, but this was an unnamed and unverified source.

However, the paper couldn’t have had much confidence in this statement as it placed a caption beneath each picture of the refugees (all of whom looked pretty much like teenagers) stating ‘there is no suggestion that those pictured are lying about being under 17’.

Those from the Home Office who were quoted confirmed that checks had been carried out to determine the age of the refugees. The process for verifying the age of refugees is not straightforward. If documents such as birth certificates or medical records are not available, the government has procedures and guidelines to follow to assess a person’s age.

Some of the tabloids quoted critics including Tory David Davies saying that medical tests such as dental checks should be carried out to verify age. But these can only offer an estimate on a person’s age two years either way so it’s questionable how useful this would be at a time when there are pressures to keep public spending to a minimum.

The fourteen who arrived on Monday had been assessed and verified as children, the Home Office said.

If there was some hard evidence that proved otherwise, you could understand the papers covering the story in the way that they have. At least they would have been reporting news.

But reporting that some people on Twitter are saying the refugees look too old to be children is not news. The tabloids know what they are doing. They are stirring up the same old fear, hatred and suspicion of migrants as usual.

But this is worse. To do this to children – of any kind, let alone those seeking refuge – with no evidence to back up what you are implying is not only nasty. At a time when racist attacks are on the increase, it’s downright irresponsible too.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.


Tube strike

It’s the usual story. Research organisation publishes a report aimed at providing an evidence base to inform public policy, the tabloid newspapers sensationalise the report to push their own fear-fuelled agenda.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has produced a short report on growth rates in the UK’s largest cities. It’s been done to help understand population dynamics in these regions so that local authorities can better plan policies and allocate resources.

The report details the growth in 11 populous city regions over a four year period and makes predictions about population growth and spread over the next ten years.

Results show varying growth rates across the cities which are caused by varying rates of births, deaths and migration.

It probably doesn’t take a genius to work out which of these factors The Sun has decided to focus on…

Despite the fact that immigration wasn’t singled out or highlighted as the main factor of growth anywhere in the report, the paper framed the entire study as being about immigration having negative effects on population.

In its article POPULATION EXPLOSION, the paper writes of ‘sky-high’ immigration occurring in cities such as London, Sheffield, Bristol and the West Midlands.

It also writes that the ‘bombshell figures’ reveal that the immigration ‘explosion’ is ‘adding to the huge pressure on public services’ in these regions.

Yet this revelation is not mentioned anywhere in the ONS report. Nor, with the exception of London (which has always had higher that average levels of immigration), are the immigration levels in any of these regions deemed to be particularly high.

The reality, stripped of tabloid hyperbole, is that we are seeing a population increase in part due to effects of migration and in part due to declining death rates as life expectancy increases.

In fact, it’s the ageing population that social policy planners are most concerned about as it leads to greater demographic change and has greater policy implications. If there are more elderly retired people in a society, more money is needed for health and social care so there needs to be some sort of increase in working age population.

An increase in working age migrants is one way of doing this. This will obviously add to the overall population but will help offset the demographic imbalances.

The table below from the ONS report shows how the over-65 age group is increasing faster than all other age groups in all 11 regions studied.


This presents real challenges that will require sufficient planning, which is one of the key themes of the ONS report.

It’s a shame that The Sun overlooked this in favour of yet another knee-jerk article about immigration.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.