Council U-turns after blocking girl’s school dinner blog

By Cassie Chambers and Alex Stevenson

Argyll and Bute council has caved into massive online pressure after banning a nine-year-old blogger from photographing her school meals.

Council leader Roddy McCuish announced the U-turn on the World At One programme, meaning Martha Payne will be able to continue her NeverSeconds blog.

Mr McCuish said: "There is no place for censorship in this council and never will be whilst I am leader…I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by elected members."

He continued: "This will allow the continuation of the 'Neverseconds' blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne, which has also raised lots of money for charity."

The council had earlier issued a statement complaining about "unwarranted attacks" on its schools catering service.

The council's initial decision to ban Martha’s blog came after the Daily Record newspaper published a story about Martha with the headline: "Time to fire the dinner ladies."

In his statement, Mr McCuish reiterated the council’s earlier opposition to the Daily Record piece: "we all must also accept that there is absolutely no place for the type of inaccurate and abusive attack on our catering and dining hall staff, such as we saw in one newspaper yesterday which considerably inflamed the situation."

"That, of course, was not the fault of the blog, but of the paper," he added.
Mr Rush said he would like Martha and her family to be involved "in find[ing] a united way forward", stating "I will also meet Martha and her father as soon as I can…to seek her continued engagement, along with lots of other pupils, in helping the council to get this issue right."

Earlier today Argyll and Bute council's outrage at "national press headlines" led it to block Martha from taking pictures of her meals to write them up on her NeverSeconds blog.

In an outspoken statement it attacked the nine-year-old for having "misrepresented the options and choices and available to pupils" and claimed that the controversy created by the blog required it "to act to protect staff from the distress and harm [the blog] was causing".

But after a morning of online outrage at the council's decision Mr McCuish appeared on BBC Radio 4 to announce the about-turn.

Martha received support from around the world in response to the ban.

Notably, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tweeted "Stay strong Martha" and urged his followers to show support for the young blogger.

"The reason Martha started the writing project about food was inspiration from a teacher to write in the style of a journalist," Martha's father Dave Payne told the Today programme.

"We didn't expect there to be headlines such as that appearing in the press now."
The nine-year-old says she started NeverSeconds to raise money for the Mary's Meals charity. As a result of today’s attention, Mary’s Meals said Martha had exceeded her fundraising goal.

"Martha's support for Mary’s Meals has been amazing and we are extremely grateful for everything that she has done to help us reach some of the hungriest children in the world," a spokesperson said.

In response to the international outpouring of support for his daughter’s blog, Mr Payne commented: "The numbers are staggering, really. People talk about things going viral but until it happens you don't really understand how it does. I still don't."

The controversy began when Martha posted a blog entry titled 'Goodbye' Thursday evening. In the post Martha said: "This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today."