Accusations that a photo of a sick boy lying between coats at a hospital was staged for political effect have been branded as “monstrous”.
The picture of Jack Williment-Barr, four, who was taken to Leeds General Infirmary with suspected pneumonia earlier this month but had to lie on the floor after the A&E ward was too full, was widely circulated on Monday.
Controversy over the picture, which Tory opponents used to claim the NHS is struggling under the Government, swelled after Boris Johnson initially refused to look at the photo on a journalist’s phone.
But claims the photo had been staged by the boy’s mother Sarah began gaining traction with some Twitter users - which Labour’s David Lammy blasted as “monstrous” accusations.
Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson retweeted a number of Twitter accounts who questioned the wisdom of putting a child suffering from pneumonia on the floor.
She also insisted she had been given “detailed explanation” that the photo was staged - but deleted some of her own tweets later today, including one saying the photo was “100% faked”.
The claim has been picked up by other Twitter users, and Tory Michael Fabricant, who is standing for re-election for Lichfield, retweeted Ms Pearson.
However, the claims have been hit back at by the journalist who wrote the original story in the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Daniel Sheridan pointed to the statement issued by the trust that runs Leeds General Infirmary, which apologised to the family for the fact there were only chairs available in the treatment room the boy was in and no beds, which fell “below (their) usual high standards”.
I feel the need to clarify a few things about this story after seeing some tweets/accounts doubting the basis of it... 1/ https://t.co/r9o43d5bsO— Daniel Sheridan (@DSheridanYEP) December 9, 2019
No story would ever be published by @LeedsNews without full verification. This was in no way staged, and highlights the need to check all accusations to avoid any miscommunication. 6/8— Daniel Sheridan (@DSheridanYEP) December 9, 2019
An assistant professor of Middle East studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, Marc Owen Jones, who runs a website on disinformation, also pointed to the fact the hospital’s chief medical officer apologised.
He said accounts on Twitter and Facebook were copy and pasting the same message claiming the boy’s mother had staged it.
[Thread]1/ This one is about the fake news claiming that a sick boy on the floor of a hospital in leeds was staged by his mother. We know the story is real, Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer at Leeds even apologised https://t.co/3HNvsR2PWJ— Marc Owen Jones (@marcowenjones) December 9, 2019
Mr Jones also pointed to how the message was being amplified through accounts including ex-England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, who has almost four million followers on Twitter.
The sportsman has since deleted his tweet, saying he had “done some digging”.
A medical secretary has also claimed her Facebook account was hacked and used to falsely claim the boy’s mother specifically placed him on the floor to take the photo.
She told the Guardian she has deletes her social media presence because of death threats.
Mr Lammy, who is aiming to be re-elected as MP for Tottenham, also hit out at Ms Pearson’s claim.
Pretty monstrous to accuse the parents of a sick four-year-old boy forced to sleep on the floor of a hospital of faking the photo. @allisonpearson this a new low even for you. And I suspect it's also libellous. https://t.co/6jlZn896SS— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) December 10, 2019
Mr Johnson initially did not want to look at a photo of the boy on an ITV reporter’s phone when he was challenged on it on Monday.
He was heavily criticised after he grabbed the phone and pocketing it before apologising for doing so and describing the image as a “terrible, terrible photo”, but insisted his Government is supporting the NHS.