MPs urge BBC to axe reality show

STEVE DOWNES MPs last night urged the BBC to pull the plug on a controversial reality show which put babies and children in the 24-hour care of naïve teenage couples.

STEVE DOWNES

By STEVE DOWNES, Education correspondent

MPs last night urged the BBC to pull the plug on a controversial reality show which put babies and children in the 24-hour care of naïve teenage couples.

The last-ditch bid to scrap screening of The Baby Borrowers came as a clutch of child protection charities lambasted the broadcaster for commissioning the “sick and unjustified” programme.

Meanwhile, a new horror story from the programme emerged as it was revealed that a 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, who comes from Norwich, had to be removed from one of the teenage couples as they struggled to understand his condition.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon both urged the BBC to axe the programme before it is broadcast on Monday .

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Mr Lamb has written to the corporation's director-general, Mark Thompson, saying: “It seems to me that this goes a step too far for public service broadcasting. It amounts to an abuse of children in the name of entertainment.”

Mr Lamb adds: “Licence fee payers' money should not be used for such programming. I believe that even at this late stage, the BBC should remove the programme from its schedules. It is not too late to acknowledge that a mistake has been made.”

Mr Bacon added: “I think it's grotesque to use human pain and misery as a form of entertainment - I certainly endorse the view that the programme should be pulled.”

But last night , as leading children's charities condemned the programme, its producer took to the airwaves to defend the show's attempt to shed light on the problem of teen pregnancies.

Speaking on Radio 4's Front Row programme, executive producer Richard McKerrow, said: “Obviously when we set out to do this is was a fairly radical idea and notion which would not have been possible without parents loaning us their babies, toddlers and children.

“They are people who believed in the educational nature of the idea.”

Mr McKerrow said before they made the series, rigorous health and safety checks were put in place.

Parents were not offered inducements to take part in the programme, he added, and were able to visit their children at any time.

But Dr Michelle Elliot, of child protection charity Kidscape, said: “What is the BBC thinking of giving babies and young children to inexperienced teenagers as entertainment? The whole idea is nuts.

“It's sick to think the BBC would commission such a show.”

Children's charity the NSPCC added: “Putting children and young people in potentially risky and stressful situations for the sake of entertainment is never justified and in this situation could have had serious repercussions for all those involved.”

And the charity Teens and Toddlers, which the BBC claimed was acting as a consultant to ensure the subject matter was “handled with sensitivity”, denied playing a part in the show.

Director Peter Hein said staff felt “uncomfortable when asked if they would get involved. “We were not sure about the supervision and professionalism of those involved.

“We didn't get enough details. We declined to be involved further.”

Mr Hein said the charity had pulled out before filming commenced, and had copied the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) into an email outlining its concerns.

On Wednesday, the EDP revealed that Norfolk's child protection chiefs had called for the show to be axed after being refused access to the filming.

They expressed concern at the “very real risk” of physical or psychological damage to the youngsters - but claimed the BBC was “obstructive and very unhelpful”.

Twenty-five children aged from six months to 14 years were placed in the care of teenage couples in former Ministry of Defence homes at Archer Close, Old Catton, near Norwich, during filming last autumn.

Parents, the majority of whom come from Norfolk and north Suffolk, gave consent for their children to be used and watched the filming around the clock.

The results will be seen on BBC3 over two weeks from 10.30pm on Monday.

Among the latest allegations to emerge are that producers and parents had to step in to remove 13-year-old Jack, who has cerebral palsy, from the care of 18-year-old Ryan Ireland and his fiancée Lauren Donaldson, 17, who are both from Coventry.

In another scene, a teenager who is being taught to bathe a baby drops a doll into the sink and jokes: “I killed the baby.”