Are they 'bonkers'?

I read this in the print edition of the Daily Mail today and was struck once again by just what a ludicrously misleading headline and tone was used: ‘Are they bonkers? Council strips tree of conkers in elf ’n’ safety drive after girl, 4, is injured by falling stick‘. It wasn’t visible on the Mail website but a quick keyword search reveals it. The journalist – Claire Ellicott – starts her article with the following:

They have been collected by countless generations of eager schoolchildren at this time of year for a spot of harmless fun.

But, if one council is to be believed, conkers are a major health and safety risk.

Nottingham City Council has removed all the conkers from one horse chestnut after a girl was hurt by a falling branch.

It said the branch was believed to have been thrown into the tree by a group of children who were hoping to dislodge the conkers so they could stage tournaments.

On Friday – more than a year after the accident – the council sent out staff with a cherry-picker to remove every single conker on the tree, which is on a school route.

Yesterday, the council’s actions provoked angry protests from residents who said it was a waste of money.

And then moves on to the expected howls of outrage from local residents at why the council would want to do this and so forth – as is par for the course with this media narrative. Then you arrive at a few reasons as to why they council have decided to take this action.

Firstly, the falling branch was 3ft long and fell on Katie Roden, then four years old, who suffered a fractured skull – which, as is noted in the article, if she had been a year or two younger could have killed her. Check out the Mail article and the pretty gruesome picture of the scar, it was pretty serious.

Secondly, the tree lies – according to the council – on a ‘main thoroughfare, including a route to school, and is bombarded with a huge number of sticks, branches and even metal bars’ by kids trying to dislodge conkers. As a result of this a young girl suffered a fractured skull last year and damage has been caused to nearby properties by stray missiles.

And finally, as the council makes perfectly clear: ‘It’s a solution to a particular problem in this location and not something we plan to do anywhere else.’

These details make it perfectly that the headline is the usual dishonest mess you come to expect from the Mail – a three-foot branch that fractures a skull can hardly be described as a ‘stick’. Likewise, a one-off measure taken by a council for one specific tree for a myriad of reasons not directly relating to health and safety can hardly be described as a ‘elf n safety drive’. The council has not banned conkers or removed them either – before anyone tries to reignite that myth. They merely used a cherry picker and in a ‘few hours’ had picked all of the conkers and placed them at the bottom of the tree. This makes the Claire’s claim that: ‘if one council is to be believed, conkers are a major health and safety risk’ a complete lie, given that the council’s reasoning has nothing whatsoever to do with conkers, but rather the damage and injury caused by children trying to get them down from this particular tree.

The Mail implies that this is a waste of money and that ‘the council spokesman would not disclose how much the operation cost or how many staff were involved’. This is a typically blinkered way of looking at things because the Mail never stop to consider how much it cost to treat the young girl with the fractured skull, how much time it wasted the NHS, and how many properties were damaged by kids throwing stuff into the tree and the actual dangers that this represents on a busy street.

All of these factors seem to suggest that this was a few hours and a few quid well spent by the council – and has probably saved the taxpayer money and grief in the long run. But the Daily Mail don’t let facts get in the way of a rant against those evil ‘elf n safety’ zealots and instead claim that the council are ‘bonkers’.

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