Benefits Street children 'bullied'
School pupils living on the road where controversial TV show Benefits Street was filmed have been jeered by strangers and children bullied because of adverse publicity generated by the programme, it has been claimed.
The chairman of the education trust which runs the primary school at the end of James Turner Street in Birmingham has complained to the independent television watchdog Ofcom, following the conclusion of the series with the airing of the last programme on Monday.
Rev Steve Chalke of Oasis Community Learning said elder siblings of the school's pupils had been "targeted by other children on buses" because they lived in the street, while pupils as young as four "have been jeered at through the school fence by members of the public".
It comes after the stars of the TV show, which has sparked a debate about people on benefits, appeared on television telling of the "mad" reaction to the programme and claimed it had "opened a big can of worms".
The series has been a ratings hit for Channel 4 but has been criticised for allegedly demonising those living on the breadline, while some of the residents have claimed they were misled into appearing - an assertion denied by the programme's makers.
The education trust's letter of complaint made on behalf of the Oasis Academy Foundry, was hand delivered to Ofcom's offices in London on Monday - the school is currently broken up for half-term.
Rev Chalke said the resulting publicity from the show, aired by Channel 4, had turned James Turner Street into a "tourist attraction" leaving some pupils "scared to go out and play" in the schoolyard, because people were turning up at the gates to have their photographs taken with the road's sign.
That sign, which is usually fixed to the school wall, disappeared last week after apparently being removed by souvenir hunters.
A Channel 4 spokesman said the network had been careful in its handling of children featured in the programme and denied breaching any rules.
Rev Chalke claimed the programme, made by Love Productions, was "in clear breach of the Ofcom code" on rules 1.28 and 1.29.
In the letter, he said Rule 1.28 stated: "Due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under 18 who take part or are otherwise involved in programmes.
"This is irrespective of any consent given by the participant or by a parent, guardian or other person over the age of 18 in loco parentis.
He went on to say that Rule 1.29 then states: "People under 18 must not be caused unnecessary distress or anxiety by their involvement in programmes or by the broadcast of those programmes."
Rev Chalke said the letter was "a formal complaint about the very serious impact of the programmes on the students of Oasis Academy Foundry, the primary school at the end of James Turner Street.
"We believe that the broadcast of the series was in clear breach of the Ofcom code, especially regarding rule 1.28 and 1.29."
Other breaches listed included concerns over the fact "children involved in the programme have felt the need to hide their school uniform and bags on their way to and from school for the fear of being targeted in the community."
A trust spokesman said the letter had also included concerns relating to specific pupils at the school, but would not elaborate.
Concluding the complaint, Rev Chalke said: "Our purpose in writing such a letter is protect other communities from such intrusive and irresponsible filming in the future."
After the last programme was aired, street mainstay Deirdre Kelly who is better known as White Dee, told a live debate aired on Channel 4 how the programme had changed her life.
She said: "I couldn't actually believe how big it had become and how much it had opened up a big can of worms, basically."
Asked by debate moderator Richard Bacon what reaction people had to her, the show's most recognisable face said it was "90% positive" but the experience of complete strangers knocking her door all day, asking for photos and autographs was "mad".
In a new documentary shown before the debate, the 42-year-old single mother told filmmakers that she receives "about £200" a week in benefit payments.
She has admitted stealing £13,000 from her employer, Birmingham city council, in 2007 - and claimed in an article in the Spectator last week that she plans to run for Parliament.
Ofcom said it was looking into the issues raised by the trust and expected to reach a decision "imminently" on whether or not to investigate.
The watchdog added it had received 960 complaints from the public about the series since it was first broadcast.
A Channel 4 spokesman said proper adult consent was sought before filming any children "in accordance with the relevant sections of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code."
It said any children without consent had been blurred in programmes.
He added the school had been informed filming would be taking place.
"The welfare of the people and particularly of the children appearing in the series is of paramount importance to us, " he said.
"The contributors were briefed extensively before any filming took place and have been given support all the way through the process - members of the experienced production team are in regular contact with them.
"The main contributors have been offered the opportunity to view the programmes they feature in before transmission.
"We took on board their comments and in some cases made changes to the programmes. If any residents requested not to be filmed they were not."
Channel 4 has announced plans for a new series of the hit show but it will not be filmed in Birmingham.