Childcare Expert Settles Case Against Parenting Website

The controversial childcare expert Gina Ford has dropped her threat to sue the parenting website Mumsnet after a year-long dispute was settled out of court. Lawyers for Ms Ford agreed to halt legal action after the website agreed to pay a contribution of her costs and prevent ‘personal attacks’ on the site.

The agreement brings to an end a bitter dispute that began more than a year ago. Some of Mumsnets’ 60,000 members used messageboards to attack Miss Ford’s famously rigorous childcare methods. A sarcastic comment last August accused her of “strapping babies to rockets and firing them in to south Lebanon”.

Ms Ford, 52, a strong advocate of routine, said the remarks amounted to “serious and offensive libel” and caused her huge distress. She began legal proceedings against the site, which receives up to 15,000 internet posts a day.

Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, in turn accused Miss Ford of conducting a “menacing” campaign to stifle negative comment, which Ms Ford strongly denied. But after a series of legal letters and an eight-week mediation period, both parties announced today that the dispute had been settled.

The exact terms of the agreement are confidential, but it is understood that Mumsnet has apologised and made a contribution to Gina Ford’s substantial legal costs to protect its individual members from legal action.

It has also agreed to abide by its own “personal abuse” policy, preventing members from making unnecessary attacks on individuals. The ban on discussing Miss Ford’s methods has also been lifted.

Justine Roberts, a 39-year-old mother of four who runs the site from home with six other women, said: “I don’t think Gina Ford has done her reputation much good among her target audience.

“We are very relieved that the issue is over, it was a commercial decision to settle because although we were told that we had a case, we could not afford to take it to court. But we will be campaigning very strongly to get the law properly examined. At the moment any website with doubts about comments is going to remove them immediately rather than risk an expensive court battle. That is not satisfactory.”

She has written to the Law Commission to ask for the regulation of internet sites to be clarified.

A spokeswoman for Miss Ford declined to comment.