Anorak News | Scarlett Keeling: The Good Life, The Wrong Life And Judging Fiona MacKeown

Scarlett Keeling: The Good Life, The Wrong Life And Judging Fiona MacKeown

by | 13th, March 2008

fiona-mackeown.jpgSCARLETT KEELING WATCH – Anorak’s at-a-glance guide to press coverage of Scarlett Keeling

Scarlett Keeling has been raped and murdered in India. Two men have been arrested. But the story is of the girl’s mother, Fiona MacKeown, who is to be judged in the media.

DAILY MAIL: “The truth about ‘Good Life’ of murdered teenager Scarlett Keeling”

The truth? Does the Mail know what happened to Scarlett Keeling, who killed her?

An empty milk bottle, tie-dye sheets pinned over the window instead of curtains, discarded black bin liners and a sleeping bag on the floor, and the contents spewing carelessly from a chest of drawers. On top of them the remnants of a lost childhood – a plastic duck and young girl’s jewellery box.

As these pictures show, this is the squalor in which Scarlett Keeling was being raised. It is a million miles from the fantasy world of a wholesome family upbringing painted by her mother Fiona MacKeown in the past two weeks.

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

A mother grieves. Fiona MacKeown wants justice. And the Mail looks at her home. There are pictures of caravans. But no Caravan Club of Great Britain stickers. Not here.

She described their family’s life on a small-holding in Devon, where they grew their own food and kept their own chickens, as a perfect example of The Good Life.

The Good Life, that middle-class dream of nice-looking eco-warriors and self-sufficiency in the suburbs, where the childless erudite couple make their own wine, cheese and gentle humour from their land. They are the rebels. Fiona MacKeown is something else:

She has nine children born to five different men, none of whom plays a day-to-day roll in their upbringing; the family’s only discernible income is from state benefits; her older children, educated largely at home, drink and, in Scarlett’s case, take drugs; and her eldest son, just 19, was left behind in Devon only to break his neck in a mystery car accident currently being investigated by British police.

A dead girl. A caravan. Children. A car accident. “Naivety or negligence? Some would argue that that question goes to the heart of not just this sorry tale but Fiona’s lifestyle in the round.” The Mail is brought to you by the Non-Sequitur Society Of Great Britian.

Yesterday her remaining children finally arrived back in Britain where they will be cared for by their grandmother. Fiona remains in Goa, determined to continue her fight. It is a fight not just for justice for Scarlett, but also to convince a growing army of critics, who believe she fatally let her eldest daughter down.

Does Fiona MacKeown have to convince her critics, and these are critics who may already be critcal of her lifestyle? Does she use her energy to talk to Daily Mail readers? And for these readers is the biggest concern, the ultimate pain, the biggest problem, that Fiona MacKeown does not give a stuff what they think of her. Is that what hurts the Mail’s readers most. Or please them best?

THE SCOTSMAN: “So what is a mum to do?

Every so often, circumstances conspire to hold up before us that most reviled of creatures: the bad mother. We love a bad mother…

Now it’s Fiona MacKeown’s turn. On the McCann scale of public opprobrium she ought to come off worse – and it may yet prove that she does, because this story is still young.

The 43-year-old from Devon left her 15-year-old daughter, Scarlett, in Goa, partway through a six-month holiday, to go travelling in another state with the rest of her family. Scarlett was last seen in the early hours of 19 February, drinking in a local beach bar in the resort of Anjuna. Her bruised and semi-naked body was found on the beach in the resort a few hours later. Her death was initially ruled a drowning but, due in large part to Fiona MacKeown’s insistence that there be another autopsy, it was later determined that she had been raped and murdered. Police are questioning a 28-year-old man in connection with her death.

Fiona MacKeown is woman of strength and vigour, arguing for justice in a foreign country, countering police apathy.

Says the paper: “But she has already been judged and found wanting.”

MacKeown’s demeanour and appearance – grey hair, tattoos and bare feet – have sent some sections of the press scurrying for further proof that she is not what a mother ought to be. She has nine children, all with unusual names, and all not always in school. Journalists rushed down to the family’s small-holding near Bideford in north Devon to report on its ramshackle appearance. Snarling dogs made an appearance. Quotes from locals saying that her children were all polite, well mannered and apparently happy seemed to count for little.

How they talk:

I was part of one conversation this week when someone asked, after seeing MacKeown on television, “is it because she has so many kids that she doesn’t mind losing one?”

DAILY TELEGRAPH: “’Why I, as a parent, refuse to condemn Scarlett Keeling’s mother’”

You have to trust youngsters at some point, says Cassandra Jardine, who has two teenage girls of her own.

A dead teenager’s life is given context.

In normal life, there is always a remote possibility of running up against someone mad or devious who will take advantage of someone young and unprotected.

We’ve had two shocking examples of this recently: 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling, who was raped and murdered on a beach in Goa, and Shannon Matthews, the nine-year-old who has been missing for more than three weeks in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

A teenager raped a murdered in Indian. A nine-year-old girl missing in Yorkshire. What links?

In both cases, initial sympathy for their grieving mothers turned to blame, just as it did after Madeleine McCann disappeared. Their mothers stand accused of being too pleasure-seeking (in Scarlett’s case) or feckless (in Shannon’s) to keep their children safe. I won’t join in.

Tick the boxes. McCann, Matthews. Keeling.

Fiona MacKeown, Scarlett’s mother, and Karen Matthews, Shannon’s, are soft targets for opprobrium because they preside over families that are shockingly fractured, even by contemporary standards. Scarlett was one of nine children with several different fathers; Shannon one of seven by five different fathers.

As single mothers, with so many to care for, they were even less able to keep tabs on their children than most. But there the resemblance ends.

This is the media commenting on the media, making no inroads, offering no insight. All we see is a crisis in journalism.

INDEPENDENT: “Missing children and the media: The wrong kind of family?”

Fiona MacKeown, whose 15-year-old daughter Scarlett Keeling was raped and murdered in Goa last month, complained this week that Indian investigators were “trying to change the media focus” when it was suggested she could face negligence charges after leaving her daughter in the resort under the care of a 25-year-old tour guide while she travelled elsewhere with some of her nine other children. She has said she was “naive”. The Daily Mail joined the debate yesterday when its columnist Allison Pearson wrote: “I don’t know what they call that in globe-trotting hippy circles. Back here on Planet Parent it’s known as dereliction of duty.”

THE SUN: “Scarlett’s home a drug den”

MURDERED Scarlett Keeling’s older brother last night admitted drugs were dealt from their caravan home. But Hal Keeling denied their mum Fiona MacKeown was the dealer or knew that it was going on. He insisted the man responsible was a friend of his mum.

Hal, 19, who admits having a drug problem, said: “There’s no way mum dealt drugs — she doesn’t touch them.”

Fifteen-year-old Scarlett was raped and murdered on a beach in Goa.

Unmarried mum Fiona, 43 — who has NINE children — is under fire for leaving her in the “care” of a local man while she went away.

But Hal, who lives in the family’s collection of caravans in Bideford, Devon, said Fiona had left Scarlett because he had been knocked down in the UK and his mum wanted to ring him.

As he recovered in hospital with serious leg injuries, he said: “We are all trying to pull together as a family because of all that’s happened.”

DAILY EXPRESS: “Meanwhile, authorities in Goa have confirmed they will not investigate Scarlett’s mother, Fiona MacKeown, 43, over allegations she had neglected her daughter by leaving her behind while she travelled to a neighbouring state 100 miles away.”

She had accused police of trying to deflect criticism away from their mistakes after they initially treated Scarlett’s death as an accidental drowning. She forced authorities to conduct a second post-mortem examination, and last week police admitted Scarlett’s death was suspicious.

Ms MacKeown has now written to the Indian prime minister to ask for help in finding out the truth about what happened to her daughter.

The mother of nine, who lives in a ramshackle collection of buildings and caravans near Bideford, Devon, wrote to PM Dr Manmohan Singh expressing her lack of faith in the local police investigation.

She claimed drug dealers, politicians and police had collaborated to disguise her daughter’s killing.

She wrote: “The administration tried its best to hush up the death as a simple case of drowning.

“I am certain they will try their best to implicate somebody to treat this crime in isolation, while ignoring the larger and more important matter of this criminal nexus.”

THE INDEPENDENT: Janet Street-Porter: Not every mother is from Middle England”


It is true that a worrying number of young people have zero social skills and little sense of what is unacceptable behaviour. It is not their fault, but it is a direct result of the fact that many never eat a meal as a family at home, never have a conversation without the telly being on and most don’t even have one parent looking after them, let alone two.

It is against this background that two distressed single mothers have been given saturation media coverage recently. Both are white, working-class and relatively hard up. On the surface, at least, both seem to typify the unconventional parenting that some teachers find problematic.

Janet Street-Porter will speak on behalf of the socially inept, white, working-class, distressed, single mothers. She will speak on their behalf to readers of the Independent.

Fiona MacKeown is a Romany who grows vegetables and keeps ponies in rural Devon, raising her nine children (by four different fathers) in a collection of caravans with a generator for electricity and a borehole for water – The Good Life, 21st-century style. She decided to take eight of her children on a six-month break to India but it ended in tragedy when her daughter Scarlett, 15, was found dead on a beach in Goa with more than 50 wounds to her body.

Is Janet writing for the Daily Mail?

On Monday, the Today programme interviewed Mrs MacKeown as if she was somehow to blame – her “crime” that of being an unconventional mum giving her kids a taste of an alternative lifestyle. I was left with the distinct impression the presenters were articulating the moral values of Middle England and The Daily Mail. This mum was clearly found wanting, and yet no one in Devon can find a bad word to say about her parenting skills – her children are said to be polite and well mannered. She is articulate and composed.

A teenager has been muderered in India. And the news is that white, poor teenagers can be polite.

Yesterday, Today interrogated another young mother, Karen Matthews, whose nine-year-old daughter Shannon has been missing from home in Leeds for three weeks. Mrs Matthews was asked, “So you have seven children by five fathers?” as if that somehow implied that she was a deficient parent or implicated in her daughter’s disappearance. Her distress was palpable.

Why on earth should this woman have to discuss allegations made by her relatives about her partner of four years, a fishmonger a decade younger than her, which hinted that he might have had a difficult relationship with the missing girl?

Tick the boxes. Press f9. Keeling. Matthews. McCann?

You would think that, after all the bile that was heaped on Kate McCann because she was too thin, too intense and too well-dressed, we would have learnt that when a child is involved in a tragedy, it is generally not the fault of the mother. This time, their imagined crime is to fall short of middle-class respectability.


THE HERALD: “Goa tragedy highlights our parenting crisis

Reading background articles on the rape and murder of 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling on a beach in Goa, I was struck by one comment in particular. A neighbour from Devon said of Scarlett’s mother, Fiona MacKeown: “Nobody could fault her parenting skills.” Well, excuse me but I must venture to disagree.
Surely Fiona MacKeown must bear some responsibility for Scarlett’s death. She accuses the police of failing to investigate previous suspicious deaths and claims her daughter might still be alive if they had. Scarlett might also still be alive if her mother had not abandoned her. Yet she seems unrepentant about her own role in this tragedy.

Children once feared their parents. Today they interact with them, and that represents progress. The problem is that too often parents ruling their children has been replaced by children bossing their parents. To this extent, it is parenting rather than childhood that is in crisis. In the worst-case scenario it can be fatal.

Fiona MacKeown says she feels vindicated. She should be feeling sorry.

How do you feel? Don’t bother answering. The Herald will tell you…

Posted: 13th, March 2008 | In: Broadsheets, Tabloids Comments (46) | TrackBack | Permalink