Jun 16 2012 By Magnus Gardham
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MILLIONS of supporters around the world yesterday forced a council to back down after they censored a young girl’s blog about her school dinners.
The bureaucrats’ crackdown on Martha Payne’s online campaign became the No2 topic on Twitter worldwide.
Council chiefs were panned after they banned her from taking pictures of meals – forcing her to ditch the blog.
But celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn rallied to her cause – and her blog NeverSeconds got three million hits in a day.
Visitors sent her fundraising efforts for Mary’s Meals soaring from £2000 to more than £40,000 by last night.
As celebrities and ordinary people bombarded Argyll and from £2000 to £47,878.16 by late last night.
As celebrities and ordinary people bombarded Argyll and Bute Council with complaints, they bowed to pressure.
Jamie tweeted: “Stay strong Martha.” He urged his followers on the social network to spread the word and support her blog.
Crime writer Ian Rankin called council officials “numpties” for wrecking efforts to promote creative writing in schools.
And Education Secretary and Argyll and Bute MSP Mike Russell tweeted: “I think the decision is daft and I will be asking the council chief executive to reverse it.”
Red-faced SNP council leader Roddy McCuish was forced to concede: “There is no place for censorship in this council.”
In a cringe-worthy climbdown, he announced a “school meal summit” later this summer and invited Martha to become an official lunch adviser “helping the council to get this issue right”.
The council used a lighthearted headline in Thursday’s Record as an excuse to target Martha’s blog.
Officials have been desperate to shut it down since it began criticising poor quality meals six weeks ago.
Our headline, alongside a picture of Martha and Nick Nairn with a flaming pan of grub, said: “Time to fire the dinner ladies.”
But childish council bosses claimed the play on words “led catering staff to fear for their jobs”.
Nick said there had been no criticism of dinner ladies in the article and the headline was the result of a sub-editor having fun with a light-hearted picture.
He said: “Thank goodness sense has now prevailed and, as a result of intervention at a ministerial level, the council has now withdrawn its ban.
“Now we have a huge opportunity to take this subject forward and to put school meals at the centre of the political agenda.”
But McCuish continued bleating about the Record even after he admitted the council were in the wrong.
Martha’s blog features a picture of her school dinner and gives a score out of 10, along with a health rating and the number of hairs found in each meal.
The Lochgilphead primary pupil broke the news of its end on Thursday in a post headlined “Goodbye”. She wrote: “This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office.
“I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper.”
A note from her dad Dave explained: “I contacted Argyll and Bute Council … and they told me it was their decision to ban Martha’s photography.
“It is a shame that a blog that today went through two million hits, which has inspired debates at home and abroad and raised nearly £2000 for charity is forced to end.”
Within hours, more than 1000 people signed an online petition urging the council to change their stance. And fans’ support of her favourite charity will change lives.
By last night, donations to Mary’s Meals through her page on the JustGiving website had soared to almost £50,000. A Mary’s Meals spokesman said that would build a kitchen for a school in Malawi.
He said: “Martha’s support for Mary’s Meals has been amazing and we are extremely grateful for everything that she has done to help us reach some of the hungriest children in the world.”
Scores of generous readers also posted messages of support. One, Lynsey, who gave £10, said: “You’ve probably done more in two months to improve your school dinners than the council would have done in 10 years.”
Andy Chick, who gave £20, said: “Well done you. Ignore the council.”
Scots Labour spokesman on children Neil Bibby said the council had “lost their perspective”. He added: “I am sure her teachers, friends and parents must be incredibly proud of her. I think she could teach the local council a thing or two about public relations.”
Harry MacMillan, of diet charity MEND – Mind, Exercise, Nutrition … Do it! – said: “We fully support Martha’s efforts and are delighted that she can once again share her wonderful and inspirational thoughts with the international community.”