General election 2019: The misinformation war over the boy in the hospital

Mobile phone with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram icons Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Near identical claims about a faked photo were posted on multiple social media accounts

It’s the image that catapulted the NHS to the forefront of the election and led to a difficult day on the campaign trail for Boris Johnson.

Leeds General Infirmary has apologised to the family of Jack, four, who was pictured sleeping on the floor of the hospital after being admitted with suspected pneumonia.

The hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr Yvette Oade, said she was “extremely sorry” that no bed was available because the unit was experiencing “exceptionally high levels of demand”.

But despite this statement, numerous posts have been spreading on social media claiming the photo was staged. So where did these claims come from?

The photo, which was printed on the front page of the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Daily Mirror, was taken by Jack’s mother.

She said he’d been seen as soon as he arrived and given a bed and oxygen, but a few hours later the bed had to be given to another patient and Jack was left without one for more than four hours.

His mother said she then made a makeshift bed for her son with coats and took the picture.

On Monday, an ITV journalist tried to show Boris Johnson the photo on his phone but the prime minister initially refused to look at it.

The footage has been viewed millions of times on Twitter alone.

What we know about the posts

Within hours of the exchange with the prime minister, this post emerged on Facebook claiming that, according to “a good friend” who is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital, the mother staged the photo to send to the media and that, in fact, the boy did have a hospital trolley.

It was first posted on Facebook we think at about 18:30 GMT on 9 December. This post, shared at least 20,000 times, has since been deleted.

Image caption Near identical versions of this statement have been posted on social media

BBC Newsnight has spoken to the owner of this account who said that they do not, in fact, have a good friend who is a senior nursing sister at Leeds hospital.

The woman, in her 50s, who does not want to be named, said she’d accepted a friend request from someone claiming to be an old school friend on Monday afternoon. Despite not recognising them, she accepted and then looked at her new friend’s Facebook page.

She saw the post about the hospital and copied and pasted it into her own account. She said the way it suddenly went viral made her suspect she’d been the victim of a co-ordinated ploy.

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