LONDON -- It’s every parent’s nightmare: To get home from an event and realize that a child is missing. But it can turn out to be a political minefield as well if you happen to be the prime minister.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office confirmed Monday that he accidentally left his 8-year-old daughter Nancy in a country pub after a Sunday afternoon visit.
The incident sparked a debate in Britain about Cameron’s parenting and comes only a few weeks after the government set up a program to give parents of young children classes in how to raise them.
It also highlighted a sharp contrast with security procedures in the United States, where it is nearly inconceivable that a similar mistake would have been made with one of President Barack Obama’s daughters. U.S. Secret Service agents routinely guard and monitor the president’s immediate family when they are out in public.
In Britain, it is common for people to see the prime minister shopping for groceries and other items on weekends, although it is difficult to tell if in fact he is being carefully watched by plainclothes agents.
Cameron’s office confirmed that there “are security arrangements in place for the prime minister’s family,” but declined to provide any details on the type of protection provided, or the numbers of detectives assigned to the leader’s wife and children.
“We do not comment on the prime minister’s security arrangements,” said a spokeswoman for Cameron, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy. She confirmed that no member of Cameron’s security detail had been judged to have made any mistakes in allowing Nancy to be left at the pub.
On the popular British parenting website Mumsnet, some people said the mistake was “easily done” while others wondered why the Camerons had not kept a closer watch on their young daughter.
Downing Street said the incident happened “a couple of months ago” as the family was leaving the pub near Chequers, the official country house prime ministers use while in office.
Nancy had gone to the bathroom while Cameron and the rest of the family piled into two cars to drive back to the house west of London.
Cameron was traveling in one car with his bodyguards and assumed that Nancy was in the other car with his wife Samantha and their two other children. Samantha assumed Nancy was with her father, and they only realized she was missing when they got home.
The Cameron spokeswoman said “the prime minister and Samantha were distraught when they realized Nancy wasn’t with them. Thankfully when they phoned the pub she was there safe and well.”
Nancy was separated from her parents for around 15 minutes until Cameron arrived to collect her from The Plough in the village of Cadsden, she added.
The spokeswoman said Cameron and his wife took responsibility for the incident. “They are their children and they take responsibility for them,” she said. “No one is going to face disciplinary action. This was an error.”
She explained that Cameron and his wife had visited the pub with a group of friends and their children for drinks.
“He had gone with friends at lunchtime, with a number of families with children, and they left in various different vehicles,” she said. “The prime minister is a very busy man, but he always tries to live as normal a life as possible with his family.”
The incident was first reported in Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper The Sun in the week that Cameron is due to give evidence at Britain’s media ethics inquiry. Newspaper executives declined to specify how the story came to the newspaper’s attention, and the pub telephone was not answered Monday.
Cameron himself set up the inquiry in the wake of revelations that reporters at another Murdoch tabloid, News of the World, had hacked into the voicemails of public figures, sports stars and even ordinary people in their search for scoops.