LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife got home from lunch with friends at a pub in the English countryside to discover they forgot something: 8-year-old daughter Nancy.
Nancy was fine — she was quickly reunited with her parents after they realized she was missing. But Cameron’s parenting skills took a drubbing Monday, just weeks after the government set up a program to give parents of young children classes on how to raise them.
Downing Street said the incident happened “a couple of months ago” as the family was leaving a pub near Chequers, the official country house prime ministers use when they want to escape London.
The Camerons, some friends and their children had gone for Sunday lunch to the Plough, an establishment in the village of Cadsden dating back to the 16th century, when it was a staging post for London coaches.
Like many British pubs, particularly in rural villages, it offers a pleasant local gathering place with a garden where children are welcome along with their parents and even their pets. It’s common to see several generations spending entire afternoons catching up while children and dogs run free.
As the Camerons visit with friends neared its conclusion, Nancy went off to use the bathroom. Minutes later, the families piled into two cars to drive back to Chequers, in the countryside 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, however, assumed young Nancy was with her father, and they only realized she was missing when they got home.
That was when panic sent in. “The prime minister and Samantha were distraught when they realized Nancy wasn’t with them,” said his spokeswoman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy. “Thankfully when they phoned the pub she was there, safe and well.”
Nancy was separated from her parents for only about 15 minutes until Samantha Cameron arrived to pick her up from the pub, she added.
The incident, revealed Monday by The Sun newspaper, sparked a debate in Britain about Cameron’s parenting. 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.
The case 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’s common for people to see the prime minister shopping for groceries and other items on weekends, although it’s difficult to tell if in fact he is being carefully watched by armed plainclothes agents.
Cameron’s office confirmed 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 the spokeswoman. She confirmed that no member of Cameron’s security detail had been judged to be at fault for allowing Nancy to be left behind, and said the prime minister and his wife took the blame 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.”
“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.
Britain’s contentious press took a generally bemused attitude toward the high- profile parenting lapse, although The Guardian newspaper did suggest that the prime minister may be too relaxed for his own good at a time of great crisis in the global economy.
Associated Press writer David Stringer contributed to this report.