Jonathan Walker, Birmingham Post, May 15, 2008
The Home Secretary has come under pressure to investigate the behaviour of West Midlands Police, after the force issued a grovelling apology to documentary-makers who exposed extremism in Birmingham mosques.
MP Roger Godsiff (Lab Sparkbrook and Small Heath) called for an inquiry to discover why police had targeted Channel 4, broadcaster of the Dispatches documentary, instead of prosecuting the “religious and racial hatred” uncovered by the programme.
He sponsored a House of Commons motion urging Redditch MP Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, to launch an immediate investigation.
The documentary Dispatches: Undercover Mosque, broadcast in January 2007, showed preachers and teachers stating “Allah created the woman deficient” and “by the age of 10, it becomes an obligation on us to force her (young girls) to wear hijab and if she doesn’t wear hijab, we hit her”.
Other statements included “take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain” and “whoever changes his religion from Al Islam to anything else—kill him in the Islamic state”.
One speaker in the programme was shown glorying in the Taliban’s murder of a British Muslim soldier in Afghanistan, saying the real hero was “one who separated his head from his shoulders”.
West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service responded by issuing a press release claiming that the Dispatches programme misrepresented the views of Muslim preachers and clerics with misleading editing.
Police reported Channel 4 to TV watchdog Ofcom for “heavily editing” the words of Islamic imams to give them more sinister meaning.
But Ofcom dismissed the complaint—and Channel 4 sued the police for libel.
West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service issued a public apology after admitting they got it wrong.
Mr Godsiff said he welcomed the apology, but a Home Office inquiry was needed. He said: “The individuals shown in the programme broadcast were using highly derogatory and racist language against a variety of non-Muslim groups which included Christians, Jews, homosexuals, lesbians and women; and were in clear in breach of existing legislation in respect of incitement to religious and racial hatred.”
The MP’s motion states that the House of Commons “calls on the Home Secretary to launch an immediate investigation into why the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service chose to attack the programme makers at Channel 4 rather than investigating and prosecuting the individuals who were shown in the programme; and asserts that incitement to religious and racial hatred has no place in British society.”
Mr Godsiff has consistently challenged West Midlands Police to justify their behaviour over the programme.
Lawyers acting for West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service issued the apology in a statement in the High Court in London. They said: “Both defendants now accept that the allegations of distortion that were made in the press release were incorrect.
“They are here by their counsel today publicly to withdraw these allegations and to apologise for the fact that they were made.”
“Both defendants accept, without reservation, the conclusions of Ofcom and accept that the programme accurately represented the material that had been gathered from the undercover filming.
“As an indication of the sincerity of this apology and as recognition of the seriousness of allegations of fakery for professional journalists and broadcasters, both defendants have agreed to pay substantial damages to the claimants and to pay their legal costs.”
In a statement issued on its website, West Midlands Police said: “Following an independent investigation by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, we now accept that we were wrong to make these allegations.”
Channel 4 is to receive damages of £50,000, to be donated to the Rory Peck Trust for freelance news gatherers and their families in times of need, as well as £50,000 in costs.
Kevin Sutcliffe, deputy head of current affairs at Channel 4, said of today’s [THURS] announcement: “This is a total vindication of the programme team in exposing extreme views being preached in mainstream British mosques.”
Police spent around £14,000 on investigating the Dispatches programme, which initially focused on whether the people portrayed in the documentary had broken any laws.
However, police then shifted their focus onto the documentary-makers, and considered whether they should be prosecuted for stirring up racial hatred. Eventually, officers settled for making a complaint to Ofcom instead.