Abul Taher, Daily Mail, May 8, 2021
A teacher who sparked fury by showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to pupils during a lesson about blasphemy is living in a ‘safe house’ with his wife and children because of fears they will be attacked.
More than six weeks after fleeing his home following angry demonstrations outside Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, the teacher and his family are still being given police protection. The threat to their safety is judged so severe that even their relatives have not been told where they are living.
The windows of the family’s council flat, where they had lived for more than eight years, were this weekend covered with white sheets. Neighbours understand they have moved out permanently, with one friend claiming their children have been unable to attend school.
Supporters of the teacher are frustrated by the slow pace of an independent investigation into the incident ordered by the Batley Multi-Academy Trust, which runs the school, and headed by a barrister. It is understood that the conduct of two more teachers at the school is being examined as part of the inquiry, though neither has been suspended. Sources say the probe is unlikely to conclude before the end of the month – leaving the teacher and his family in fear of Islamic extremists and their lives in ruins.
Local Muslim leaders and many of those who have children at the school, including some of those who initially joined the protests outside its gates, now believe matters have spiralled out of control and that the teacher should be reinstated.
But Imam Adil Shahzad, who travelled to Batley from Bradford to join the protests, wants the teacher dismissed. ‘A precedent has to be set. Suspending the teacher was in the right direction and we won’t accept anything less than a sacking.’
The Mail on Sunday has obtained the first eyewitness account of what happened during the RE lesson at the school on March 22 – an episode that has served to highlight the challenge of balancing religious tolerance with freedom of speech.
Speaking through his father, a 14-year-old Muslim pupil said that cartoons depicting the Prophet were shown on an overhead projector along with other images of the former US President Donald Trump, Pope Francis and Boris Johnson.
The Prophet cartoons were first published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and again in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, later the target of a gun rampage that left 12 members of staff dead. The schoolboy said pupils were unaware of who was shown in the cartoons until the teacher spelled out it was the Prophet and asked for their reaction. ‘No one said anything. I was just gobsmacked. But no one raised their hand to say anything,’ the pupil said.
The teenager said the teacher, a declared atheist, was popular with students and had never previously shown any disrespect towards Islam. ‘He never said anything bad, but he likes to challenge pupils’ minds. That’s the way he teaches.’
When the lesson ended and the students began to file out, the teacher asked: ‘So who is going to tell their parents tonight?’ The 14-year-old was one of those who did, initiating first an exchange of messages on a WhatsApp group for parents and then complaints to the school. One of the parents has claimed to have spoken to the teacher on the phone, writing on social media: ‘I got a call from Mr *****. I asked him to confirm what [my son] told me and he agreed. He [claimed] he has freedom of expression under his British values and could use that image. He stated he got consent from the children beforehand.’
By the following day, scores of Muslim protesters were at the school gates demanding the teacher be sacked. Among them was local imam Mohammed Amin Pandor, who has opposed gay marriage and even shared a fatwa against the Covid-19 vaccine. He said: ‘Ideally this teacher’s teaching days are over.’
On March 24, the teacher was suspended and the school accompanied its unreserved apology with the announcement of an independent panel to investigate. More than 130 Islamic clerics – including Imam Shahzad – wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson, accusing the teacher of ‘white supremacist ideology’. In a reply, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: ‘It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when any issues emerge. Schools are free to include a full range of issues in their curriculum.’
Friends of the teacher were initially able to call but police advised the couple to change their numbers. Recalling a conversation with the teacher’s wife soon after the row erupted, a Muslim neighbour said: ‘She just said she was upset and their lives had been turned upside down. They could not reveal their location. They were the nicest family. They used to give us Eid cards. It’s awful what has happened. He was not Islamophobic at all.’
Support for the teacher – whom we are not naming but who has been described as a ‘burly rugby-loving Yorkshire lad’ – is growing among parents. ‘The teacher should have known better but if it’s a mistake, he should be allowed back,’ said Mohammed Akram, 56. ‘We should forgive him and move on.’
In a statement, Batley Multi-Academy Trust said: ‘The investigator will make recommendations so, where necessary, appropriate lessons can be learned.’