The West Midlands Police 'Dispatches' Scandal - Should someone be dispatched?
This is unfortunately a somewhat belated blog on events that unfolded before the high court last Thursday. Unfortunately I have only just had time to turn my attention to the scandalous conduct of our local West Midlands police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that ultimately came to full light last week concerning the Dispatches programme 'undercover mosque'. On Thursday both groups issued a high court apology and agree to pay six-figure libel damages to company makers Hardcash and Channel 4 who first aired the programme in January 2007.
I know Roshan Doug has already written on the topic, but my focus is slightly different. I wanted to examine not the media, but the abysmal conduct of criminal justice bodies involved.
I watched the programme and found it gripping and shocking investigative journalism. To set the scene for anyone who did not see Dispatches (there is a link in here) had investigated a number of mosques run by high profile national organisations, almost exclusively all where adherents to Saudi influenced Wahabism - a variety of Islam that externally claimed to be dedicated to moderation and dialogue with other faiths, but behind closed doors preached something quite different. It was that which was the film highlighted, showing footage taken from covert filming. The footage demonstrated the most extreme forms of intolerance, bigotry and extremism. Those who watched the programme saw how firebrand preachers filmed without their knowledge told a mainly young male audience that Allah had created the woman deficient and 'needing' to be beaten for not wearing a hijab; that homosexuals should be thrown from the mountain to their deaths; and that the 'kuffaar' or (or non-believer) amounted to little more than dirt. They condemned the idea of integration into British society, painted British democracy as un-Islamic, and praised the Taliban for killing British soldiers.
All this should probably have elicited a response from the forces of law and order, and respond they did. But perhaps not in the way that readers might expect. West Midlands Police had referred the documentary to the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom and issued a joint statement with the crown prosecution service that stated that the police had asked the CPS to look at bringing a prosecution against the programme makers for stirring up racial hatred. It also accused the film makers of deception and selective editing - as last Thursday's court case showed, they were clearly out of order.
With the backing of Channel 4 the programme makers , Hardcash productions launched a libel action against the West Midlands police and the Crown Prosecution Service lawyer responsible for the slur on their work. Ultimately the film makers and broadcasters have triumphed and shown they were right all along, but that for me does not mean the end of the matter. Indeed, in my mind it is far from resolved.
The issue then is this so law enforcement was concerned with the conduct of the journalists - it saw them as fostering the racial hatred. That seems a little rich, just try a few exerts from one of the preachers featured in the programme:
'No one loves the Kuffaar! Not a single person here from the Muslims loves the Kuffaar. Whether those Kuffaar are from the UK or from the US. We love the people of Islam and we hate the people of Kuffaar. We hate the Kuffaar'
'Kuffaar' as already stated is a derogatory term for non-Muslims. The police and CPS suggest that comments like these were 'taken out of context'. Really? What conceivable context could make these quotes acceptable or reasonable? Oh, I'm sorry was it not a religious sermon - it was a debate on the merits of freedom of speech. Let's get real here!
It is pretty apparent to me that it was exactly the same stirring up hate context that the leader of the British National Party (BNP) suggesting that Islam is a 'wicked religion' (a remarks made by Nick Griffin filmed undercover by the BBC which lead to him being brought before a criminal court). The comments in 'undercover mosque' were no more out of context than were Griffins. Indeed the similarity is striking. It seems to me that both were made to inspire similar bigotry and hatred. Undercover mosque wasn't fake, it was real. Most scarily it was filmed in the most part in Birmingham Mosques. In the above case, it was the hatred being preached in the supposedly moderate Green Lane mosque in Birmingham.
Now I'm going to make clear here that bigotry is a problem for an array of organised religions, and Islam is not unique in having some who are intolerant and hate filled. But my piece is not about the programme or Islam as a faith. It so happens that it was comments made in a documentary on Islam, but the issue here is the police and criminal protection, sorry, crown prosecution service. Anyone following the case should be aware of the West Midlands Police's highly arrogant, irresponsible and sloppy handling of the whole affair. Since issuing the statement, both the CPS and police have point blank refused to explain themselves or provide any evidence to support their allegations, indeed, they have only apologised out of necessity because their own position was always ultimately totally untenable. Moreover, now we the taxpayer will foot the libel bill.
While there is perhaps real criminal incitement taking place, the police and CPS did nothing. Perhaps they are frightened of the Islam connection (As already highlighted, a quite different response was forthcoming after the BBC programme 'inside the BNP). Perhaps they were just too busy doing real policing work like referring a legitimate television programme to 'Ofcom' (an important policing priority that ranks up there with monitoring the big brother house). I for one think that the real damage to community relations was not the programme, but police ineptness, for here we have a fantastic display. The police action also hardly helps those moderate and progressive Muslims trying hard to show up such radical hard-line intolerance and drive the radicals influence down.
I'm going to do something here that hasn't yet been done, but make a call for a display of public sector accountability. Who thinks we should see a resignation from both the police and the CPS for their scandalous conduct? I would like to say, I do!