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Archive for March, 2011

Last November, I expressed astonishment about the level of factual inaccuracy contained within what its authors hoped would be major academic report on Islamophobia.

The report, Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies, was written by Dr Robert Lambert and Dr Jonathan Githens-Mazer of the European Muslim Research Centre at Exeter University. It was part funded by the questionable Cordoba Foundation, more about which you can read in my original.

The academic report contained a chapter on Tower Hamlets called “Barbarians at the gates of the City” with the sub-heading, “A case study in the subversion of liberal democracy in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets”. A footnote said that section has been written anonymously by someone who has “worked extensively in Tower Hamlets politics”. It used several bits of information supplied on this blog and from my previous life at the East London Advertiser.

Last November, I wrote:

Now, in the all the time I’ve covered Tower Hamlets politics I’ve never seen either of the good doctors at the Town Hall. And neither did they or anyone else call me or try to contact me about this report, which, given that they have cited my name and quote extensively much of my work from this blog and from my time at the East London Advertiser, is a bit lazy to say the least.

If they had have done, they might have avoided the simplified and inaccurate rewriting of history – designed, no doubt, to meet their pre-determined conclusions – that this section of their report actually is. I read it agog.

Several other figures in Tower Hamlets politics experienced the same emotion. They complained to the University and now it has been forced to issue the following apology here and withdraw the offending chapter.

Here’s the academics’ climb-down:

Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies

21st February 2011

The first version of this report published on 29 November 2010 contained a section ‘Barbarians at the Gates of the City’ that has now been removed from the report and the University of Exeter has issued this apology:

“The University has become aware that a third party account in the chapter entitled ‘Barbarians at the Gates of the City’ contained in an earlier version of the academic report ‘Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies’ contained serious errors of fact which may lead a reader to misconstrue the conduct, actions and the intentions of Councillors Helal Abbas, Denise Jones, Ken Clark, Joshua Peck, Rachael Saunders, Michael Keith and Jim Fitzpatrick MP.

Whilst the purpose of publishing the third party account within the report was to reflect the views and opinions of an individual Muslim citizen, the University has received information and comments from the above individuals, and wishes to make it clear that it is not the position or finding of the University that the actions and intentions of those individuals were Islamophobic or racist in any way. Those individuals have passionately stressed to the University that they have worked throughout their careers to fight racism, discrimination and inequality in East London. The University have therefore removed the section from the report, and apologises unreservedly.”

In the circumstances we have sought to curtail distribution of that version of the report and to replace it with this revised publication.

Robert Lambert and Jonathan Githens-Mazer
Co-authors and Co-directors
EMRC, 21 February 2011

I’m not sure who wrote the original chapter, but Dave Hill of the Guardian says it was Kazim Zaidi, a political adviser to Mayor Lutfur Rahman. If so, his credibility has suffered a blow, just like the research centre at Exeter University.

 

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Further to my post here yesterday about Lutfur Rahman’s court reference for the convicted minicab molester Zamal Uddin, the Mayor has sent me the following explanation:

Dear Ted

I refer to your blog post dated 11 March. I do not usually comment on correspondence of this nature but given the circumstances it is important that I set out clearly what happened.  Before I do so I want to make it crystal clear that I condemn all forms of criminality and my thoughts are with the victim in this case.

The family of this man resides in my ward of Spitalfields. They approached me on numerous occasions to give a reference for their brother who I also know as one my constituents.  I was not aware of the nature of the charges against him and had no reason to believe or suspect him of any such conduct.

Based on the information provided by the family I was told that the named person was in court due to a revocation of his driving licence as he was not currently insured. They made the case to me that this was an oversight and that a reference would help him to convince the judge that he be allowed to retain his licence as it was a one off mistake.

Elected politicians are often approached with reference requests particularly where a family’s livelihood is at stake – however no one in the past has abused my trust in this way and had I known about the nature of the offence I would never have agreed to supply a reference.

I gave a reference as did many other councillors, who clearly were misled as to the nature of the offence. I am in the process of seeking advice so as to retract the reference and make my views very clear that such offences should be punished without any form of leniency and that I wholly support the judgment of the court in this case.

I hope this seeks to clarify my position in some ways.

Regards

Lutfur

I then asked him when he supplied the reference. He said: “The reference was sent well before the court hearing [on February 15 January 18]. As I stated earlier, I would not have even contemplated sending a reference if it was for a criminal offence, let alone a sexually motivated one.”

I also asked him if it was written on council stationery, and he has now confirmed it was.

Lutfur’s decision to respond shows how serious this matter is. He is a professional solicitor and a member of the Law Society. That he failed to check and verify the nature of the charge on someone for whom he was providing a character reference beggars belief. It seems as if there is a bunch of “elected politicians” out there chucking around criminal character references like confetti.

I’ve spoken to a legal source about this, who sits as a judge. They tell me it is “absolutely incredible” that someone of Lutfur’s standing would supply a reference without checking what the charge was. And just so I’m clear, the source used the word “incredible” in its literal sense.

Lutfur’s decision is I think seriously damaging. At the very best, it shows great naivety and a major lack of judgment, two criticisms that have been chucked his way in the past. As I’ve said before, if I were him, I’d be a bit more careful about the friends I keep.

[By the way, I also told Lutfur I was extremely surprised that Takki Sulaiman's council press office had decided to provide a "no comment" when I called yesterday. Here's Lutfur's ominous reply: "I agree with you, this could have been dealt with earlier. I will look into that."]

UPDATE, Monday, March 14, 10.30am

I’ve just spoken to Snaresbrook Crown Court. Zamal Uddin’s plea and directions hearing was actually on January 18 and not mid-February as originally thought. His sentencing hearing was on March 8. Why the January hearing was only reported in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph a month later, I don’t know: I can only think that the news agency decided to have another stab at pushing the story. However, it means that there was a gap of seven weeks between Uddin’s guilty plea and the sentencing at which the Mayor’s reference was mentioned in court. That is seven weeks in which the full nature of Uddin’s crime was known – time enough for the mayor and the councillors to both find out what had happened and then retract their references.

Also, I emailed Lutfur yesterday to ask for a copy of his reference and to ask why he failed to contact the court before the sentencing hearing to retract it. He has yet to respond.

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Fellow blogger Tower Hamlets Watch spotted it first. The following article appeared as a small item on page 3 of this week’s new-look East London Advertiser.

Headlined “Cabdriver molested passenger”, it read:

An unlicensed cabbie who was slammed by a judge for not bothering to learn English was caged for grabbing a passenger’s breasts.

Zamal Uddin, 44, twice sexually assaulted the 26-year-old in Hoxton last October after she got into his illegal taxi after a night out with friends.

Judge Timothy King had blasted Bangladesh-born Uddin, who was aided in court by an interpreter, for not learning English after moving to the UK in 1992.

And before passing sentence the judge was handed testimonials on Uddin’s behalf from several Tower Hamlets councillors and the borough’s mayor Lutfur Rahman. Judge King said they all seemed “to be in ignorance of your background and personality”.

Jailing Uddin for 18 months, Judge King described how he leaned over and touched his passenger’s breasts in the cab before following her after she fled into an alley where he pinned her against the wall and touched her under her clothing.

Uddin, of Rogers Estate, Globe Road, was also ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register for 10 years. He admitted two charges of sexual assault and driving while disqualified.

The italics above are mine. It was this somewhat buried sentence that caught the attention of Tower Hamlets Watch. I spoke today to the agency reporter who filed the story and no more details were read out in court. The judge neither named the other councillors who had provided references nor disclosed their contents. He didn’t actually name Lutfur, but said the reference came from the “mayor of Tower Hamlets”.

So I sought confirmation from the press office at Tower Hamlets council that Lutfur had indeed provided a reference. The answer from Takki Sulaiman’s office was: “The mayor does not comment on private correspondence.” Well, given that he used his public and elected title in his correspondence to the court, there is an argument that he should. I’m also waiting to hear if Lutfur’s letter was written on council logo stationery. [UPDATE AT 7pm: council press office refuse to comment on whether letter was written on official stationery.]

Meanwhile, can anyone please help shed some light on Zamal Uddin? Who is he and why is he so popular with the mayor and other councillors?

I wonder what Uddin’s victim thinks of such heavyweight support.

By the way, the original court case was reported in both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.

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