Police apologise for mosque documentary slur

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The Independent Online

The Crown Prosecution Service and West Midlands Police today publicly apologised and paid a six-figure sum for accusing a Channel 4 documentary exposing extremism in Britain's mosques of misleading editing, the broadcaster said today.

The apology and promise of £100,000 was made at the High Court this morning following the broadcaster's decision to launch libel proceedings against police and the CPS.

A press release issued by police and the CPS last year claimed 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 in Dispatches: Undercover Mosque.

After investigating, Ofcom rejected the complaints in a decision published last year.

Police had suggested they had considered taking action against Channel 4 before being told the prospect of conviction was unlikely.

Police spent around £14,000 on the investigation, which was initially looking at whether three of the individuals shown in the programme could be prosecuted for inciting terrorism or racial hatred.

But they then announced offences may have been committed by Channel 4, specifically in stirring up racial hatred.

Police also claimed the programme, broadcast in January last year, undermined "community cohesion" and "feelings of public reassurance".

Programme excerpts from preachers and teachers included "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".

Kevin Sutcliffe, deputy head of current affairs at Channel 4, said of today's announcement: "This is a total vindication of the programme team in exposing extreme views being preached in mainstream British mosques.

"Channel 4 was fully aware of the sensitivities surrounding the subject matter but recognised that the programme's findings were clearly a matter of important public interest.

"The authorities should be doing all they can to encourage investigations like this, not attempting to publicly rubbish them for reasons they have never properly explained. We will continue to produce undercover investigations of this nature."

David Henshaw, executive producer and managing director of Hardcash Productions, who produced the documentary, said: "This was a thorough and detailed one-hour documentary, made over nine months and at personal risk to the undercover reporter.

"The abhorrent and extreme comments made by fundamentalist preachers in the film speak for themselves.

"They later claimed they had been taken out of context - but no-one has explained the correct context for arguing that women are 'born deficient', that homosexuals should be thrown off mountains, and that 10-year-old girls should be hit if they refuse to wear the hijab."

Channel 4 head Julian Bellamy said: "When the West Midlands Police and CPS refused to withdraw their damaging remarks we had no option but to support this action.

"As Channel 4's flagship current affairs programme, Dispatches has an outstanding reputation for brave and incisive journalism.

"It was clearly vital to us that an important piece of journalism and the reputation of its makers was not undermined by these unjustified allegations remaining unchallenged. Journalism of this kind has always been, and will continue to be, central to Channel 4's purpose."

Channel 4 said £50,000 would be donated to the Rory Peck Trust for freelance news gatherers and their families in times of need.

It will also receive £50,000 in costs.

A statement made in open court 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," the statement said.

"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."